Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography Chapter 20

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Chapter 20

 

December 09 2014

My house is very cold, the heating’s broken. I’m sitting at my PC wearing a coat and hat, my feet feel like blocks of ice. Each morning I take a cold shower but this morning the water was so cold it hurt. When I was a child I would have just gone in to cold streams to swim without a qualm, but nowadays I have to summon an amount of courage before letting the water touch me.

 

12 November 2014

I just watched a news item about deaf children in Uganda, the issue: Deaf people in Uganda are treated as fools, isolated and abused. There are centres that will teach them sign language, but often the parents resist sending them because they don’t want to spend money on them. The program was overly sentimental and could easily have been an advert for some charity, but the issue of the isolation and abuse that is dealt to people with hearing impairments is a big problem all over the world, not just in Uganda. I have often thought that sign language should be part of the national curriculum because it’s a useful tool to be able to converse silently without the use of technology. Anyway, what’s my point? When I was watching this I was thinking about how they referred to the constant tripping up in any attempts to educate these children because they didn’t have a solid foundation in the basics of their education. This rang a bell for me, especially as I’ve been thinking about this chapter, about my first year or so in school. I constantly felt like I was a bit of an idiot, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the situation. At that point I hadn’t grasped the need for studying in order to really understand things.

Another thing I noticed in the film was how much the kids had to do on top of their school work, cleaning up, carrying water and so on. This in the context of a few things that are going on in my life right now resonated with me. I had been speaking to several teachers about the issue of disciplining children and they all said that the pendulum has gone too far the other way, the children are often so rude that they make teaching and learning difficult.

 

*                      *                      *

 

November 1976

“I’m not the worst kid in the class mum! There’s someone who gets lower marks than me”

Then that kid left and I was the worst one.

In year 1 at Wilson’s I didn’t settle in well. The reality of being in a school that demanded hours of homework and an amount of self-discipline to actually learn what was requested meant that I came face to face with my inadequacies straight away. I felt that I was thick compared to the other children in the class.

As the winter months approached mum would make porridge and pour it on these plates she’d bought when she moved in, blue and purple squares set in to a mosaic like pattern that created a bigger square. Covered in sugar with a moat of milk around it, all would go well till we wanted to leave, then the need to go to the loo, no doubt brought on by the stodgy breakfast, would have us leaving late. I would rarely get to school on time, it kind of fitted in with not fitting in.

I lacked self-discipline, so it was hard for me to make myself get on and study. That bit is still there in me, although now I do tend to work, I’ll often buy a book and subconsciously believe that just by buying it I will somehow magically take in its contents without actually having to read it. I’ve recently found I can get my phone to read books out to me whilst I drive, which is a kind of halfway house.

Some people believe that in time we’ll find a way to insert information in to our brain without having to study, but maybe it’s the process of studying that gives us more than the information by itself, I suppose especially in the way we can reflect on words and ideas as we progress through the information.

As I started writing notes for this chapter I found it hard to remember what happened in the first year of being at Wilson’s, it’s as if only highlights get to remain in my memory. If humans start to live for centuries how will their brains cope with the memories they accumulate, it only seems logical to presume the areas of our brain that hold memories are ultimately finite, and in the process of storing things either things have to be completely forgotten or will we just get full and not be able to take on any more? Of course memory doesn’t work like a computer hard drive, where bits of information are in a physical form, memory, as far as I can understand from watching a few YouTube videos is partly the effect of a series of synaptic connections among the neurons in our brains getting a pulse of electrical charge and chemicals running through them. However, whether we remember much more than we think, we all know that over time a lot of what we experience is very hard to recall. In some ways we create who we are by what we choose to recall (albeit subconsciously most of the time). Sorry if I’m going on a bit too much about this but it is relevant to what’s coming up. Some people believe that forgetting occurs in long-term memory when the formerly strengthened synaptic connections among the neurons in a neural network become weakened, or when the activation of a new network is superimposed over an older one, thus causing interference in the older memory. In other words similar experiences may well “overwrite” the previous memory. So if we get to live longer will we still only have the ability to recall a finite amount of memories? Anyway, basically that’s my excuse for not remembering much about this time in my life and writing about memory instead!

