Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eileen Daisy Roylance
18th April 1918 - 15th November 2009

I've been off this bloggery thang for a while, it would seem.
so here we go again.

Death of Mother would seem to be an appropriate time and place to re-prime the pump.

"This is a day we've all been dreading, the day that marks the end of something, something so big that nothing - no event, no memorial, certainly no mere words - can possibly do justice to its magnitude, to the hugeness of its effect.

At her ninetieth birthday party last year, lots of jokes were made about looking forward to mum's centenary. I, for one, fully expected that she would last, if not forever, at least for a good few more years yet. Whenever I mention her to friends, I invariably resort to the old platitude that she's as tough as old boots. And it will be some time before I - before any of us - will find ourselves easy with converting that 'is' to a 'was' - using the past tense when we talk about her.

In the end, she has gone suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly. Obviously, we've all been preparing ourselves, but, actually, how do you really prepare for such an event?

In reality, of course, the preparations began three years ago, when dad died. They were the perfect couple - entwined like an ancient pair of vines that's grown into and wrapped around each other - utterly devoted, quite inseparable, and yet, finally, subject to that awful separation that the marriage ceremony implies but glosses over - til death us do part. For some time after dad passed away, mum kept finding scraps of paper with a few loving phrases or verses tucked away in books and at the back of cupboard drawers - deliberately hidden for her to find after he'd gone. I'm sure I wasn't the only one of us who feared back then that she'd follow him almost immediately, and the fact that she didn't is testament as much to her devotion to the rest of her family as to her physical and spiritual toughness. She really wanted to follow him, but she felt there were still things to do here before she could.

This interim period of widowhood has been a harrowing time for her, as it has for all those in the family who've had to witness it, but she endured, and carried on, more for the sake of her family than for anything else.

Whenever I hear the word 'selfless' I think 'mum' - she was literally incapable of putting her own needs before those of her family. Dad was the same, of course. So there's a crumb of comfort, now, to we who have to continue without her, in the knowledge that she's finally reunited with dad - in whatever form we choose to imagine that - but I choose to believe that that, ultimately, is what she's been looking forward to ever since he went.

There's comfort, also, in the knowledge that her end was sudden, neither painfully protracted nor preceded by the tragedy of mental deterioration that's so distressing for the families that have to suffer it. If mum's body was as tough as old boots, her mind, to stay in the realm of the platitude, remained as sharp as a whistle right to the end. When she used to play Scrabble, she took no prisoners. She was equally merciless at Boggle. And woe betide anyone who tried to pull one over her in the market.

Because she lived so much closer to mum than either myself or my brother Nigel, our sister Yvonne has become mum's primary carer in recent years, and I don't want to let this opportunity pass of publicly acknowledging the huge debt of gratitude we owe to both her and my brother-in-law Andrew for the work they have both been doing to make mum's life easier as her physical frailty increased. Whenever I phoned mum, she had something to tell me about something either Yvonne or Andrew had done which had made her life easier or happier, or both, and she used to express concern that they might think she was taking their work for granted. She wasn't. Thank you, both of you, on both her and our behalf, for all you've done.

We'll all be remembering different aspects of her, of course. To some she was the Eileen whose fairytale wartime romance and marriage to Les was, I imagine, the envy of a fair number of her peers, and of dad's. To others she was that nice Mrs Roylance who helped them with their reading at primary school, and knitted chocolate Easter egg chicks for them every Easter. To others she was the mother of those three charming, gifted and good-mannered children who were the very apple of her eye (that's my brother and sister and me, by the way). And to us, she was either auntie, nana, great-nana, or mum. She was a good mother - loving, generous, non-judgmental, totally supportive - and she worked incredibly hard, all her life, to make the family home as comfortable and welcoming as she could manage. But as a nana she was truly great. She was besotted with her grandchildren, and they, in turn, seemed to recognise the innate childishness in her that lingered behind that grownup mask of grey-haired responsibility and experience, a kind of delightful playfulness that was always bubbling under, waiting to be released by the children's laughter.

We who've always known her know that she was uncomfortable with being in the public eye - she was embarassed at public praise, and could barely manage a quietly stuttered 'thank you' when it was given. I can so easily imagine her response to our presence here now: "It's lovely to see you all together", she would say, "Don't be too upset on my account." And then the words would get stuck in her mouth and the hankie would come out.

So - mum - that's it. No more flowery tributes. No more awkward words of praise. We're thinking them, of course, but we won't embarass you with them. The most important thing is that we know that you loved us. Your whole life was a demonstration of that. And we know that you know that we loved you. So rest now. With dad. You remain in our hearts, now and for always."

That's what I said at the funeral the day before yesterday - the dutiful son's eulogy, the edited version, the words that all the family wanted to hear. "Beautiful", they all said. they were hard to deliver. tears were shed.

I'd already confessed to my sons - the only ones who really matter - that I felt somewhat monstrous for feeling less grief than relief, so the hypocrisy of those beautiful words had to some extent been pre-absolved. and I think my genuine grief (I needed to spend a few final minutes alone with her, after everyone else had filed out, weeping over the coffin) emerged, less from the loss itself, than from the guilt I felt - still feel - at feeling that relief.

my boys, certainly, and one or two friends - the few who have had some insight into my complicated relationship with my family - understand. it would require something tediously biographical to explain it all, and I really don't think this is either the time or the place to get into all that.