I have spent the last few days wondering how on earth to do this incredible, awe-inspiring woman justice in a few short lines? How do I describe the woman who loved and supported my family and me unconditionally to those some of whom had never had the joy of meeting her? And I realised the only way was to treat this as if I was sitting in a room full of friends talking about her, because in reality, although this is a church and her earthly farewell, I am in a roomful of friends.
My mother, M, was born in an era where women were seen but not heard, their role to run the household quietly whilst also being the hidden backbone of the family. Softly spoken and genteel, she lived long in the shadows of those happier in the limelight. At the time of my rather outspoken, incredibly outside the square Grandmother’s passing, my mother turned to me and said “I have always been dominated and overshadowed by my mother; I was always Mrs D’s daughter. Now I can be my own person and I only have to put up with being told what to do by you.” That being said, my mother was one of only two people in this world who could silence me with a look, the other being that man sitting there. Anytime I stepped outside her boundaries I was told in no uncertain terms: “You may be an adult but you are still my daughter and you will behave as such!” She once smacked me on my upper arm with a fair amount of force, hard enough to leave welts, because I had slipped and uttered a profanity in front of her. At the same time, she also threatened to wash out my mouth with soap. I was in my thirties.
When people first met my mother they were always surprised to realise inside the tiny, fragile outer package was a core of remarkable inner strength. For those of us close to her this strength was inspirational. Quite a few people underestimated her intellect and confused her ladylike demeanour and good manners with weakness or vulnerability. Many a businessman has been left in awe, shaking his head and muttering: “How did she?” as she manoeuvred her way around any obstacles thrown in her path, all the while maintaining her decorum. At nearly 91 she still used excel spreadsheets to organise her financial matters, a fact that made her a legend in the long-term relationship with her accountants. I remember the principal in the firm telling me many decades earlier how he used to hold her up to the many younger businesspeople walking in with shoeboxes of receipts. He would tell them “I have a client in her late 70’s that sends me her receipts attached to spreadsheet summaries! If she can do it why can’t you?” Of course, the impact of her resourcefulness increased as she grew older. She topped it off a couple of years ago by making me bring in her tax return to sign in the hospital the night before a procedure just in case the anaesthetic made her mind go funny.
The other thing about Mum many people missed was her wicked sense of humour. My mother and I spent much of our time giggling uncontrollably whilst others looked on totally lost. I think a lot of people wrote us off as slightly mad. On one occasion, Mum and I were in David Jones at Bondi Junction, in the shoe department. We were admiring a pair of highly priced stilettos (it was the 80’s) artfully displayed within a cubic glass case, not touching the case, not even breathing on the case. Plop. One shoe fell off the small holder. We looked at each other chuckled. Plop, the second shoe dropped. By this time we were laughing and had drawn attention of the disapproving staff. We scurried away giggling only to end up in a worse situation when a clearance table full of handbags decided it was time to run. One dropped off the edge, then the next and the next just like a set of dominos. We could barely walk, we certainly could not catch our breath and the stern frowns of the employees only made things worse. We dragged each other out of the store to collapse on a bench in the centre. I think it took us quite a while to be able to return to the car.
I could tell you so many things. The hours she patiently spent sitting in the sandpit with me as a child. The wonderful meals she cooked, the glorious cakes she baked not only for her children but also for the children from the local orphanage on each of their birthdays. I recall one such cake - it may have even been the first one she volunteered for after completing a cake decorating course - it was a circus theme with icing elephants all around the edge. I was not allowed to touch, but the minute her back was turned I snuck one elephant off a corner. The next time she turned away, I snuck another from the other corner. I repeated it twice more, coming unstuck on the fourth and final elephant. She was furious, demanding to know why I would not only take one BUT four elephants? “But Mum, I had to even it up for you”, I explained. I still remember her lips starting to twitch as she tried her best to stay mad. I also remember going to bed without tea that night, until she snuck in some vegemite sandwiches later. That was my mother all over, punish me but worry about my needs as well.
I could share with you her terrible grief at the loss of my sister, and her amazing strength in going on in life, mainly for me. She was sharp of wit, dry of humour, incredibly smart and truly beautiful inside and out. My mother loved all of us without boundaries. She accepted my children quirks and all, was so very proud of her boys. She leaves a huge hole in our lives but we are grateful to know she left on her terms at her time. Six years ago upon leaving her Taree home of 52 years to move up to Eagle Heights she said to me: “I am coming up to die.” A few months later, when her health had improved, I told her: “You didn’t come up to die Mum, you came up to live.” We had six years of fun and time together, albeit with a few health hiccups along the way. She loved this mountain so much she chose to spend the rest of eternity up here, leaving Dad plenty of room to stretch in his double granite plot.
I am so grateful to have been the child of such a woman it takes my breath away and leaves me speechless. So once again, this time without the look, she has silenced me.
I will leave you with the words of an unknown poet:
When I am no longer with you
Let no tears fall or sorrow prevail