So often through life I have had a bit too much confidence in my memory, sometimes I have what I think is a great idea but just a few minutes later I can’t remember it. This characteristic coupled with a lack of desire to get down and study led me to start falling behind. I was keenly aware that I was one of the weaker students in the school. It wasn’t that I was particularly stupid, but I didn’t feel motivated, nor had the capacity at that point to study.

I seemed to be moving from one world in to another. At school I was a bit of an idiot and relied on feeling some kind of significance by trying to be a bit tough, a bit renegade, cheeky, and one of the lads. This was my Roundshaw identity making itself known in Wilson’s School, but on Roundshaw I was now even more of an outsider because I went to Wilson’s and was considered a bit of a clever clogs.

As I cycled around after school one day a boy shoved his tennis racket handle in to the spokes of my back wheel and said something like “Alright professor?!!”

My bike came to an abrupt stop. I got off the bike and punched him quite hard in the chest. He was shocked, and backed off. I stood there glaring at him for a comeback but he just picked up his racket and walked away.

I no longer fitted in on Roundshaw or at Wilson’s, it was a kind on no-man’s land

 

*                      *                      *

 

March 2014

I find my way to the hospital, from my car I see Stephen standing near a window a couple of floors up, it’s night, but I can see his silhouette surrounded by an orange wall behind him. He’s on the phone to me, guiding me in. He comes down to meet me, then shows me up to the ward.

 

*                      *                      *

 

1976

Wilson’s was built using distinctive pale yellow bricks. It had a central area in front of which was the assembly hall which protruded towards the main  road. The main area went up 2 floors (3 storeys) and in the centre of it was a dual zig-zag staircase surrounded by glass panels. To each side of the main area were 2 storey wings and beyond them on the left a swimming pool, gym and squash courts and on the right  science, arts and crafts blocks. Behind and to the sides were playing fields, tennis courts (the smoking area) and a cadet building which included a rifle range.

You may have noticed that I don’t normally try to describe things in detail, apart from finding such passages boring when I have to read them, I also tend to think that if someone was to draw out what was described the outcome would look nothing like the original object, not unless of course it was so detailed that it took a solicitor to draw it up.

The main headmaster was Mr Friskney, he was mild mannered with an edge of foreboding, the deputy head, Mr Massey, who was a bulldog / sergeant major type who most people, including the staff, were scared of, then there was the head of the sports department, Mr Sollis, who was short and bearded, strict and kindly, he’d been at the school as a pupil too and would often tell of being a prefect and his caning of Michael Caine who was a pupil at the school too, and lastly, for now, Mrs Hearne, who had been a rally bike champion and now taught science.

The main routine of each day was that at 8:45 register would be called in all classes and the form masters would deal with any issues, then all the students would make their way to the assembly hall where a hymn would be sung, a short sermon given, a talk by the headmaster and then the school day would begin. There would be 2 lesson periods a short break in the morning between lessons, another 2 lessons, then lunch, then another 2 lessons, then home if you weren’t in a detention or doing extra curricula activities.

The school was quite strict, punishments included being hit with the cane (a stick) or the slipper (a shoe), detention (being kept in after school ended), sides (filling A4 sheets of paper with writing), picking up waste around the school, suspension (being excluded temporarily from school) or expelling (being excluded from Wilson’s forever). On the whole the kids at Wilson’s were quite well behaved.  We don’t have many punishments in schools today, maybe the alternative methods of getting kids to behave aren’t carried out well, but anyway, generally the behaviour is somewhat unsurprisingly bad in a lot of schools nowadays.

 

*                      *                      *

 

1976

Mum’s mum had had a stroke and was set to live in mum’s sister’s house.

“I’ve got some bad news Simon, Gran has had another stroke and she might die, we have to go and see her.”

So we went to see her, and that’s when she called me over and put her hand on my face. I think she was trying to say sorry for how she had rejected me. I felt embarrassed and didn’t understand what was going on, all I could think about at the time was that all my cousins were watching me. She was trying to say sorry but at that point I didn’t understand. It must have been very frustrating for her.

This is my last memory of her, because sure enough a few days later she did die, I didn’t go to her funeral, it was as if a funeral wasn’t the place to bring a child, to see others grieving or maybe I would be seen as a hindrance, but for me it was as if she hadn’t died at all.

