With Mother’s Day almost upon us, I have decided to do something that I should have done years ago; write a blog about a very special lady – my Mum. For obvious reasons it’s a very personal account and I’m not sure whether I should even be sharing it, or if anyone will read it for that matter. Nevertheless I’ll do my usual and forge on regardless!
Mum died at the age of 56 from cancer, at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London with me at her bedside; the sun was shining and she was more beautiful and peaceful than I have ever seen her. In her 56 years she achieved more than most could possibly hope for and touched the lives of countless people. My ambition here is to somehow do justice to an incredible lady.
Mum spent her entire working life in the NHS; Midwife, Nurse, Health Visitor and finally a Breast Cancer Specialist Nurse. It would take a couple of chapters to cover her career and that is not my intention; but there are two things that stand out in my memory, of the impact Mum had on those she worked with. Firstly I remember as a child the torturous supermarket visits that could take 2-3 hours, as seemingly every Mummy in Billericay wanted to hug, kiss and ask her advice. As a parent now, I truly understand the importance of the job she did and the manner she performed it; helping confused and nervous parents through those early experiences is so valuable. The other thing that stands out for me occurred after she died – the Chelmsford hospital she worked at named the waiting room of their breast cancer unit after her. They felt above all her clinical qualities, the compassion she bought to the job and the impact she had on patients and their families was truly priceless.
It would do Mum a huge injustice to define her life solely by her job. At Mum’s core was her Christian faith and a dedication to being a better person through every aspect of her life. When I remember Mum at Church, I can see her smiling from ear to ear and singing her heart out (she had a bloody terrible voice though). Whether it was a weekend away at Greenbelt (a Christian music festival), being a member of the congregation, leading a prayer group or spending time with her dear friends; she was at her radiant best in this environment. During my teenage years Mum ran the youth group at the Church; nurturing, counselling and informing a generation of young people. Many are still my friends and I don’t think will ever forget the impact she had on such an important part of their lives.
I remember a period of Mum’s life when she was a Health Visitor in Billericay, running the Church youth group and working as a drug and alcohol counsellor in Basildon. She still managed to swim, go to the gym, play squash and continue to be an amazing single Mum (if you ever wonder where I got my energy from, then here is your answer).
After Mum and Dad got divorced there was a period between of my life (11-16 years old) where I didn’t see my Dad (thankfully I now have an amazing relationship with him); a critical time for any young man. The media seem obsessed by disaffected young men who go on to a life of crime, drugs and failure. Not on Mary’s watch! Along with the help of our dear friends Peter and Elaine Norgate, Mum set about shaping my character with the perfect balance of strength and compassion. She never forced me down any particular route but instead guided me, allowing me to find my own path. When my sister went to University it was just the two of us left and we forged a relationship based on mutual respect and friendship. The qualities I have in my character are as a result of this period of my life and can be directly attributed to Mum.
I remember Mum telling me about her dear friend Sos (they had been best friends since primary school) and how she had moved to South Africa many years ago with her family. She was desperate to go and visit them, but refused until Nelson Mandela was released from prison. She even wrote to Mandela whilst he was incarcerated and received a reply from the man himself (I wish I could find the letter to share with you). Mum did eventually go to visit the Sayers family on a few occasions and fell in love with the Country, her final visit taking place only 3 months before she died. She enthused about the beautiful scenery along with the warmth of the people…and of course the wine. It was as a result of this, we scattered Mum’s ashes at God’s Window in the Drakensberg Region; and a few years later I proposed to Nadine there.
I was only 24 when Mum was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the day she told me like it was yesterday and I felt my blood run cold! We spent time discussing the details and what the Consultant had said, but then agreed to move on and devise a plan. Having spent a considerable amount of time studying nutrition and being expertly instructed by a great friend Jim Morton, we set about constructing a nutritional, lifestyle and psychological approach that would beat her cancer into the ground. We researched the most powerful antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to cope with the chemo and fight the cancer cells, then planned her exercise around the treatment cycle and finally we adopted a positive mental attitude. Unfortunately cancer doesn’t always play by the rules and after 20 months of fighting we realised it was time to change our approach and accept this harsh reality!
Mum was admitted to the Royal Marsden towards the end of January 2002 and it quickly became apparent things weren’t good. We were told there were no treatment options and it would be a matter of days or weeks. Over the previous 2 years Mum and Dad had become close again (having been divorced for over 12 years) and my sister and I were privileged to see our parents falling in love for the second time. Having received the news Mum may only have days to live, we contacted the Chelsea and Westminster Registry Office and a few hours later in the company of dear friends the Shephard and Norgate family; Mum and Dad were married. Four days later we filled the Chapel at the hospital and had a blessing service; a day that anyone who attended will never forget.
During those final weeks Mum spent in hospital, I was honoured to be taught the lesson of what it means to have a good life. When a world leading cancer hospital tells you they have never seen more visitors, champagne and love for one individual you take notice. What I experienced first-hand was the impact my Mum had on the lives of so many people. Friends travelled from Europe, South Africa and USA to see her smiling face, share a hug and somehow articulate how much they loved her. But despite all these visitors, there would be one interaction that will stay with me until the day I die. I had arrived at the hospital early one afternoon to see Mum, but she wasn’t in her room. I sat and waited for about an hour, when she appeared at the door visibly upset. A lady in the room next door was dying of cancer; she was 24 years old and her mother (a similar age to my Mum) and young daughter were struggling to come to terms with things. Mum had spent the morning counselling and praying with them. At a time when she could have been completely self-involved with her own situation, she found the strength to help others.
My biggest regret in life is that Mum never got the chance to meet Nadine or Seb. I met Nadine 3 weeks after Mum died and it breaks my heart every time I consider how sad this is and how much she would have loved my beautiful wife. Whether it be our wedding day, the birth of Seb and the subsequent diagnosis of his heart defect, through to the trauma of his heart surgery; I wish she had been here sharing every aspect of our lives. During those final weeks, we spoke about all the things she would miss and wept. It was my request that Mum wrote a letter to be read out at my wedding; the wonderful Toby Shephard (Mum’s Godson) took on this daunting task with phenomenal strength. In her unique manner she managed in the space of 3 minutes at our wedding to make the congregation laugh and cry in equal measure!
When it comes to Seb, I just hope that if he can see 1% of Mum’s qualities in me then he will realise what an amazing lady Nana Mary was. Every day I wake up; I aim to do something that would make Mum proud, smile and laugh. She was with me when Seb was in the operating theatre, she was next to me during my 100 mile run and she is with me as I try to teach Seb how to be a good person.
I believe you measure someone’s life not by the years they live, the money they have or the things they own; but instead by the impact they have on others. When it comes to my Mum, she left her footprint on the lives of so many people and the world as a whole; that I am left feeling like the proudest son alive. I love you Mum xxx
Born: 1st September 1945
Died: 25th April 2002