Just a little posy
When I was sixteen Mum and I used to argue about whether to take a gift when we visited people. She wanted to take a posy of flowers from our garden. Or a packet of shortbread from The Women’s Work Depot. She felt she had to give something, that it was only good manners. I felt people would be glad to see her anyway.
As with many mother-daughter relationships, it wasn’t until I had my own children that I came to understand Mum. I’d always loved her, of course. But in those days my love was troubled. Doing church flowers for a wedding, taking children to the dentist, judging a charity fashion parade, sorting laundry, attending sports carnivals, cutting school lunches and supervising fairways at golf championships – these, I told myself, don’t add up to a real job.
But once I had my own children I changed my mind. Maybe I didn’t completely come round to Mum’s way of seeing things. But I did develop a real sympathy for her. Most of all, once I had children I became convinced that bringing up a family is an important form of work. Not more important than the kind of work that we do in offices, but just as important.
About a year ago, during one of our late night phonecalls, Mum asked me what I thought she was really good at. Taken by her candour, I replied that she was really good at looking after people. And gardens, I added. She sounded satisfied with my answer, and our conversation drifted on to other things.
Sadly, when I was younger, I often experienced Mum’s desire to look after us as nagging or fussing. And not as loving, which of course it was. It’s only now that I’ve spent so much time and energy looking after my own family – who are more grateful than I ever was – that I recognise the value of this quality. And, in particular, how hard it is to express this devotion without falling into nagging or fussing.
This love, this devotion, was at the core of Mum’s life for well over fifty years. As I look around this church – and this includes all the people Mum cared about who couldn’t be here today – I sense that we’re all trying to do this same fundamental yet tricky thing. All of us – friends, daughters, in laws, neighbours, clergy and business people – are doing our best to look after ourselves and each other.
Mum found getting old difficult. I think this was because her frailty prevented her from expressing her love for others – and to some extent herself – in practical ways. She couldn’t, for example, go out into the garden and make a posy for a friend, for fear she might fall. And without that posy, she felt she had no sure way of showing of her love.
The person who exemplifies all these qualities best – an angel during Mum’s twilight years – is my younger sister Margo. She is the one who showed me, not through words but through countless actions, just what it means to love someone deeply.
I was away, living in London, for many years. I didn’t have a garden and never took people shortbread. But now all that’s changed. Now I’m the one picking flowers from the garden for people I visit. Just as this, in a way, is my posy to Mum.