In time the share of the money from her estate came to mum and went towards a flat about a mile away from Roundshaw.

 

*                      *                      *

December 7 2014

 

When does someone stop being who they are?

When Gran had a stroke she no longer communicated as she had done before, she had changed, but it was still her. Who she was, was no longer defined by her personality. In fact the philosopher Gurdjieff may have gone as far as saying that our personality is everything that is not us. That our essence is defined by other aspects of who we are, and exists from the moment of our creation. But a stroke takes away a chunk of what makes us who we are by destroying part of our brain and yet, changed to the core we are still who we are. It’s as if we could change every atom of ourselves except that which is our essence and we would still be who we were.

Even once our brain has fully died, and our body lies decomposing, even then, though people say that it is just the vessel through which we lived, even that shell is us, and yet not us, this extends to the dust that’s left after cremation, or to the bones in a grave and the stone that sits upon it.. And when that vessel has been, that which is us, but which isn’t us too, lives on if only in the minds of those who brushed up against us in life, or in the air that encircled us, or the words that dreamt of us.

Who we are is not just our consciousness, it is both that which makes up who we think we are and the thoughts that echo of us throughout the universe.

A ruined building still portrays something of its previous life but is unrecognizable to itself.

 

*                      *                      *

 

1976

A few months after gran died I was in the living room listening to some music and heard gran call my name. I thought at first it might have been something in the music that sounded similar, so I played back the same bit but there was nothing there. I went and asked mum if she’d called me, but she hadn’t. I presumed I must have imagined it, but close to 40 years later I still remember that moment vividly.

 

*                      *                      *

 

1976

I brought a few friends from school back to the flat on Roundshaw during my first year at school, one day we tried smoking around the toilet, and forgot to flush the cigarette away, so mum asked me about it later, I denied all involvement. She smoked so didn’t make much of it, and probably because it wasn’t a big deal I didn’t try it again.

Then there was the incident of me shooting the woman in the back with an air pistol, whilst a friend from school implored me not to, and do you remember when I mentioned in Chapter 16 what Mr Phil got up to, well that happened in this transitional period too. His real name was Phil Bassett, he died on 2nd August 2005, I wonder how many other kids suffered at his hands. It wasn’t so much what he did to me, that was relatively minor, but I imagine more will come out in time if his name is revealed here. It seems unfair to speak ill of the dead but by mentioning him by name it will allow others to come forward if there are any.

It was a dark time, the nights were drawing in, and instead of going home to do my homework I would jump on a 233 bus to West Croydon then head for the “luxurious” watch department in Alders of Croydon where I’d salivate over digital watches. Eventually I saved enough money to buy an LED watch with a dark red face which would illuminate with numbers at the touch of a button and then with a touch of another button it would tell me the date. In those days this was a cool item to have and instead of being any good in my school work I thought being the first kid in the class to have a digital watch would make up for it.

25 years after getting it, retro watches such as this one came back in to fashion once more. I got a new battery for it and started wearing it again. For a couple of minutes I felt a bit hip, then a few days later it disappeared. I didn’t know if I had lost it or it had been stolen, but even now, I can see it clearly, and somewhere amongst the piles of sentimental rubbish I hoard is its turquoise velvet box separated from its lost soul contents forever.

 

*                      *                      *

 

One day Mr Jefferson, our Religious Education teacher and Reverend for the school turned up at my home. I invited him in, even though I had no idea why he’d turned up. He asked me how I was and how I was finding school then told me why he was there. It went something like:

“The reason I’ve come here is because we’ve been discussing your application to go on the school trip to Germany and we feel it would be very impractical to have you on it because when it came to going to the toilet or needing help doing other things who would be responsible for helping you? It seems unfair to expect that of any of the other students or teachers for that matter. Anyway I do hope you understand and can accept this large bar of chocolate as a gesture of apology”

He pulled out a large bar of chocolate which did seem to make a bit of an impact, also he was charm personified and on top of that mum had been telling me that she couldn’t afford it really, so at that moment I accepted it graciously.

It wasn’t till a bit later, maybe 10 years later, that I could see it in a more political way. It was true that I may have had more needs than others but instead of looking in to ways of solving those issues without burdening people and excluding me, which as the school was to find out a year or so later, was actually a realistic likelihood, they chose a kind of easier way out, to send in the charm and chocolate brigade, however in the long run excluding people can weigh heavy on both the excluders and excluded, so it’s best avoided if possible.

