My Mum and The Loss Adjustor!
I had the most wonderful relationship with my Mother. Oh, how I wish I could say that… I have written a number of, what I hope are, humorous stories about my Mum and her eccentricities but there was also a serious side to our relationship as, sadly, we didn’t always get on. I should mention that my Mother had to take on the role of both parents as my father had long since left the vicinity. So, Mother had to provide and protect as well as nurture and cherish her three children of which I am the youngest. Such duality of roles inevitably creates inner conflict. That she managed to triumph over such difficulties owes much to her indomitable spirit and well developed sense of humour. Two characteristics I hope I have inherited from her. I tend to ascribe every characteristic of my physical appearance as well as my temperament to my Mother. Knowing nothing of my father…I can do little else!
Having a sense of humour, however, did not stop my Mother from, at times, being extremely difficult to get on with. For example, her being an only child meant that she had absolutely no concept of what went on in my brother’s head. He would dismantle things from a boyish curiosity to see how things worked but unfortunately, could rarely re-assemble them. Therefore, what most people would regard as childish curiosity, because of her lack of understanding as well as her poverty, she interpreted as wilful destructiveness and as a consequence, it seemed to me. her treatment of him was too harsh. I found this very difficult to accept, as my brother was a sensitive boy but, as I have already said, I think her lack of understanding and insensitivity stemmed from her dual role.
Nevertheless, in her role as provider Mother did as best she could by working in various catering jobs. In her younger days, before she had us children, she had been a Lyons Corner House “Nippy”. However, her wages now were never enough to support us all and so, after school, we spent our evenings huddled round a coke fire doing what we called Metalwork. Mother was paid 4/6d (Just over 25 pence) for a thousand metal components.
Every evening the large tin boxes and the big heavy files would come out and we would spend a less than joyful evening listening to the wireless, shivering round the meagre fire, whilst filing off the rough bits of the metal components as well as what was left of the skin on our fingers. I am sure readers will be familiar with the concept that in the 1950’s female home-workers enjoyed very good wages for the most pleasant of jobs. I can’t really remember how many components we managed to file in an evening but I do remember that at the end of our stint the tins we took from didn’t look any less full and by the same token the tins we were filling didn’t look any fuller.
Mother may have struggled to provide, but as I have already stated in an earlier part of Mum’s story, as a protector, she was like a lioness guarding her young. It was this same fighting spirit that got us better housing, better schooling and even better doctoring. Her code or mantra for life was, it seems, “Never accept…fight!”
I suppose it was because she had to be a strong woman that she admired other strong women and would often proudly relate the story of her Aunt Mary who had physically fought with a man. What induced her admiration was not the fight itself but the fact that it lasted for half an hour. I only ever saw my Mother cry once and that was because, poor as we were, we had been burgled and the thief had emptied the gas meter and taken Mum’s emergency money (thirty bob = £1.50). Her sobs came in great, heaving, gut-wrenching gasps and the sight of it terrified me as I had never seen her beaten before. I had always thought of my Mother as invincible.
As for cherishing her children that she did in full measure though not in any conventional sense but she was always ready to give what nowadays would be called, “quality time” to us children. She would take us to parks, gardens, museums, The Tower of London, in fact, anywhere that was free.
My Mother would also read to us each night before we went to sleep but her choice of reading material was usually school stories involving rather upper crust children. I well remember the disappointment I felt when I first realized that the children in those stories led very different lives from us as I slowly came to the realization that I was…poor! I couldn’t even console myself with the idea that I was poor but honest because, unlike The Winslow Boy, not only would I have nicked the Postal Order but I’d have spent it and ate the evidence long before the case got to the Lords!
At the beginning of this story I said I assigned all my physical and emotional characteristics to my Mother and perhaps that is why from my late teens up until her death I always judged her harshly. I neither saw the pressure she was under nor gave her credit for the unconditional love she gave to all three of her children. I shut my mind to everything that was good about her. I blamed her for the shame of my birth and I was embarrassed by her eccentricity and non-conformity.
Over a period of two years I watched her die inch by agonizing inch and I was deeply saddened to see such a strong woman brought so low by age and infirmity. Though obviously it hurt to see her pain, nevertheless, my judgement of her was unremitting. Perhaps because I have always thought that of her three children I was the one most like her and my brother and sister thought so too and I wasn’t always very comfortable with that idea but I did think of myself as being a strong woman too.
All that changed when she died. With her passing went all my much-vaunted strength. Suddenly I was thrown back on my own resources only to find I had none. Before my Mother’s death my sister and I had worried about how our brother would cope with her loss. We need not have worried as he coped perfectly well. To my utter amazement it was I who fell apart. I became afraid of everything. I feared for my Husband who, always, slightly built, suddenly looked emaciated. One of my daughters having lost a little bit of weight, to me, looked anorexic. My youngest daughter off to University seemed now to be lost to me forever. And so the catalogue went on. No part of my life was untouched even to the point that I was afraid to drive the car, I thought our new business would fail and our house be repossessed.
My Mother’s death had made me afraid of life…or so it seemed. I was drowning in a sea of fear. At the same time, I could not reconcile myself to the overwhelming sense of loss that seemed to engulf me. Why could I not accept it? She was an old lady and I had seen her suffering and longed for it to end but now that she was released from the encumbrance of her life I could not cope with the loss of her. What right did I have to feel like that when she had suffered so much and life was no more than a painful burden but I felt that she had deserted me. My brother spoke of feeling her near to him. Why did she not come near to me? I needed her. She had always been there when I needed her. This feeling of complete desolation went on for more than two years as I struggled not to buckle under a weight of fear. Then a friend suggested I visit a Medium. I had never given much credence to such people as I thought of them as charlatans who preyed on peoples’ grief but my utter desperation drove me to make an appointment. What a revelation!
The first thing this quiet, gentle-looking woman said was “I don’t know if I can help you, dear.” And with that admission and the fact that there was no donation box, I opened my mind. She told me many things including how my Mother had died and she spoke quietly of the difficulties there had been in our relationship. Suddenly I felt my Mother was not lost to me forever – like my brother I felt her near to me. Before my appointment with this kind and gentle woman I could not adjust to the loss of my Mother but after this visit my life no longer seemed to be a perilous voyage but once again an adventure to be experienced.