Sunday, June 07, 2015

Nanny McPhee

It is June and I realise I have not blogged at all in 2015. Which is shameful. All I can say in my defence is that it has been a very busy year.

Anyway. Here I am, with a very overdue post about my amazing mum, Ann Moffatt, who died after a very short and sudden illness last May.

What can I say about my mum? So very very much, and yet I don't think I have enough or adequate words to explain what and how much she meant to me. Or how much I miss her a year on. However old I get to be, I don't think I will ever be done missing her.

However as a start I'll say my mum was like Nanny McPhee , always there when you needed her, though unlike Nanny McPhee always always wanted as well. I am one of eight children and my mother pulled off the extraordinary trick of always being there for each  of her children whenever any of us had a problem. So twenty odd years ago, after I'd had minor surgery the first face I saw when I came round was my mum's. Never mind that my dad had been very poorly and she was undoubtedly worried sick (not that she'd have let me know that) she squeezed out a few hours in a very stressful period to dash across London so she could be with me when I woke up. Looking back now I am astounded by her generosity and nonchalance about what it must have cost her. As the years rolled on, and particularly after my dad died, she made it a point of honour to be there for the births of all of our children. I remember talking to women in my antenatal class about how they were all dreading their mums being around. And all I could think was I can't imagine having a baby without my mum being there.

Because Mother was just extraordinary. She would arrive at the later stages of my pregnancy, make me sit down, cook us meals, and quietly and competently take over the running of the household without ever appearing interfering. At every point in every pregnancy when Mama turned up I would breathe a sigh of relief and welcome her arrival and the chance for me to take a break. She was also brilliantly clear about what she would and wouldn't do - she was there to help, but wasn't up for night duty. Fair enough, these were my babies. She also was deeply restrained about not jumping in and taking over the baby. She regarded her role as looking after me so I could have time with the new arrival. An unusual and I think rare generosity in a grandmother.

And yet when she did look after the babies, she did it with such aplomb and ease I was in awe. We had a family holiday when our second daughter was two months old. She was a colicky baby and difficult to settle. Five minutes under my mother's capable ministrations and said baby was burped swaddled and sleeping happily. Can't say I ever managed to do that as well as she did.

As the children grew, my mother came into her own as a doting loving grandmother, whose house in Shropshire was a haven for us all.  My children have the happiest childhood memories of weekends spent scrabbling up hillsides, playing pooh sticks in the brook and trying (and failing) to beat Gamma at scrabble. ( I think I beat her once in my entire life).

As time went on I was increasingly tied up with not only my children but my in laws. My father in law had a massive stroke just after our eldest was born and needed constant care thereafter. So long before the term was invented Spouse and I were sandwich carers to two elderly parents and four small children. When my lovely father in law died in 2003, we took on the role of unofficial carers to my mother in law. Throughout this period my mother was a constant support. We didn't live close to one another, but I rang her every week (a habit started when I first left home which I never lost. I was heartbroken last year when her illness meant those phone calls came to an abrupt and sudden end). And every week. Mother would patiently listen to my gripes and groans, and be there with good practical advice.

Because that was another thing about my mum. She was and amazingly practical person. Devoutly religious, she always related to Martha rather than Mary. She found it hard to express feelings in words, but boy did she express them in actions. Nearly four years ago when my mil developed leukaemia and was dying, we made the decision to have her living with us. After a single phone call when Mother picked up how stressed I was (empathy another quality)  she rang me and said ,  "I've cleared my diary, I'll be on the next train." And next thing I knew at a point in my life when I was utterly at my wits end, there was my mum in the background doing her thing. Again. It was the same routine as when I was pregnant. She never interfered or judged us, she simply made us dinner, picked the youngest up from school, did laundry, ironing and housework, and quite frankly kept me sane. As a ex nurse her skills came in useful when I didn't know what to do, teaching me how to roll mil in bed and how to lift her out of a chair without breaking my back (towel under the arms and pull. You're welcome. Of course modern health and safety says that's a no no, but like a lot of Ma's old fashioned remedies it damned well worked. She was just incredible . At 81 showing no sign of slowing down at all.

And yet... Maybe the signs were there. As soon as mil got so I'll she needed to go into the hospice, Mother was booking her train home. I remember feeling slightly miffed at the time, I wanted to spend some relaxed time with her, and she as pushing off. But looking back I can see she must have been knackered, but being my mum she could never have admitted it. But still tired or not, when I rang to tell her on 23 December that mil had died and we wouldn't be coming to her at Christmas as planned, she didn't show me any of the disappointment I know she would have been feeling but just let me cry down the phone. And the after the funeral was over insisted I spent a few days with her alone in Shropshire for some much needed r and r. That was my mum all over. Seeing what you needed, even when you couldn't yourself.

She was always a force of nature:energetic, capable, and positive. We all thought she'd go on for ever. I'd always had visions of her dying in her 90s, possibly in her sleep after climbing care caradoc for the last time. So it was a massive shock to discover in February last year that she was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. I cried very day for six weeks when I found out. How could my stalwart reliable amazing mother be dying. It didn't seem possible, but it was happening and there was nothing I could do.

We were initially told she might have till the summer, but as it happened, the illness took its toll faster than that. I suspect she knew there was something wrong and ignored it, she was ever an optimist. I am immensely grateful she was able to spend her last Christmas in Africa visiting my brothers, and that she got to go to the hospital she nursed in in Kenya in 1957.  I am also pleased I was able to pick her up from that trip and had the privilege of driving her home and hearing her outpouring of joy at what she had witnessed.

Her attitude to dying was typical. She wrote to us all and told us not to be sad, she'd had a wonderful life and was grateful. She spent her last weeks welcoming her family's: children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews and her friends, refusing to be sad, and telling everyone she was having a lovely time.

Pending those last few weeks with her as much as I could, given the distance involved was one of the greatest privileges of ,y life. As was the moment when(knowing how much she hated emotional outpouring so) I told her I loved her, and she said "well this is the time to say it, I love you too." Words I had never before heard her utter. The night before she died, I spent a few hours alone with her and a hospice nurse, holding her hand, and talking though I have no idea whether she could hear or not. It was one of the most profound and meaningful times in my life, and I am so grateful I could be there. I guess she was listening though, because at 6am I to,d her my brother's plane had touched down from South Africa. Some time afterwards, the nurse told me to rouse everyone as this was the end. Only it wasn't. She hung on long enough  for my brother (and sister who had done an insane midnight drive to pick him up) to arrive.

She died about an hour later, surrounded by her children, exactly as she would have wanted.

A year on, and I am still coming to terms with her loss. But I feel immensely lucky that she was my mum.  She was my rock and,y anchor throughout life till now. I miss her more than I can say. But I'm lucky. Not everyone can saytheirmum was Nanny McPhee. I