In my mid 20’s I wrote a song called Grateful. Here are some of the words from it, the ones that relate to this point in my life:

 

Grateful

28 October ‘90

 

When I was a child in need of material things
The local politician would his camera man bring
Him and the local charity would help me
Help them get some free publicity

And I was told that it was no one’s fault
And I was told to be grateful
For anything they bought
But I’ve never seen the working class
Licking out the rich kid’s ass
Or brushing the dust off the politician’s coat
For getting them their rightful vote

So I don’t think that I should be grateful
For the way you make me feel disabled
No I don’t think that I should be grateful
For the way you add “dis” to able
‘Cause when it comes to understanding

Here’s the point of the story! 

It takes more than a charity run
When it comes to change
It takes more
Than a program packed with fun
When it comes to brotherly love
It takes more than a sentimental song
More than a million pounds
That the last event wrung

 

You see Mr Phil, I mean Phil Bassett, didn’t really feel for me, nor was he interested in really getting to understand what my needs might be, so one day when he decided that my writing might not be very legible he saw an opportunity to get some publicity out of the situation. I wasn’t really aware of the detrimental aspects of this, but I knew deep down I didn’t feel comfortable, but I didn’t know why. Later I was able to put the pieces together and this is what I came up with. By using me to raise money for something that I might need it put me in to a category not far from begging, where my destiny was not defined by my rights as a member of society but instead as second class citizen whose fate lay in the hands of my peers’ feelings of sorrow for me. Later this would be given a good strap line “Rights Not Charity”. At first this might seem unrealistic to some people but the more I thought about it the more it made sense. What are our basic rights within an inclusive society, and why is it better to be inclusive? Many things that people are asked to raise money for should be a right, obviously many things are not too. In the US health care is not seen as a right, in the UK and much of Europe it is, even so, sometimes though some people’s lives hang in the balance of people who decide to dress up as rabbit and run 25 miles in order to raise money for some specialised equipment for instance. So for me I started to see that I was being displaced in many aspects of my life, displaced from my peers on Roundshaw, not really included properly in Wilson’s, and a second class citizen of the wider community. Unable to perform well academically at that point, I think I felt I had to get my feelings of significance from appearing clever to one set of people, tough to another, and as normal as possible whenever I could.

So Mr Phil, you know who I mean, got his free publicity, I got a typewriter which I never used, and a load of people got to feel good out of it. I’m not criticising them because they were acting out of kindness, but the politicians and businesses who use

people to get cheap publicity, I don’t have much time for them.  As Ophelia said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

 

“Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

 

*                      *                      *

 

March 18 2014

Mum has already been in hospital for a few days now. She has been in before and because I don’t live close by and the nurse has asked me to come up when they bring her round, however they have taken her off the sedative and she’s still sleeping. Stephen, who lives across the other side of the world has already come over. I’m not sure why I didn’t rush to her side, maybe it was just selfishness, or a sign of detachment, maybe not wanting to face reality, maybe all of those things and more. But now I’m here.

Mum is asleep still, her breathing is a bit laboured. The doctor wants to talk with us outside of the room in case she can hear us.

“It seems your mother has suffered an amount of hypoxia.”

What’s that?

“It’s a lack of oxygen that effects the brain. She’s certainly got some damage to the brain, but we can’t tell until we do some scans and even with them we won’t be able to tell its full effects until she wakes up. I have done some tests on her and they indicate that the level of damage is quite severe, it’s not the worst but it’s still quite bad. I want to show you something, come with me”

We follow him back to the room where he digs his knuckle in to the centre of her chest, as he does this she brings her arms up, back of wrists first, to where he’s pushing.

“That response indicates that more of the brain is working than if her arms had straightened and she had arched her back”

“So is there any hope of recovery doctor?”

“We really can’t tell at this point. Let’s do the scans and see how things go over the next few days”

Afterwards we are sitting in the room talking as if she is asleep. Stephen says

“Mum, wake up, it’s Stephen, I’ve come all the way over from Australia. Mum? Mum!” But she doesn’t respond.

