I have thought a lot about whether to post about this. I have decided that although my blog is “mostly about sewing”, that means it is not all about sewing, so I can share whatever I want here – and I just kind of want to get this down in writing.

So, if you’re not interested in posts which are nothing to do with sewing just skip this one.

In January this year my mum, Rosemary was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. In July she died. For the first three months we thought that there was something could be done; the first suggestion was chemo followed by an operation, then they decided to skip the chemo, then they realised – on the operating table – that the tumour was too large, too embedded and they could not remove it. By now she was too weak from the surgery to undergo chemo. If she could get stronger there might be a chance, but she was unable to eat enough to even maintain her weight, let alone regain her strength.

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On holiday (North Wales?) 1973

I am lucky in that I live an hour’s drive from my parents’ home, and my partner and I have our own business, so I was able to take a lot of time off for hospital and home visits and to just spend as much time as I could with Mum.

My brothers are not so lucky; they both have “proper” jobs and live further away (one of them in Canada), so could not just drop by or visit for a day or two.

But though I would not have wanted it any other way, I’ve got to tell you it was exhausting. I was spending most of the time at my parents, popping home occasionally to catch up with JB and Tash and I would realise on the drive back that I was just worn thin. It wasn’t that I was doing much; a bit of cleaning or gardening, maybe, but most of the time was just spent trying to engage Mum in anything.

mum 008

4th April 1964 – Mum made her dress

In some ways, that was the hardest thing; she stopped living long before she died. And I am not saying “she just gave up, she should have fought it”; she just had no energy and no hope (not helped by the fact she had also seen her brother die of the same type of cancer 4 years ago) and her world shrunk to the size of their living room.  It is not that I wanted her to be putting on a brave face and constantly cheery (no more did she want that of me), but it did seem important that she had some small joys in whatever time she had left. So dad and I would nag and cajole and persuade her to do the crossword, or sit in the garden and supervise my inexpert weeding, or just get in the car and go for a drive. We did a small thing each day, which made us all feel (a little) better.

My brothers and I wrote the eulogy together for Mum’s funeral, through which we laughed and cried for days, making inappropriate jokes of which she would have strongly approved. What made Mum special and unique and frankly one of the best people I have ever known was not found in her deeds or her CV and was difficult to capture in words. She was a teacher before we were all born, then she stayed home with us, then she worked in a toyshop. She did not write or paint or sculpt (though she was very good at the first two), she did not volunteer with the homeless, start her own theatre company or trek the Amazon basin. She was beautiful and unassuming and had the best sense of humour, though she was not one of life’s comics. She could be the quietest person in a room, yet her presence was felt by everybody. Her life could not be told in achievements, but she was active and generous and funny and she had a gift for making people feel better.

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1993ish – don’t ask!

Although it was a long six months of watching her gradually fade, I am glad to say that she was not in pain for most of it. She had some discomfort and she was tired and out of sorts, and I cannot imagine how she can have felt knowing that she was dying, but the awful, awful end was mercifully short; She went up to bed OK on Tuesday, but was unable to get up on Wednesday morning. Happily both of my brothers were on the way (though dad and I had told them there was no hurry the night before!), so the whole family was together by Wednesday afternoon. Mum was on pain medication and was beginning to drift in and out of consciousness, but she knew we were all there and we all sat in the bedroom with her, telling stories and reminiscing together. On Thursday the lucid moments were few and brief. She was very distressed a lot of the time. It was a harrowing and surreal day for us all. At 12.15 on Friday morning she died.

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Mum, Mike and Me, 1971

I know that it is not unusual to lose a parent at this age. I’ve been on this earth for 45 years now and for much of that time I have known that one day I would have to deal with the death of my parents. I don’t think there is anyway you can ever really prepare for it, though.

But I am grateful for so much. Grateful that I had a full 45 years of knowing her – many are not so lucky. Grateful that we all had the time and the opportunity to say goodbye. Grateful that she did not have to live with the knowledge of her own end for years and that she was not in pain for long. Grateful for my family and how close it has brought us all, and grateful for my friends and their unending support. But most of all I am just grateful that she was my mum and for all she taught me about being a human being.


Mum and Dad

Thanks, mum. I miss you x

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25 Responses to Rosemary

  1. tamsinwp says:

    So sorry to hear of your loss, I did wonder what happened to your posts. My husbands family had a similar loss this summer in that my Husabnds dad died. Unlike you we had no time to get used to it as he dropped dead whilst playing tennis at his home from a massive heartattack. We are all still dealing with the shock on top of the loss and trying to support husbands Mum. A difficult time for everyone.
    A lovely tribute to a lovely sounding lady.

    • rachsews says:

      Thanks for your message, Tamsin. My thoughts go out to you and your husband and family, too. I do think it is easier (for the family, at least) if you have that chance to say whatever needs saying (though if Mum had been in more pain, or if it her illness had gone on for longer I might have felt differently…), and I can’t imagine having to deal with the shock on top of that. But we can all be selfish when it comes to our own deaths I guess, and I know mum would’ve skipped the goodbyes to not have known it was coming!
      (I sometimes worry that I sound callous or flippant when I talk about death – so I do hope that it doesn’t come across that way…)
      It sounds as if you live near to your Mother in Law? As (physically) closest child I am still making the round trip to spend time with Dad pretty frequently, but he’s doing remarkably well now.

