What a few months this has been. I’m a pensioner turned sixty-nine and my Mother has died just recently. She was two months short of her ninety-fifth birthday. A great age. She passed away in hospital, peacefully, in no pain and with her family around her. I thought it was a serene passing that could only have been improved, if that’s the word, if her passing had been at her home.
Before my mother’s passing, I lost a friend who I would have known for over 40 years. He was a person I wouldn’t have seen regularly but we would meet up from time to time over the years. Then only about a month ago another of my friends passed away. Once again, a chap that I would have known for a long time; in his case I would have seen him often. He and I were members of our local sailing club. Then just recently a neighbour I would have been on nodding terms with died. All three chaps were around 70 years old. Heart, cancer and stroke.
Like my mother’s passing, all were a shock.
The urgency of my mother’s illness came as quite a surprise. Although I suppose, that unless she died in her sleep, I would get a phone call to stop what I was doing and come quickly to her bedside. I knew she was in hospital but we all thought it was nothing to be too concerned about.
My mother seemed to have no fear of dying and I believe she was aware that she was approaching the end of her life.
My mother’s latest visit to the hospital started with a fall in her home. She appeared initially to be in good form and was like her normal self. Then the doctors informed us that she had suffered a heart attack. That was when I got the dreaded call. The doctor who was treating my mother thought it would be best to get to the hospital as soon as we could.
My mother seemed to have no fear of dying and I believe she was aware that she was approaching the end of her life.had welcomed everyone to say her last good-byes. The sun rose on that bright spring morning and sadly it would be her last.
As I sat with her it was easy to think back over the years to my childhood and reflect on how lucky we were to have a mother who came from a small fishing village in Devon which enabled us to have some great summer holidays that often lasted the whole of the school holidays.
This sometimes meant catching a steam train from Waterloo station to Bideford, the nearest big town and then taking a black taxi to our grandparent’s house in Appledore. Other times we would drive down and that could be quite an adventure too. There was six of us in the car and the journey might take eight hours or more .The traffic jams were long. My father’s cars in those days were quite small and therefore it was always a squeeze for us kids in the back seat. It was not uncommon to be told to get out and walk if a hill was too steep. One car I remember was a Ford 8. It was really quite uncomfortable. Still, it was worth it.
My mother was born in 1922. She had two sisters and a brother and they all predeceased her. My mother’s life was spread over five generations. She had five children, eleven grandchildren, twenty-seven great grandchildren and thirteen great, great grandchildren. A marvellous achievement and one that will be hard to surpass, I would think, by any of us.
I had always thought that I would know when my mother died. Perhaps a sort of telepathic connection. Sadly, that didn’t happen. My mother passed out of this life and mine without a sign. She just slipped away when I was out of the room. When I returned to see her, it was very obvious to me, that she was no longer with us; in the sense that I was looking at her remains. My mother was long gone.
Neither of my brothers or sister are at all religious; this is due, I suppose, to not having a religious upbringing. We were all baptized though. We were quite an esoteric mix. My sister was baptized as a member of the Church of England, myself as a member of the Methodist community, one of my brothers, I understand was Bethel and the youngest brother christened in the Baptist church. My mother must have had at the least the protection our eternal souls in mind when we were babies.
Interestingly, my baptism came in handy when I married into a catholic family. The priest made it quite clear that he was unhappy that one of his flock was to marry a pagan; his words. When he was shown a copy of my baptism certificate he begrudgingly agreed to the marriage. A mixed marriage he called it.
Anyway, my mother’s passing was a very English one. A simple affair. A short service by a lay person at the local crematorium. The service included three hymns of my mother’s choosing, together with a fine poem by one of her great grandchildren and a short eulogy, written by us, her children, about her life.
I think we all found it hard to believe, that it would take 18 days from her dying to her funeral. In the past, I understood this was due to the long delay in getting the paperwork sorted. Not so. We had the paperwork complete within a couple of days. What appears to cause the delay is the number of cremations being carried out. Imagine; you just have to wait until there is a slot. I wonder if this situation applies to burials. Could be an even longer wait.
In Ireland, where I live, things seem to move more freely. Any delays are normally due to waiting for family members to arrive who live away and have to travel from a far. The three chaps I referred to earlier would have all been buried within three to four days of dying.
The attendance at funerals in Ireland are typically large, sometimes very large indeed; and the whole proceedings may take an hour or more. My Mother’s was a fairly typical English funeral. Small and over in about forty minutes.
The handling of people’s ashes after cremation I found intriguing. According to our funeral director, they had in their “stores,” ashes of people that had been cremated years earlier and were waiting patiently to be re united with a loved one, when it was their turn to be cremated. I don’t find that very romantic.
With regard to my mother’s ashes, she made it quite clear how she wanted them to be disposed of.
Her parents are buried in the grounds of the local church in Appledore called St. Mary’s and she wanted her ashes to be buried with them, if this was possible. Otherwise, she would like them to be taken out into the estuary, just before the bar, and poured into the sea.
We intend to carry out her wishes later in the year and I suppose, that will be that.