In intensive care each patient has a dedicated nurse to themselves 24 hours a day. Steve and I sleep on the floor through the nights and start to take it in turns to be there. I do the night shifts, it’s a bit surreal driving back to mum’s house to sleep in the morning, then back in the evening, with some food to snack on through the night.

*                      *                      *

 

1976

The night before we moved from Roundshaw to the new flat I wrote a message on the wall next to my bed to the new occupants. When I got to the new flat after school mum was really angry because she felt very let down when her sister had seen the writing. I guess that’s when I learned that people tend not to appreciate seeing the writing on the wall after all. I never really got in to graffiti art, it was probably as a result of mum’s reaction to this foray in to it.

 

*                      *                      *

 

The new flat was in a block on a man road, it was on the second floor, and once entered it had an L shaped hall way. On the left was a bathroom, then on the longer bit of the L shape were entrances to two bedrooms on the left, opposite which was the kitchen and at the end of it was a large lounge. This was our new stage.

 

*                      *                      *

 

March 2014

After a few days of taking turns doing shifts in mum’s hospital room I decided to come home for a few days to get back some semblance of reality. Then the doctor’s called us in for a meeting to go over mum’s condition. I managed to get caught in traffic so came in at the end of the meeting. Stephen was very upset, as too was the doctor, which was a bit strange, so I could pretty much tell what had been said, however the doctor kindly went over it again for me. The upshot was that most of mum’s higher brain areas had died and swollen, all that was left was the part that kept her alive, the stem. He then showed me the brain scans and along with a diagram showed what was still functioning. He added that the scans are not very precise so more of the brain may be functioning than might appear in the scans, however we should prepare ourselves for the worst.

“What happens next?” I ask

“Well, we’ll take off some of the support systems and see what happens.”

“How long do you think she’ll have?”

“ It’s difficult to say really, a few days, maybe a week, ultimately one has to hope that she’ll get a respiratory infection such as pneumonia and gently, painlessly slip away. They used to call pneumonia the old man’s friend”

“Do you think she has any consciousness?”

“Yes, and no, not as she did before, but something, pre words, probably no memories, no ability to make sense of her surroundings. More of a reactional state living in the moment, but not in any way that we would”

“A kind of primeval consciousness?”

“Maybe, it’s hard to know”

“Will she stay on the intensive care ward?”

“For a day or so, then we’ll move her to another one where she’ll be kept as comfortable as we possibly can.”

So Steve and I continued our shifts. I would look in to her eyes when she woke up, but even though there was a feeling that her eyes would lock on to mine, if I moved my head off centre her eyes did not follow me. It was still mum but she had changed, she would still make noises in her sleep with her voice, but they weren’t words, more like burps and groans and when the nurses would try to clear the back of her throat with a tube she would clench her teeth and move her head away. I think we all felt that whatever was left of her, it could clearly still suffer so we wanted her last days to be as pain free as possible. As it turned out though, these weren’t quite her last days.

 

*                      *                      *

March 2014

One of mum’s friends was very involved during this time, but when I went to give her a hug goodbye, she didn’t want to. I think I know why. At times in the past when mum and I had fallen out as adults mum had confided in this friend and now she was judging me. But that was only one side of the story.

 

*                      *                      *

March 2014

One night I was sitting next to mum in hospital watching “The Walking Dead” on my iPad when I realised that the sounds coming from mum were a bit like the zombies in the program and obviously I couldn’t help but relate mum to them.

 

*                      *                      *

 

October 1976

Our first sports field session at school was to send us out on a cross country run, I think I got about half a mile when a fat kid, with a purple face told me he was having an asthma attack. By this point I too was having an asthma attack and I don’t even have asthma, I realised at that point my running career was over, so I limped back to the school with him. To some it may have appeared by our quick return that we were exceptionally fast cross country runners and no wonder we looked so out of  breath but given our teachers didn’t ask us in to the cross country team I think they had a handle on the reality of the situation.

 

*                      *                      *

November 1976

 

“I want a word with you” mum says to me

“What have I done!!!”

“What haven’t you done, more like it”

“What do you mean?” (I’ve always hated the way some people like to keep the suspense up when it comes to persecution)

“You know!”

