Sunday, 23 November 2014

Words for Mum.

I'm the second of Brenda's five children. I'd like to tell you about Brenda the mother, a share a few snapshots that show you what she was like as a mother and a person, and to show you how happy and joyous it was to be around her.

Before memory there is feeling, and my earliest feelings about home were a sense of security and comfort. My feelings of infancy and early childhood are happy ones and I'm certain that was about Mum and the environment she created. Most of you would remember the imaginative woman, but that creativity during our young lives existed with a real pragmatism and great maternal care. I'll tell you a story she told to me. The young me always climbing the fence and escaping down the road. She solved that problem in a way that gave her security and me some freedom. Those days were pre Hills Hoist. Our clothes line was line attached to two poles at either end of the yard. She tied a rope around my waist and then loosely onto one of the lines so that it could move easily along the line. I could happily run the yard but not climb the fences. A very neat, pragmatic solution and win win. That kind of win win problem solving was very Mum.

I of course adored her but was unaware of her extraordinary self. My first realisation that she was a bit more than ordinary came from a strange competition that happened when I was about nine. We were then living at Rathmines on Lake MacQuarie  Maybe it was 1956. I had a much loved Annual, "Buffalo Bill", full of stories and drawings of the Wild West. I loved to copy the drawings and fancied myself as being  pretty good. Anyway, this draw-off happened between Mum, myself and I think my brother, Duncan. I whipped quickly through mine and then wanted to see what she was doing. Wasn't allowed. Got bored. Went outside to play. Finally came back to an exquisite line drawing of a horse in full gallop, not just accurate but with elegance, movement and flow. I looked at hers and then at mine and I quickly looked away. What she had done was real drawing and before that I had no idea that she could draw at all. Actually, Mum was always had pleasure in creativity but was entirely free of boastfulness.

So she was special and I was slowly becoming aware of that. As my brother has said, she was also very social. She made friends easily, was deeply empathetic and always had a air of calmness, even when things were troubling. I'll tell you a story that shows these things. When I was five Dad rejoined the RAAF and thereafter we led a gypsy life so she had lots of opportunity to practise her social skills. She also loved playing cards and was a very good player. She formed card clubs and the RAAF wives would meet once a week in someone's house, often ours, to play cards and socialise. When I was 14 we were living in WA. The year was 1962. Mum had her friends around for cards. I saw a snake close to home and I killed the poor thing. Then I thought I would show off my trophy to the gathering of card players. There they were, all dressed up as they did in those days, drinking their cups of tea, quietly concentrating on the serious business of cards when I rushed into the room waving a long snake. I do remember a few squeals, some cards dropped, chairs pushed back, a little tremor passing through the room,  and I remember  Mum, gently, coolly, and calmly, "Neil, take that snake outside." Maybe later she had a quiet word with me about proper behaviour in her very non-judgmental way. Maybe, because her parenting wasn't a censorial kind although we all knew how to behave and I think we all wanted to please her. And I don't know what happened when I left the card players. I suspect that they all had a good laugh.

Certainly Mum loved a laugh, right to the end and I was sometimes the butt of her often waggish humour. So to 1965, I was 17, we were living in Victoria, in a town called Werribee and it was a challenging year because Dad had become very ill. This story shows how, even in tough times, she could find some fun. I loved playing cricket and football in those days and in a moment of naive idiocy allowed myself to be talked into being on a sporting committee. I was the token young person and there was one particularly officious member, Arthur I think, always ringing up or coming around with some bit of dreary tedium. One morning I was sleeping soundly like an adolescent does when Mum came into the room and woke me up. "Arthur's at the door. He wants to see you." "What! What time is it?" "6.30" "6.30.This is crazy. Whatever could he want at this time." So grumbling and cross I headed for door, apparently pulling on my trousers as I emerged and calling out "I won't be a minute Arthur". I did notice that my sisters were up but didn't take too much notice. When I got to the door there was no Arthur but behind me was a lot of laughter. It was, of course, April 1st.

It was about this time that I became aware of the esteem in which Mum was held. In about April,1966, my family left for Sydney. I was attending Melbourne Uni and stayed in Werribee. People would ask me of my family and many spoke highly of Mum. Forty five years later I returned to Werribee for a school reunion and one of my class mates remembered Mum and asked about her, describing her as "a very gracious lady". Accurate, I think. Perhaps as a child, I had taken her for granted, but by 1966 I knew she was special.

She was also very gentle, but for all her gentleness, she was strong. In the years that I lived with her I never saw her lose emotional control. It's fair to say that she was the glue that held our family together. Given the fourteen year gap between my brother Duncan and sister Fiona, there was a long period where Mum was exposed to that often difficult transition from adolescence into adulthood. Our father was also very sick for much of that time. It must have been a worrying period for her but her love was unwavering in that gentle and supportive way she had. I think the fact that we all came through those years was in large part due to her, not directly, but from that deep sense of being loved and valued. It was the bedrock of our young lives.

And so into adulthood, where the parent/child relationship has to change if it is to grow. This transition was easy for Mum. We became friends and another thing occurred that is of particular importance for our adult relationship. Duncan and Colin have told you of her strong faith. In the early days hers was an ecumenical understanding but by no means trivial. In 1971 I began a thorough investigation of religion which led me along a winding path to the little hall up the road that we call the Bible Education Centre and also the close fellowship I share with many in this room. Some time in the mid 1980's, when Mum was in her mid sixties, she decided that she would investigate more thoroughly aspects of her faith. So every Friday fortnight she and I went to classes run by a person some of you will know, Rick O'Connor. Mum listened carefully to those classes, embraced our understanding of the gospel, and in 1987, when she was 68, she was baptised into the Lord Jesus Christ and joined our church. I think that says so much about her. She had many great characteristics. Flexibility of mind and openness to ideas were two of the great ones. At an age where most people are fixed in their ideas and incapable of change, she embraced her new understanding. I've learnt a great deal from her, not just in my young life. It also meant, for me, a connection which transcended the biological. For the first half of my life I had a wonderful mother; for the second half I had a wonderful mother and a deep fraternal connection through shared faith.

So she was a treasure. All we five, my brother Duncan and my sisters Jean, Susan and Fiona, are intensely aware of what a treasure we was, how privileged we were to have known her and to  have had such a woman as a mother. Who would not miss her companionship. We will all miss her greatly, but the greatest burden here will fall on my sisters Susan and Fiona, who have lived with Mum for many years and have for a long time provided the care and support that allowed her to continue to live in her much loved home. I'm certain that caring for even such a sweet person as Mum imposed challenges and demanded sacrifices. I'm thanking them for their love for her. I know they are grieving a great deal, as are my brother Duncan and my sister Jean.

My grief is modified by two things. The first is the thought that we children and our children were privileged to know her, to take life from her and to carry something of her spirit with us into the future.

The second is deeply personal. I've told you that Mum and I shared a common faith. We both believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, in His return and the resurrection of those who are His. I believe that Mum is one of those who truly belong to Christ. I believe her next waking moment will be bright and shining, that her mortality will be swallowed up by immortality and that Christ will say to her "Come, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world".

So let not your hearts be troubled. Rejoice. Now she but sleeps to wake again.

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