As most of you know, our family lost our Mum three years ago and we still feel her absence keenly. On Mothers Day in particular – not just because it’s Mothers Day, but because Mothers Day marks the beginning of the end of her life. Mothers Day was the last time I saw her at home. It was the last day we shared a cuppa, and the last day that we had a proper conversation. After that, for the next couple of weeks, it was just the hospital bedside, and Mum, asleep.
But I don’t want to dwell on the sadness, or how keenly I feel her absence. Or how much I know she would have loved my three-year old, if she’s had the chance to get to know her. I’m not dwelling on that, because it makes me sad.
I want you people to get a feel for the woman that she was. So today for my Womenfolk series, I introduce you to Elizabeth McDonald, my Mum.
Mum was a country girl; she was born and grew up in Wangaratta. She met my Dad there, got married and had five of her seven children there. Her parents lived there till there deaths and she still has a sister there now. Wangaratta is her final resting place. Her ashes overlook over a rose garden, and she looks out over where her parents and her brother lie.
Mum was a nurse and was very committed to her career in aged care. She always worked, for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is following her around, in her white nurses uniform with her nurses badge pinned to the collar. She looked after the elderly right up until her retirement. If we were to have a conversation today about how hard it is to balance work and family life, I probably wouldn’t have a forum – she worked, looked after seven children in a generation where Dads just weren’t hands-on.
I loved having a nurse for my Mum. When I was sick, she’d tuck me in bed so tight, with lovely crisp hospital corners. She’d pop a thermometer into my mouth, and put her hand on my forehead; all soft and warm. Then she’d bring Lucozade to drink. Because it was fizzy it was a treat.
She was a mother to seven children, so her caring never stopped – at work and at home, she was on duty 24/7. She was no-nonsense because she needed to be. Organising seven kids, a husband and a job is not something many women of my generation would attempt.
While she was pragmatic, and no-nonsense, she was a jolly character, loved a laugh and had what she described as ‘gallows humour’. She loved that all her kids were a little bit wild; and she encouraged us to be brave, independent spirits. She recognised and celebrated the differences in all of us, and did everything she possibly could to nurture those differences.
My Mum loved to travel. She was 22 when she had her first child (and they came thick and fast from then on – seven in ten years!) so she missed the opportunity to travel the world while young and free. She made up for lost time in her middle age. Her mother was English and she never lost the connection to England. In one of her emails sent on her travels, she said of arriving in London “I feel like I’ve come home”. All of her children got the travel bug from her and she ended up with an English and Irish son in law, an English daughter in law and a Swiss daughter in law.
She loved the finer things in life – she loved the ballet, the opera and the theatre. She is the reason I love Shakespeare so much – when I was living in London and too poor to do anything, she’d get tickets to as many performances at the Globe that we could fit in on her visit. I’ve had afternoon tea at The Ritz in London three times, thanks to my Mum. She took me to my first ever opera when I was 16.
She is why I’m a tea drinker, and why I have to have a fine china cup. These days, on the weekends we drink tea out of her Royal Doulton china tea set. She is the reason I love books. Every birthday, every Christmas and every opportunity in between Mum would buy us books. Even when she knew I wouldn’t read (as a teen I was WAY to cool to read), she would still buy me books. I guess she knew well enough that I’d come back to it. She was an avid reader – she always had a book on the go.
She was a beautiful seamstress and sewed all our clothes for years. Even our bikinis. Our doona covers, t-shirts, gymnastics leotards, school formal gowns, casual dresses, jump suits. She is the reason I’m trying to learn to sew now. She is my creative inspiration.
She gave her very best years to us. She suffered a broken heart when her marriage to my Dad ended, but she waded though it in her own way.
Of all the creative, inspirational and amazing women in my life, she is by far the most influential. All that is left of her, is what she left behind in me, and my brothers and sisters. We must all live well so to do her life justice and pass on to our children all that she loved. We need to keep reading, keep drinking tea, roaming the planet and being just a little bit wild.