My eyes look to the left and I nod my head pleading ignorance

“How about homework, school work, behaving well, not being disruptive, not showing off? I’ve just been  to see your teachers and not one of them had a good thing to say about you. I couldn’t be more ashamed”

My conscious mind probably thought “So what”, but deep down I didn’t want to be a failure.

 

*                      *                      *

 

March 2014

Once we thought that mum would only last a few days we kept a 24 hour vigil and for a week life was put on hold, but Steve had only a month till he would have to return to Australia and during this time we had to start sorting things out, such as mum’s house. It didn’t feel right to do that but we had to be practical.

As we spoke to the neighbours we got an idea of what had happened from those who were there when she collapsed and as we pieced this together I found myself wondering more and more about the last moments as her previous self.

She knew something was wrong, and probably felt a bit scared, she could feel a pain in her neck and she felt herself getting dizzy, enough to tell her friend that she was “going to…” I presume she was going to say faint. And at that point she lost consciousness. Between then and her brain not getting enough oxygen to survive, which was during a window of anywhere between 5 minutes and 45 minutes she may have experienced a few moments of consciousness. At one point she seemed to sigh, was this just air being expelled or was it her reacting to the situation? Did she go through the near death experience which may be a bi-product of lack of oxygen? Did she feel herself being brought back and want to go back to the feeling of being absorbed in to the light of love as some people report they have experienced? Or did she become aware of something going on but was trapped in a paralysed body? Or was there nothing from the moment she collapsed to when she became pretty much brain dead? These thoughts haunted me, maybe still do, but why, what good does it do to go over possibilities that are never likely to be confirmed one way or another?

Some people say they experience an out of body existence as they nearly died. Is that real? Some people believe it is. Was mum outside of her body when we were waiting for her to die? If so, she had a bit longer to wait than a few days.

If there is a soul does it take its memories with it? If not, did mum become more of her essential self when only her brain stem survived?

Sitting in the hospital watching her exist as the same person but someone else I couldn’t help but question what we are.

A week went past and I decided to go back home for a few days, sure enough the next day I got a call to say mum might pass away, so I rushed up the motorway and got there in record time, only to find that her breathing had calmed down and she had stabilised.

A few days later her skin suddenly looked really young, there were no wrinkles on her face. I had read that sometimes just before people die they tend to get a new lease of life, so I couldn’t help but think she was days away, but a few days passed and mum still chugged along. That heart of hers that stopped beating, beat on strongly. That body that had knocked on death’s door, kept going. No infections took hold, she just plodded on.

We started to think that she might have to go in to a long term care home and enquired about stopping feeding, but the hospital didn’t want to do that. We all agreed that mum wouldn’t want to carry on living as she was, but there was nothing we could do but wait.

So Steve and I cleared out the house, well actually Steve cleared most of it, I just ferried some of it for storage at my place and slowly we realised that we were for practical purposes wishing that she would pass away soon.

I went back home for a few days and at about 4am the phone rang one morning, and of course I knew it would be the hospital telling me that mum’s condition had deteriorated.

I called Steve because he was nearer. He got up straight away and started driving at top speed to the hospital. Typically the police stopped him so he told them what was going on. They then let him go on his way and followed him all the way to the hospital to check he was telling the truth.

When he got there the nurse nodded at him and said she had already passed away. We wondered whether mum had actually passed away before they made the call because mum’s hair was brushed and Steve only took about 20 minutes to get there.

We hadn’t wanted mum to die alone, but for me she died when she collapsed, and at that point she wasn’t alone, in fact being in a spiritualist church couldn’t have been more apt in some ways.

There it was, that moment had come and mum was no longer alive. She was 74, the same age as her mother when she died, the same age as mum’s husband when he passed away, the same age as Phil Bassett was when he croaked. She died on April 1st, like some dark joke, and later when I went through her things it was the same date as her driving license expiry date. All these things connected in my mind, they meant nothing but I couldn’t help joining up the dots.

