A month ago today my mother passed away in relative peace in a hospital in Australia. She had been unwell for some years, so in some respects it was not unexpected, but that doesn’t prepare you for the loss. The grief.
I had booked flights to Australia the weekend before for the weekend ahead, but I missed seeing her. I am glad that my brother had been with her shortly before, but sad that my father had been apart from her because of his own illness. I made it back for the funeral, which was a small affair with friends and family. Officiated by a minister in the Presbyterian church mum attended for as long as she could, the eulogies presented by a sister-in-law and former school mate, a brother-in-law who had been Mum and Dad’s best man, and me. I have decided to publish my eulogy here on my blog.
Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about stories that encapsulate mum and what she meant to me, as though one story ever could. Mum filled her life with many activities and touched the lives of countless in various ways.
Then, I remembered the day back in 2004 when I went to tell Mum and Dad that I had got a job in England and would be moving to live in the UK for a few years at least. I was nervous; it’s a big piece of news to share. But, I needn’t have worried. Mum had guessed pretty much my plans, and I remember her sharing how different things were back in the early 1960s when she embarked for her first big overseas adventure with Dad shortly after they married. Back then regular communication was letter writing, the post carried by sea and taking about 3 months or so to travel between London and Sydney. They had kept aside an amount of money for a telegram in case of an emergency. Phone calls were prohibitively expensive. But, now we have Skype, emails – and even regular phone calls are affordable. And so it was that we kept in contact, adjusting as needed, and we also met up in various far flung places.
As I stared at the map showing the distance my flight had travelled and the distance yet to come on my return to Sydney last week, my thoughts turned to Mum’s love of travel, of exploring new places both in Australia and overseas, and the joy she took in sharing her and Dad’s adventures.
As a family, we travelled across NSW to meet branches of her family – the old uncles in Coonamble and Coonabarabran, a family driving holiday up the NSW coast, another in Victoria, and another around Tassie – Mum loved to drive so much especially out in the open country. Further afield I remember her stories about her and Dad’s driving trip around Ireland. About doing what the locals do to supplement an erratic bus service, and patiently waiting while the locals chatted in the narrow village streets.
Annual trips to Mudgee for the music and wine festivals were a loved feature of Mum’s life while I was studying in Canberra, and I used to enjoy her reports.
Mum, with Dad, explored Europe from West to East – all the way to Russia, and meeting family in Germany and the Netherlands at various times. I remember her talking about the first snow and ice she encountered in the Netherlands on her first trip in the early 1960s.
The UK – both London and beyond – and as a family we lived there twice, and S— was of course born there. Connected to those trips were weeks at a time in Singapore.
Mum also loved her time in New York City, and I enjoyed hearing about her experiences in California and Mexico, and later from Vietnam and Cambodia. Later yet the cruises around the Pacific, and around Australia.
I was pleased to be able to join both Mum and Dad on trips to Hamburg, Rome and Athens on separate occasions. In each we did what Mum and Dad both loved – spend about a week in each city to get to know it a bit better. Mum shared her wisdom in getting us to explore what we wanted to explore, and while we shared dinner together we also shared what we had seen and done. Easier in these days of digital photography to share the photos we had taken, and Mum took some amazing photographs.
Mum curated all the various travels in numerous photo albums, which are a joy to review and relive shared adventures, and to see how the minutiae of international and domestic travel has changed in the kept tickets and timetables.
Mum also travelled far in her books – histories, biographies, novels, and detective fiction. She was a regular at the local library, latterly they regularly visited to deposit a selection. We shared books and our views on them in emails, but more often in person when we met in Sydney, or in the UK, or elsewhere in Europe.
It’s difficult to remember that within all that travel Mum worked for much of the time that she raised me and S— – she loved her job at Formica, and treasured the friendships she made there. They joined long friendships from other places where she had worked, also in the UK on the two long stays there in the early 1960s and early 1970s.
On retirement, she volunteered her time for Amnesty International, and then also cleaning stamps for re-sale for charity – something she was doing until very recently when she could.
But she also took courses and learned how to make books; I treasure the notebooks she made and gave as gifts.
Mum was everything that Aunty Lyn and Uncle Guy have already shared.
A school friend of mine told me how much she remembers Mum being so welcoming when they came over to our house in B—, and later in North Sydney. I remember the many parties of my friends, of her and Dad’s friends, and of course the Groenewegen family Christmases.
Mum lived a long and full life; always giving. She will live on in our memories – and there are so very many memories.