This Sunday will be the first anniversary since we lost someone very close to our hearts. I wrote this then, just 1 week after she had passed on and while the emotions were raw and wounds were weeping.
I can’t comprehend how fast a year has gone by. My family still grieves, my 8 year old daughter cries sometimes at night, and yet life does continue on.
To my mother-in law,
Traditionally a mother-in-law’s role is to irritate her daughter-in-law to the point of screaming – my mother-in-law was an absolute traditionalist.
She also had an open heart that welcomed in every good cause, every hurt animal, every injustice in the world. My mother-in-law was totally incapable of saying no to a charity who approached her or passed her in the street. During the 14 or more years I knew her she was deeply involved in the Brooke, a horse rescue charity, she campaigned against animal testing, bear fighting and many other good causes.
She could not stand to see an animal in pain. One of the first stories I ever heard about her was how, having seen a hedgehog flattened in the road, she fetched a spade and took off to ensure that hedgehog was out of pain – quartering a hedgehog is a well known saying in this family.
In fact, that spade saw a fair bit of action, living as we do in the country on a fast and narrow lane. So much so that when my mother-in-law heard that another creature in pain had been found in the meadows nearby, she was marching off, spade in hand, before we could finish explaining that it was in fact a child.
My sister-in-law swears that her mum once made her stop to check on a butterfly that may or may not have been hit by the car. I still don’t know if this was a joke!
My mother-in-law was a lady. She had perfect manners in the way of the well-educated English lady, which allows you to be rude to others as long as it is done properly. When attending a function she was dressed to perfection. At home or in the garden she wore well used and cared for functional clothes. It was not unusual to see her striding into the local supermarket in wellies, an apron, an Iron Maiden T-Shirt left over from my husbands teenage years, and a bandana, taking a break from the gardening to knock together a luncheon for a small group of, oh, fifteen or so. Lady Sybil Ramkin, we have found your source.
A highly intelligent woman, she appeared slight and delicate. Her size belied her inner strength. This was a woman who taught English in prisons. The refined and gentle woman I knew had once been the rebel who had caused her entire school to be shut down for a day after she released cockroaches into the building. Although she was horrified at the fashions of today, she had once put a shocking blonde streak through her hair in her own youthful rebellion.
She was fiercely protective of her family. Her devotion to her own parents was clear even many years after their deaths. She showed the same care and loyalty to her children and by extension to their families. She was always ready to offer assistance, an opinion or advice – requested or not.
And she worried. Constantly. She worried about her children, grandchildren, the family, the neighbours cat. She worried about food, health, eating habits. She worried about travel, politics and finance. When we were going abroad with my sister-in-law, she wanted us all on separate flights, just in case. If we went on a family trip, she would prefer us to go in two cars, one child in each. When a cat came wandering down the lane, she would be the first to call the neighbours to find an owner, although it would no doubt wander off again soon enough.
If she felt it necessary, and she frequently did, she would contact friends, neighbours, acquaintances or even complete strangers to find out their expert opinion on a problem she may have – be it whether they thought the dead tree in the lane might fall down on a passing car or which local school was right for her grandchildren. Her concern for the world around her was all encompassing and without end.
Her health was deteriorating over time – looking back at pictures from just 10 years ago she was a different women to the one who, just days ago, sat in the sun with me discussing the family. Her body might have been failing but her focus was as sharp as ever, putting family before everything else.
Despite her frailty and ongoing illnesses, her sudden collapse took us all by surprise. Her highly educated and intelligent brain, which she had wielded with skill and finesse in every part of her life, let her down at the end as she succumbed to a stroke.
We are in shock. We are still numbed by the speed at which she was taken from our lives. My husband must face being without the total unwavering support that only a mother can give. My sister-in-law now goes on without the opinions and advice that a maternal voice can give her. My father-in-law continues with life alone, where he has had a wife beside him for the last 50 years, this year that would have been their golden anniversary.
Our children have lost their Nana. Their source of chocolate muffins and ancient, moth-eaten hereditary toys. They barely understand yet how her passing will affect them. My son may not have any memories of her in a few short months.
But her presence and her legacy will live on – her views, morality and priorities are clearly seen in the caring and love her own children show others. Every action they take is a reflection on what she taught them, and she taught them well. Now it is their turn, our turn, to pick up the reins and teach our children the same.