 

*                      *                      *

 

That bit after someone dies, when you’re dealing with officialdom and getting everything ready, it acts as a buffer. We all thought it was funny that both the solicitors and the funeral directors were called “A Smith” which was mum’s name too, we prepared the funeral booklet, including a picture of mum looking like a sexy film star when she was in her 20’s and then it was the day of the funeral and I found myself sitting in the back of a limousine making small talk. As the journey progressed I watched the hooves of the horses drawing the carriage carrying mum’s body, glistening in the sunlight, and thought “Mum would have liked this”, I could feel a moment of tearfulness, but a funeral isn’t really the best place to grieve, it’s like a show, and for this one there was quite a large audience. As we approached the crematorium a large crowd had gathered outside so to get out the car in floods of tears wasn’t going to happen even if I had wanted to cry. It’s all very choreographed, these crematoriums work to a strict timetable, so in we went, dead on time, the place filled up so much so that many people had to stand. The music we chose played without jumping (I had dreaded the CD’s would have errors on them), after a long intro in to Ave Maria, I looked around to check the singer we had booked was there, and just at the moment when I thought she hadn’t she started to sing. There were a few hiccups when a verse unexpectedly repeated in Morning Has Broken and nobody but me sang along, but otherwise it all went to plan. But the whole event feels like a performance, constantly on show, from throwing the earth in the grave without falling in myself, to the greeting, meeting and eating, it’s not really a time for grieving or really saying goodbye even.

We had gone to see mum’s body in the funeral home quite a bit before the funeral, but something had occurred in the embalming process and mum’s neck had expanded. It really didn’t look like her. We also peeped through the curtains at the body next door, it looked like an Indian man. I couldn’t help but wonder if mum was chatting to him and inviting him to her funeral.

Steve and I both wrote eulogies each which were read at the funeral by mum’s brother in law, Edward, and her cousin Michael, who are both clergymen. I’ll include copies of these at the end of the chapter.

I wondered if mum would have preferred a spiritualist service, and there were some people I tried to get to come who didn’t make it, but overall it was a fitting send off. Who is a funeral for anyway?

 

*                      *                      *

Dream 1

Mum is in front of me, part of her face has decomposed. I tell her she is going to die and she tells me she doesn’t want to.

 

Dream 2

I start crying because mum has died. I feel like I will never stop crying. I wake up in real life and touch my eyes to see if I was crying, but my eyes are dry.

 

*                      *                      *

 

1969

I get in to bed, the sheets are cold, but I quite like that. The room is dark but the door is open slightly. Mum pops her head around the door and says “Good night, I love you little one”

 

*                      *                      *

End of Chapter 20

Table of Contents

Here are the eulogies:

 

Simon’s words for Mum

Every goodbye echoes every goodbye. At first when we say goodbye to those we love we can be filled with sorrow and fear, but as we get older we learn through experience as painful as a goodbye can feel, somewhere behind it remains the gift of knowing.

From the beginning of our relationships there are constant moments of separation. My mother would kiss go through a goodnight routine when I was a child. She would let me do a roly-poly on the bed, do some butterfly kisses on my face, Eskimo kisses on my nose, then switch off the light, and pull the door to. I would call out “Don’t turn the hall light off mummy”, and she would say “I won’t darling, now go to sleep”. Between the thousands of hellos and goodbyes I came to know my mother and carry her in my mind and heart.

As Steve and I saw our mum for the last time ever, the final moments of experiencing her in this world brought to a close that process. The shadows of those who have departed illuminate our inner world. Mum has passed away but she is alive still in all of us who knew her. Very alive, not just in our imagination and dreams but in our actions too.

I first met mum when she was 25, I don’t remember those first few years much but I remember her clearly when she was about 28 to 29, she had an extremely pretty face, she was proud of her looks and even at 74 her skin wasn’t that of an elderly lady. She had a youthful quality about her, both in her appearance and her demeanour. In many ways she was quite child like, sometimes a bit naïve, she often ended up on the wrong end of advantage takers because of this and when we admonished her for this she would laugh sheepishly but at the same time it was possible to see the disappointment, not just in herself but in humanity.

There are as many Angela’s as the people who interacted with her, and then all the ones she knew in herself. To most of us though mum had some constant traits, mainly her compassion, sensitivity, affection, love of animals, a desire to explore life and her own artistic abilities, her gregariousness, her desire to love and be loved and at times her ability to carry on in the face of great difficulty.

When she became pregnant with me, she didn’t give me away as so many did in those days. Instead she put up with the stigma of not only having a child out of wedlock, but also a disabled child who on top of all this, looked a bit foreign. Her compassion and love for me saved me from God knows what. She instinctively or through empathy connected with me and understood that it was not ok to abandon me just to keep up appearances, that other things were more important, namely the feelings of those we care about, to be kind not only to our kin, our kind, but also to humankind.