  2. pastryelf says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. That sounds so pat, but your words, your eulogy for your mother, were so heartfelt and true. Far away across the pond, I can feel your love for your mother and your loss. So I would like to send my sincere condolences for your loss. I think many of us sew to stay close to something tangible, be it fabric or family, so your post is most fitting to the world of stitching…

    • rachsews says:

      Thank you so much for your words. I’ve been finding it a bit difficult to get back into sewing, now that I have a bit more time, and though it is partly just a general sense of despondence, I think it is also partly because it was something I shared with mum and I would sometimes make things partly because she would like them / hate them / find them funny (but always appreciate what had gone into them).
      However, she and my dad used to do a lot of (mainly English country) dancing, and she told me that I had to make sure he started dancing again when she died – and told him that he had to start again. He has managed to do that, so it is definitely time I sat down at my machine again!

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, and I can’t imagina anyone objecting you posting this! Being aware that someone is going to pass away can really help you prepare and deal with things, as opposed to the shock of a sudden death. It’s great that you and your brothers all had the chance to say goodbye!

    All the best to you and your family!

    • rachsews says:

      Thank you for your best wishes. I didn’t really think that anyone would object to my posting (in fact I knew that I would receive nothing but sympathy from lovely people), but I was not sure if this was the place to talk about it… and I spent far too long over-analysing why I wanted to post it! Having the chance to prepare certainly did help us all, and I will be forever thankful that my elder brother ignored us telling him there was no hurry and was on a plane from Canada in time to get here and say goodbye.

  4. elaineoc says:

    What a beautiful post and lovely way to write about your Mum. So, so sorry to hear of your loss, my best wishes to you and all of your loved ones.

  5. What a beautiful post, a beautiful tribute to your mum. She sounds like a wonderful mum. I’m glad to hear you were able to spend lots of time with your mum when she was so sick and to be with her when she passed away. Take care of yourself now – my thoughts are with you and your family. -Gabrielle xxx

    • rachsews says:

      Thanks, Gabrielle. I was very lucky to have a wonderful mum I was close to. And to have her around long enough to realise just how lucky I was (and am – my dad’s not so bad, either!)

  6. nx44 says:

    That’s really sad news Rachel, my thoughts to all your family. I think writing this down is another chance for you to reflect on the presence your mum had. Beautiful photos, particularly the last one of her and your dad.

    • rachsews says:

      Thank you, Naomi. I was horrified to find how few photos I have of mum in the last few years, so I was glad to find that one. The earlier ones are all from an album she made for me a couple of years ago!

  7. Ann M. says:

    It is hard to lose your Mom, no matter what age you are. You have written a lovely post and it is a beautiful tribute to your Mom who sounds like a great Mom. Take care.

    • rachsews says:

      Thank you, Ann. You are right – it is always hard to lose a parent, but it is easier when you are “fully formed”, I think. Even in my 20s (and probably into my 30s), I still had so much growing up to do and am glad I had her through those years – not everyone is as lucky as that!

  8. marjtrundle says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your Mum; she would be so proud of you. We don’t have to do great things in our life as long as we love and cherish those dearest to us and it is obvious your Mum did that very well.

  9. nishi says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, Rachel, and just wanted to say that I’m thinking of you. I love what you wrote – it was so heartfelt & very beautiful indeed. Hope you are taking care of yourself , x

    • rachsews says:

      Thanks, Beth. I am doing OK – and enjoying the evolution of my relationship with Dad at the moment. He and I were always quite close, but now we have the “job” of keeping an eye on each other, which we are doing mainly through a series of days out to National Trust properties! There is always a “Rosemary should be here” moment, but that is how it should be, I think. x

  10. smittenness says:

    So sorry for your loss. This is a beautifully written post and I was very moved by your words and love for your family. The joy in your mother’s face in these last two pictures give me an idea of how very happy she was with her family and is beautiful to see. I wish I could say something to bring you comfort x

    • rachsews says:

      Hi Vanessa. Thank you for your comment. That last photo is a funny one, because it is not really the most flattering picture of her, and she did not like it at all, but I love it for the smile!

  11. Thimberlina says:

    Hi Rachel, hope you’re ok, and your dad too. Your posts lovely about your mum, she’s sounded a very special lady. I’m a great believer that our loved ones keep an eye on us after they’ve gone, and I’m sure your mum’s not missing out on you and your dads days out. Ali xx

    • rachsews says:

      Hi Ali, – we’re doing OK, thanks. Just planning out next day trip (I think it is going to be Nostell Priory… last year my dad was unable to drive owing to macular degeneration, and as a result Mum and Dad had a National Trust membership they were unable to use, so I signed up in order to be their designated driver… We are beginning to run out of NT places we can reach in a day now, though! Oh, and he is back to driving – he just has a couple of days every six weeks when they have to inject something into his eyeballs and things go a bit fuzzy for 48 hours!)

  12. This is so sad to hear Rachel. I’m so sorry and I wish I could ease your pain. As you say we’re never ready to see anyone die, no matter how much we mentally know it. Cancer is an awful beast I find, the moment you’re diagnosed you already expect the worse and it doesn’t help recovering. I can only hope one day there will be a cure…or that I die overnight! I really want to thank you for sharing about your mom.

    • rachsews says:

      Thank you Sylvia. I know one of the things Mum found hard was that she never thought she would be someone who gave up hope, and then she did, despite any belief in the power of positive thought (which might not cure, but it surely does no harm!).

  13. Sue Brandom says:

    Somehow I missed this post until today (not being a ‘sewing’ friend and being rubbish at remembering passwords means I don’t check in often enough!)
    What you’ve written is beautiful, and so true. I have many memories of Rosemary exactly as you described her – warm, thoughtful, kind, consistently lovely and often amused by our antics as teenagers growing up. We spent endless hours at your kitchen table making a mess, pretending to do homework and being very noisy and she and your Dad always made me feel part of your family.
    She would be very proud of you – and glad to know you’re making use of the National Trust membership!

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