I lost my mum in July, just a few days after her birthday. She was 83. I’m not posting this for sympathy, I just want to mark the moment, and celebrate her. I want people to know a bit about who she was.
She was evacuated from London during the second world war, something I can barely imagine dealing with as an adult, never mind a young child. Later, she left school when she was 14, and pursued her dream of being a dancer - working during the day, taking lessons by night, persisting through sheer hard work and determination, eventually finding herself on stage in several musicals, where she met my dad. Things weren’t easy for her, and much later she lost my dad to cancer when I was 5. She was funny, independent, strong, smart, and quite unlike anyone I ever knew.
Before I left home, I didn’t always appreciate what she did for me. Sometimes (many times) I was an idiot and thought she just wanted me out of the house. She didn’t, she just wanted me to sort my life out, to be safe, to be provided for. She was the one who found the first college course (that I failed), the second one (that I passed), who brought me back when things went wrong, and helped get me over to London when my sister found me a job. She did everything she could to provide for me and make sure I could stand on my own two feet. She drove me utterly bonkers sometimes, she was no saint, nobody is - but she worked her arse off to protect me and give me a good start in life.
She loved a good laugh, and would instantly be reduced to a helpless, shrieking heap by Marty Feldman’s “bishop of no fixed abode” sketch, Julian and Sandy, or anything by Morecambe and Wise. If a TV show looked like it was about to feature male nudity, she’d lean forward with glee, announcing “ooh, willies!”
Over the last few years, she developed dementia, and we had to watch as a strong, independent woman who raised 5 kids slowly lost more and more of herself. It was horrifying seeing her anger, frustration and fear at losing memories, words, and her sense of self. It’s such a cruel illness, she was always smart but as it ate away at her faculties we had to talk to her as if she was a child, purely to stop her getting scared or upset. My amazing sisters and equally amazing brother-in-law bore the brunt of this, as they lived close to her, and rarely got any thanks - she didn’t realise she needed help, and would get angry at them for interfering in what she saw as her perfectly normal life.
Towards the end, she needed constant care, otherwise she would forget to eat. This all had to be paid for, as the care assessment insisted that she didn’t need medical care provided, just social care - despite the fact that she’d have been dead within a couple of days if nobody went around to feed her. The way it’s set up leaves a lot of people in the position of having to piss away everything they’ve ever worked for, just to get some basic medical help. When they’re destitute, *then* the system steps into help. It’s shit, and I don’t know how the people involved can sleep at night.
In August, we gave my mum a great sendoff with a lovely funeral service. We felt like we’d already lost her several years ago, due to the dementia, so I’m glad she’s not in any more pain or distress. It was awful to see it gradually erasing the person we once knew, so now we get to try and remember her the way she was.
Maggie in Severance is named after her, as was Peggy in Cockneys Vs Zombies. My mum’s name was Margaret, Peggy was her nickname (which she didn’t like, so of course we used it a lot to wind her up), and both characters are a shout out to her - strong, funny, capable women who you’d want on your ass-kicking team. She was very pleased at being played by Honor Blackman, which was fitting, as they are both Cockneys by birth.
She always looked out for me, tried to give me the best life possible, and would have taken a bullet for me (and probably argued it back into the gun). Goodbye, mum. And thank you. And I'm sorry for reposting this pic of you with a sparkler in your dessert, about to down a flaming sambuca at your 77th birthday party:
Reader, I'm proud to tell you that she downed that flaming sambuca like a champ. With the waiter chanting "sucky-sucky!" at her. It was a moment.
If you’re in the mood for charity donations, while you’re here, please consider Carers UK (supporting carers who often look after relatives unpaid with no help), the Alzheimer’s Society, Kirkwood Hospice (who looked after my sister Julia at the end of her life), and Thrombosis UK (who do vital research into a less well known condition that kills more than 33,000 every year).