My version of mum as a mother was very different to Stephen’s, I have often felt like a witness to mum’s life. She was much younger, and we existed in a different world then. The mum I got to know suffered at times, struggled, and survived some difficult moments. But she had many friends too and our time was often very sociable. Many of those people are here today and will remember those times well. They too will know that mum was a bit of a paradox (as most of us are). She was meek sometimes and a bit scared of confrontation but she would fight for what she believed in, she often appeared as if she might not cope, but she did, to be being a single mum must be a very hard existence at times. She yearned for love but put me first and was lonely at times because of that.

When she met John and they married her life entered a new phase and she experienced a different and more stable world for a long time. Most of it was good but John’s illness presented another period of difficulty, to watch one’s partner fade away in front of one must be one of life’s more painful challenges.

Recently though the next part of her life seemed to be taking shape, she was planning on moving to Eastbourne. I really thought that mum would have at least another 10 years or more. So while her collapse hopefully saved her from any long term suffering or having to come to terms with a terminal condition I still felt very sad for her.

Many of us here today carry with us memories of my mum that can’t really be summed up in a few sentences. But we can say her life was an interesting one, her personality was intricate, and while only God can know what the long term effects of her presence in this world will be, we can say that she lived, she loved, she touched many of us deeply, she felt deeply and laughed frequently, and all of us will carry a part of her with us way in to the future. So when we say goodbye today, it may be with tears but it will also be with smiles and happy memories.

For all that she did for me, I want to say “Thank you and I love you”
The word Goodbye derives from the phrase God Be with you
Goodbye mum, goodbye Angela

 

Here is Stephen’s Eulogy:
Mum Funeral Reading 15th April 2014 – By Stephen Hill (Son)

My mum was an amazing and generous lady. She did not have a bad bone in her body, always telling funny stories and forever laughing. She brought me up to be the person I am today, she taught me to always be polite, friendly, grateful, hardworking and, most importantly, how to waste lots of money on stuff I don’t really need and then store it away for the next 10 years. I wasn’t sure who was worst between us, but after sorting through my mums worldly possessions last week I think my Mum definitely wins 1st prize. Well done Mum!

She was not just a great Mum to both Simon and myself, she was also a loving mother in law, daughter, daughter in law, sister, sister in law, grandma, aunt, cousin, niece and of course a loving and devoted wife to my late Dad John Anthony Hill, who sadly passed away last year. I think everyone who is here today will also agree that she was a great friend who would put herself out for anyone. Plus she was also good for a cheap haircut here and there.

We have been overwhelmed by the cards and phone calls that have been received since my mother was admitted into hospital 4 weeks ago; she undoubtedly has some wonderful friends and family who will miss her dearly.

It was just over 1 month ago when I last spoke to my mother on a video call, she spoke about how exited she was about her move to Eastbourne and how she was planning a few trips abroad in the next 12 months which included another trip to see myself and my wife Sarah in Melbourne, she had so much to look forward too but tragically it was not meant to be.

I have so many fond memories of my mum but my most recent happy memories are from her trip to Melbourne in December, I am so thankful that Sarah and I got to spend one last Christmas with Mum, she had a great time, I even cooked the turkey on Christmas Day, which my mum was pleasantly surprised to see, as she has never seen me cook before. She really let her hair down, we even got her singing karaoke in our living room on Christmas Day, she definitely would have given Robbie Williams a run for his money with her cover of Angels.

The highlight of her trip to Australia was spending the New Year on a boat cruising around the Great Barrier Reef where she got to see dolphins and whales. By the end of the trip she had made friends with pretty much all-100 passengers including the captain, we all know how my mum liked to talk to anyone and everyone, a quality that made my mum the wonderful person she was before she passed.

Although the last 4 weeks has been the most upsetting time of my life I am still very thankful that my mother did not have to go through a long drawn out painful illness, it gives me great comfort knowing her last memories were happy memories. I will truly miss my mum more than words can describe and will always keep her close to my heart till the day we meet again.

May my dear Mum and Dad both rest in peace together.

 

 

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