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She's Back Again: Just Musing

Lorraine Roxon Harrington tells of the debt she owes to her mother.

My husband died. He was my second husband and my life was so much better for knowing him.

We enjoyed each other, were interested in the same things and had a wonderful time together.

Like many in such a situation, the grief was too much to bear and I did not know what I should do and which way to turn.

Also , like many people in this situation I did everything quickly.

I forced myself to keep busy for to allow myself time to think would bring forth feelings of desolation despair. I would be faced with the question whether I could go on living

I sold my house and contents, stored items that I could not make up my mind what I should do with and gave everything else to the Salvation Army.

I made up my mind. I would go to Melbourne and Sydney and visit family and then I would go back to England and decide whether I wanted to live there after twenty-two years of living in New Zealand and Australia.

I had no ties no home, and only myself to consider.

My children and grandchildren lived in England as did my elderly mother. I visited them all pretty regularly but but only had time to spend a few weeks with them.

It was October when I arrived in Reading . The sun was shining and there was the familiar smell of autumn. Memories flooded back. I thought of the time when I was a young woman…

We were evacuees from London when we went to live in Reading. It seemed like another world. We had left behind the London blitz – the skies ablaze, houses demolished, the dying and the dead, sirens announcing yet another raid.

A train ride of 40 miles, that’s all it was, but now there were no bombs exploding, no German plane humming overhead, no siren to summon us from our warm beds, down into the cold of the air raid shelter in the garden.

On that first night in Reading I knew I would never forget the kindness of the friends who had given us their beds,

My mother was nineteen-and-a-half when I was born. Now she was 91. She wore a wig but she still presented herself well, wearing earrings and applying makeup. She had a mind of her own and was full of life, more alert than many a younger person.

She had seen bad times, and she was a woman of the old school, considering pride, dignity and good manners as essentials. She was a matriarch who ruled her children with a rod of iron. One look from her, and you stopped what you were doing. No need to be told you had done wrong. The look said it all.

Mum never told us that she loved us. It was something she could not bring herself to do. But when Dad died I made her cuddle me and say that she loved me. From then on she told all four of her children that she loved them. She said she felt to be a new liberated woman.

She could not stand people who lied or cheated. She came from a working class background and had standards that had been instilled in her by her mother.

My grandmother was left a widow at forty one with seven children to bring up. I can see her now, holding out her hand with her exceptionally long fingers, touching the tip of her thumb with her little finger and saying “I have never owed anyone that much .’’

Like Mum , you knew where you stood with Gran, and like Mum you knew she loved you even though she never said it.
You also knew you could rely on her to stand by you if you were right, but expect no help if you lied or tried to cheat.

Mum fell soon after I arrived, breaking three ribs. She was in pain and sat in her dressing gown all day . I looked after her. When three weeks had passed I could see she was not going to get dressed like she used to. With the help of the carer who came to help her shower in a morning, I tried to persuade her to do so. We set out her clothes. Mum was adamant. She was not going to be treated as a child. She would not be dictated to. No, she would not get dressed!

I started to get angry but she gave me that look that I knew so well from childhood and had not seen for years. I told her that I was a grown woman now and that look would not work any more and we both looked daggers as we confronted each other.

I suddenly felt very sad, realizing I was now the stronger person. It would be wrong to make my mother think she had lost control of her life, so I gave in and told her she could do as she wished.

The next day she did not feel well and had to go into hospital. She discharged herself from the hospital against the advice of doctors. She was told she could not leave and she replied “Just you try to stop me.” I tried to make her see she should stay but she gave me that look and I knew there was no way she would listen.

When she got home she cried, saying that she had been badly treated in hospital and every ounce of her dignity had been taken away. She begged me to do something, saying she wanted to help other elderly people who were being treated in the same way.

I complained to the hospital. Quite a thing was made of it. Mum’s photo was in the newspaper.

She stopped wearing a wig, and no longer bothered with make-up and earrings. Now I saw my mother as a graceful white-haired old lady.

She was a fighter. She spoke her mind and wanted fair play and justice for all. She had values.

We were brought up to demand justice for others, as well as for ourselves. Thanks to the standards set by my parents I have been able to go into old age liking myself.

I miss my mother more than I ever thought I would. She left me a legacy of wisdom and love which hopefully will be passed on.

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