Legacy…

My mother some time in the 1950’s

Last night we arrived home after an exhausting weekend which began with my mothers funeral, then progressed towards taking stock of the momentous task of clearing out the house containing the vast accumulation of almost 60 years of continued occupation.

Despite the emotional exhaustion and the pain of loss, it has been a ‘good’ weekend.

It was full of good people; my dear family who supported me every step of the way, old friends who stepped in and made such a huge difference (more of that later) and contact with so many people from my past – albeit a past that I had tried hard to escape from. In the end there were about 60 people at her funeral, which was remarkable, considering how isolated and she had been for much of her adult life.

I think the lesson here is we can never be sure what kind of legacy we leave in the lives of those we have touched.

I spoke at the funeral, trying to do justice to the legacy that this woman had left in my own life, for both good and ill. I wanted what I said to be honest, but also full of love; honest about how difficult my own childhood was but also how much more difficult was hers; honest too about her mental illness and how this formed a bubble in which my sister and I were cut off from the ‘normal’ world outside. But I also wanted to somehow express my gratefulness for how her life was totally subjugated to the needs of my sister and I, so much so that after we grew, she never found a replacement.

My friend Graham led the service. Even though he had not met my mum, he knew her through me, so that when he contacted me and offered to do it, I felt a gathering sense of relief and ‘rightness’. We had a long conversation about her life, but the conversation from my point of view seemed incoherant, because how on earth can you sum up a whole life on Zoom? Somehow Graham took these ramblings and pulled together a story that made sense, bringing a depth of insight even to me, whose clarity was perhaps obscured by proximity.

I will say more about what Graham said in another post, because I am still processing some of it, but here is what I said at the service;

There were three of us; my mum, my sister and me, growing in our own bubble, cut off from everything else by…

By what?

By being different perhaps. Two children raised by a single mother on benefits on a middle-class suburban estate, but no, it was more than that…

We went to church, when others did not – and a particular kind of church. The black-and-white, bonkers kind of church where people raised their hands and spoke in tongues. We had no TV and listened to different kinds of music. But it was more than that too…

My mother was not the average kind of person. You could say, not normal. She had odd ideas about the world and wild rages, often triggered by minor childish infractions.

My sister Katharine externalised her rebellion.

I internalised mine.

Both of us carried our scars, but it was my mother whose upbringing was the most damaging.

She grew up as the unexpected and unwanted child of aging parents at a time when the word ‘bastard’ was a literal insult. There was no warmth on offer, no love, no understanding of the emotional needs of a small girl. No presents at Christmas or birthday. No encouragement to overcome her struggles at school, which would now have been diagnosed as dyslexia.

Small wonder that she wanted to escape. She had dreams of a different kind of life; for someone to whisk her away, like what happened in films.

Instead, she found herself alone with two small children.

My sisterand I with my mothers parents, 1967.

There was much about the way she raised us that was very problematic, but one thing I have no doubt of is this- she did the best that she could. She took everything that she had, every bit of knowledge, every scraped-together penny, and poured it in to my sister Katharine and me. We were her everything; her reason for being, and as we grew beyond needing her, she found no easy replacement.

The bubble we lived in burst. I moved away, although Katharine and my mother continued with their tempestuous interdependent relationship. Despite all of this, our bond was never broken.

Even with the coming of our beautiful next generation of grandchildren, it was still about the three of us, because only we could ever really understand what that bubble had been like.

Today is a day when I remember the other two people who shared my bubble- not only my mother, but also, my dear sister who died last year.

Now, I am the only one holding these memories. This knowing, that was once shared, is mine alone.

For now at least.

I do not know what happens when we leave this life, but I do not believe it is the end.

The life of my mother is over…

…but not the life she set in motion. That continues on in me and my family.

Nor the life that was in her. That has moved on.

She was life, but now she is life.

2 thoughts on “Legacy…

  1. Hi Chris. What a moving post. Thank you. We don’t know each other but I do want to tell you that I really value This Fragile Tent – i ‘get’ it – at least i think i do, perhaps it is a little presumptuous to say with absolute certainty that I ‘get’ it! But I value your approach, the language you use, the sense of ‘now but not yet’. I think it is very brave, open, vulnerable for you to share like this – perhaps it is a case that for you, sharing like this helps, puts words to your thoughts maybe. But I’m rambling. I just wanted to say thank you. all the best Rob

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