My beautiful mum passed a year ago today. I was at her bedside when she had a massive stroke. She shared a joke with me, as she was losing the ability to speak. We laughed and cried, and within minutes she was gone. Unconscious. Somehow, a week later I managed to read this eulogy at her funeral. It is the essence of how I feel about her. About a love that has cocooned me all my life. Even now that she is physically gone.
‘Have you brushed your hair?” That was mum. Every time we’d go out. When we were kids, she would check her hair in the hall mirror before she would answer the telephone. She always wanted us to be ‘presentable’. Of course, I ignored the hair advice for 55 years. Until my two nieces Saskia and Issy recently showed me their hairbrush technique. Evidently it is never too late to learn.
Mum, mummy, Janette. You were the angel in our lives. You spread your wings and surrounded us all in love; in beautiful, pure, lion-hearted, unconditional love. It was and is the greatest gift anyone could have given us. In fact, the greatest gift that anyone could ever give anyone. To be seen, truly seen, and loved all the same – warts and all.
She would have done anything for us. When I had a head injury in 2004 and the American doctors were saying I might need a rare and difficult surgery, the figure they mentioned was way upward of $100,000 or something equally stupendous, mum and dad flew out to be at my side. And mum whispered in my ear, as I was about to go into the MRI; ‘Don’t worry dear. We’ll sell the house if we have to.’
She loved us all equally. She was a stickler for fairness and justice. If one of us said something mean about the other, she would put us straight. She was heroic in her sense of justice. I remember once walking down Gallowtree Gate in Leicester. We loved shopping with mum. All the Young family women love clothes and going out for treats – usually to Brucciani’s. On our way back, we passed a pack of white youths who were tobbering a skinny little Asian boy in plain daylight. Without hesitation, mum ran over handbag swinging and she shouted: ‘You should be ashamed of yourselves. Picking on someone so much smaller than you.’ I feared they would turn on her. But they fled.
How can I put in words all she meant to me? Even for a writer, it is impossible. I talked to her almost every day. I could talk to her about anything and for hours. My friends would sometimes overhear and say ‘I wish I could talk to my mum like that’. We talked about poetry, philosophy, art, life, psychology and latterly a lot about spirituality and what happens after death. She was the best literary critic – especially on Shakespeare’s tragedies and writers like Thomas Hardy. She spurred on my love of books.
And how we laughed. Even at the very end – when she was having her stroke. She made a joke about something she hadn’t told me. She cracked her mischevious grin and we laughed. And then we both cried. And within minutes she was gone – unconscious.
As kids, we often came home to the smell of her baking. Buns and cakes and sweets. Simon, as a little boy, got the most fancy Bake Off worthy ones – a Thunderbird shaped cake, and a football pitch complete with team, which he and his friends quickly covered in cocktail sticks blown through straws. She didn’t mind. She loved that we were all having fun. Nothing was too elaborate for ‘my beautiful boy’ and ‘my lovely daughters’ as she called us.
She was an artist. And everything she did – gardening, cooking, even knitting, she did with an artist’s temperament and a liberal disregard for instructions. Most of her jumpers were so loosely strung they were more like dresses. I have a beautiful alpaca dress/jumper that I wore everyday when my wife was dying. Wearing it, was like getting a beautiful big hug from mum.
I loved to watch her sing and dance. She did it with a lightness and grace and playfulness all her own. I’ll never forget when I brought my first serious boyfriend home. He was Greek and so she cooked him moussaka (a daring feat considering it was his mother’s signature dish) and put on Zorba the Greek and they danced around the kitchen together. He took a shine to her instantly. Her warmth was genuine and infectious. There was no front stage or back stage with mum. She was only ever herself.
I look around today and see so many of her qualities, especially in her grandchildren. How proud she was of you all. When Callum, her first grandchild was born and you and your parents came to visit grandma and grandpa in Leicester. You must have been about two. You danced all evening to the soundtrack from ‘Pennies from Heaven’. Your grandma was ‘tickled pink’. A young man after her own heart, who loved to dance. And so it went with each new arrival. A little of grandma’s DNA passed on. Sukie the artist and Bake Off fan and Sas, another artist and someone who like grandma has that spiritual 7thsense and knows what is really going on above and below the table. And Issy the nature girl and animal whisperer. So many qualities you share, and undoubtedly many from both sides of the family, but I see especially the sweetness and the kindness your grandma possessed.
What she wanted most for us all was simply this; ‘to be happy’. She was a big fan of the mystic Julian of Norwich whose essential teaching was that ‘all will be well.’ It is the basis of faith and trust. That no matter what happens – even after such a great loss – somewhere on the other side. ‘All will be well.’
May your beautiful soul inspire us mum. May your beautiful presence be with us still. Your love still lives on inside us.I love you mum – and always will.