The passing of my gorgeous vibrant adventurous mother this past weekend has given me reason to reflect on all of those traits she has passed on to me. Everything I do, from the way I look at life and how I raise my two wonderful boys, are a testimony to the way she has inspired and nurtured me, and my brother and sisters.
Even the choices I have made that were different to her own choices, were made out of some subconscious desire of mine to do it my own way, either because I felt that my way was better - the foolishness of youth, or consciously, because she had rubbed me up the wrong way, telling me how to live my life!
It is hard to imagine a life without my mother Natalia in it. Everything about her was full of life. Born in Spain during the Civil War, she had less than three years of formal education, growing up in the Rioja valley, encumbered by the passions of a turbulent period in Franco's Spain. A middle child in a traditionally large Spanish family, with four living siblings, even after the loss of a number of brothers and sisters to smallpox in their youth. As a young woman she worked in one of the large Firestone factories in Bilbao, teaching the other girls to sew. Always a great seamstress, there was a never-ending supply of beautiful dresses for myself and my sisters as we were growing up. She also loved mountain climbing which we always found very funny, joking that she was a wily Spanish mountain goat. This came in particularly handy when we lived in Mackay. We had a large backyard which in many places was nearly vertical. We would spend most of our summer holidays, clambering up those slopes with mum, pulling out guinea grass and removing all the weeds. Is it any wonder we could not wait to get back to school!
In her early twenties my mother, along with two of her closest friends decided to set off for Australia. I know that does not seem like much of an adventure in these days of regular flights, but in 1960, this was a big deal for three young unchaperoned women. The tickets were arranged through the church and when they arrived in Australia, the church helped them to find jobs. My mother came to work for my father to assist him in nursing first his terminally ill mother and then his sister through cancer. The rest, as they say, is history. They were married in 1967 in Edinburgh, halfway through a round-the-world cruise. Two cabins on the way over to Europe and one on the way back. I was born the following year and like to think that I was conceived, romantically, in some foreign clime. So many wonderful travel stories told around the dinner table throughout the years, the memories of which bring a smile to my face, despite the pain in my heart.
There is a great sadness when living so far away from your home; in the missed opportunity for physical contact, those hugs and kisses that seem so natural when you are living nearby. It has been particularly difficult for the past five years because mum has been unable to respond in conversation, cutting off my last avenue for any two-way long distance communication between us. I am incredibly grateful to my sister Cecelia who took my call on Friday morning when she was visiting with Mum and knowing that her time was close, allowed me the opportunity to say my goodbyes. Although she could not speak and the doctors had made her last hours comfortable, I like to think she could hear my words and know how much she was loved and how much she meant to Aidan, myself and her grandchildren. I hope that my living so far away never caused her pain but know that this too she will have understood, because it was in my small room in London, when I was in my early twenties and first moved away, that she heard the news that her own mother, my grandmother had passed. She had only left Spain the day before after visiting my grandmother, and left me early to return for her funeral.
This was 6 months after losing her husband. I know that the past 24 years have often been lonely and difficult since Dad died, but rarely did she allow herself to succumb to depression or sadness. She was like a naughty child more often than not. Diagnosed with Type II diabetes she was often to be caught cheating on her diet with a glass of red wine or a bunch of bananas. Yes, you read correctly, a whole bunch! A couple of glasses of champagne and the right occasion, you could find her up dancing with bare torso-ed men and flirting outrageously. I have a brilliant recollection of her dancing and singing Ricky Martin songs in Spanish at a Eurovision party in a gay bar in Dublin. Priceless!
The last time I held my mother was three years ago when I took the entire family back home to Oz because the doctors thought Mum would not make it to Christmas. While her illness was quite advanced even at that time, there seemed to be moments of recognition and even moments of genuine joy. She even tried to speak to me which sent me into floods of tears. I hope that the time we spent with her then was as special to her as it was to all of us. For my baby, not such a baby any more at eight, this would be the only time he would get to spend with her that he would remember. Mum flew to Ireland to be there for his birth and we spent his first birthday in Australia staying with Mum but other than photos he had no real memories of these occasions. My eldest son on the other hand had clear memories of Grandma and she of him. Her biggest smiles were saved for him when we saw her last and in return she got plenty of his special hugs and smooches.
With mum at 5 foot nothing, and me doing an Amazonian impersonation, Mum and I would not be similar in physical stature. However, I definitely take after herself and her mother in facial features. I only hope as I get older that I take after her in the "great legs" stakes and most importantly in inheriting her skin. My mother had the most beautiful skin you have ever seen. She never needed makeup and had barely a line on her face. I remember being in my late teens and highly disgusted when a young man working in a cafe asked whether mum was my older sister. Mum tried to be generous, saying that he only said that to flatter her, but we both knew better!
I am finding it hard to say goodbye. It still all seems so surreal. As I pack a small case and try to book a last minute flight back home, I take some comfort in the words of JK Rowling who said , "to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever." I have always felt so incredibly loved and protected and hope that in my turn I gave the same gift to my own children. Adiós mamá. Te quiero y te echo de menos con todo mi corazón.