What is a mum?


No, we didn’t have deep meaningful conversations nor lingering hugs.
It’s true we fought and I ran away. Our separation began, you later told me, as soon as I arrived on this planet, as it seems I wouldn’t take your milk. I’m not sure we knew about lactose intolerance then.

Seeing the photos of when you were newly pregnant with me – you looked very happy. As a youngster, you had a wish for me that you repeated often that My Denise was special and would be different.

I was never quite clear about how this different business should pan out but nevertheless I kept the promise and grew up quite contrary – I think was how you put it.

The teenage years were very tough for me, bullying at school, the running away, being bullied in my first job and several illnesses that put me in hospital through the stress of it all. So, very soon after I was keen to leave home and the Bush.

However, I had a strong drive to prove myself and soon I was working in films and became a writer/director winning awards and getting to be paid to travel to exciting places. Jeanette and I discovered that you must have kept every post card and Christmas/birthday card we ever sent you. It was a delightful surprise.

In my thirties I was fortunate that my dear friend Tessa introduced me to a fella called Shaun and we used to visit him and create our own little family of friends. I had some healings and for the first time began to feel ‘at home’ in my own skin. I looked back at you and Dad and we became closer. I talked to you during that time about how your own childhood was so difficult with your own mum and how you always felt ‘abandoned’. Dad gave me a lot of the details as to why. Of course your schooling and upbringing was messed up by the war. But I always remember the story of how when you were sent to the countryside along with all the other children you said; I’m not having any of this. You didn’t like the countryside and asked your Dad to meet you as you were coming back to London. You ran away back home and spent the war years in London enjoying some of the fun that came between the sadness and living life on the edge. An independent spirit was formed.

Soon after the war in that blooming time for romance you met this man called Uncle Vic and he took you to a dance. But you came home with a man called Kenneth Gow – showing more signs of the independent spirit. And soon you were married and then that’s where Jeanette and I came in.

Skip to many years later when our Dad died far too young from a disease no one had ever heard of called Amyloidosis. We both nearly fell apart during that time, but I became so proud of you when you started going on long walks getting fit and discovering the English countryside which you then took a fondness for. Jeanette and I found all your walking brochures and the places you’d been when we cleared out the house. You had laughs with your friends and used to love your trips away when you led other friends and widows to get up and dance. A talent learned from Dad, I think.

It was a time in my forties on one emotional evening with the wine flowing freely that you admitted – “I know I pushed you out. I’m sorry,” you said. And then things made sense to me. We grew together slowly after that. And when my life was in freefall again losing my work and with my long-term partner dying you opened your home for a year to let me come back in and find my feet.

I met and fell in love with German Josef and we courageously started a new life in Ramsgate but which always was so far away from all that I knew. You would come down and we would do baking or make pickles and many things that I had never done before.

In recent years I spent a couple of separate weeks with you in London and during this time you opened your heart and we had some good times. You smiled at me so lovingly. I have always jokingly said that as Alzheimer’s started to creep in you forgot all the old stuff and we then started to have some fun.

There was one visit when we went to Notting Hill where we always liked to go to look at the flowers and when I was leaving on the bus… you were waving me goodbye and were so engrossed that you walked into a glass window at the side of the bus stop and your face began to bleed. Luckily I got the driver to stop the bus to help you. We had one last trip to Holland Park which I remember and where you liked to talk to all the toddlers as if you were the Queen.

And then the sickness took hold and stripped you of your personality. You kicked out at us and particularly at Jeanette who was looking after you so lovingly. You were unable to look after yourself, we wrangled over the decision wanting you to have you’re your independence, but it became clear that a Nursing Home would be needed. I felt so far away and so much of your care was resting on Jeanette’s shoulders.

We will always worry – did we do the right thing? Was it too soon? Was it too late? -just like every other human being who has been in this situation. But we did our best.

I think you all know the remainder. The second day in the home you fell again, which you’ve done many times and went into hospital for an intensive hip operation, which weighed heavily on your tiny frame. You nearly didn’t come round. Returning to the Care Home frail – you pushed away the food until you were down to 6 stone. A blood clot took you away.

So, in answer to the opening question what is a mum? I’m not fully qualified to answer that as I’ve not been one. I stuck to your prescription – to do things differently and didn’t have a family. However, I have made a stab at it by looking after other people’s children from around the world and sometimes teaching them English.

No, we didn’t have deep meaningful conversations but if asked the question who would I choose to be my mother – the answer will always be You, Doreen Gow – my mother.

I hope you’re drifting to a more favourable place with barrels of wine lots of Maltesers and mints and plenty of walks with Dad.

I’ll miss your smiles forever. Glad we made it in the end.

Love from one of your daughters,

Denise

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