Sunday, May 3, 2015


[I've been meaning to type this out for a while, it is the eulogy I gave at my mother's funeral. I was cleaning out my desk drawers and some of mum's stuff I'd brought over from her house and found this:
 I had a hard time not crying over it. It will make sense when you read on.]


When I first visited mum in hospital, a few days before Christmas, I took in some mail and opened it for her. One of the items was this (held up):
It was the third time she'd done tertiary studies. She was determined to finish her degree before she died and she studied, one subject at a time, all through her illness. She graduated just two weeks before she died. [Several of the people she worked with came up to me after the funeral and told me how glad they were to hear she had finished.]

From my point of view, as her child, mum's life revolved around teaching, learning, and children.

After High School she went to Teachers' College and then taught Kindergarten. Then she got married and had her own children. Craig, Darren, Natalie and Michelle. It was a great tragedy of her life that two of those children died. My twin Michelle was unwell from birth and died at four months. Craig was ten when he was playing on railroad tracks and hit by a train and killed. Many years later, mum did a Creative Writing course specifically so that she could express herself better, so that she could write about Craig's death and let out some of that pain.

Through divorce and the deaths of Michelle and Craig; teaching, learning and children stayed central to her life. She became very involved in the Nursing Mothers' Association of Australia, now called the Australian Breastfeeding Association. At that time, in the 1960s, mothers had lost a lot of knowledge and power in regard to feeding their own children. Babies were generally kept in a different room in the hospital right from birth and fed on a rigid schedule, or else just given a bottle. Often never seeing anyone else breastfeed, a generation of women weren't sure how to do what should have come naturally.

The Nursing Mothers' Association was founded in Melbourne, where mum was living, in 1964 and she joined when it was still in its infancy - probably in 1965 when Craig was born. She moved to Sydney a few years later and helped expand the organisation into NSW. She gave advice to hundreds of mothers as a phone counsellor, trained innumerable other counsellors, ran meetings and organised conferences, and was eventually NSW Branch President. I spent a lot of my childhood folding newsletters and putting them in envelopes, and watching mum try to cook dinner while giving advice over the phone. She helped so many new mothers gain confidence in how, when and why to breastfeed their babies.

Mum read to us from an early age: I remember 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' and lots of Enid Blyton. When I was old enough I would read ahead by myself, but then still snuggle down with her in the big bed to hear it again. She instilled in me a love of reading that I think is one of the best gifts you can give anyone.

She was always reading to herself as well, on a wide range of subjects; historical, crime fiction, fantasy, textbooks, newspapers. Anything that interested her, and a lot of things did.

Mum loved Trivial Pursuit, cryptic crosswords, and took up Sudoku when it came to Australia. Whatever challenged her mind. She went on the TV show 'Sale of the Century'. She was too slow at pressing the buzzer to win, but she got two out of the three 'who am I' questions when she had enough time and it wasn't all about fast reflexes. I was in the live audience and I remember that every ad-break the make-up people would hurry over and put more shiny red lipstick on her, and as soon as they had gone she would blot it off.

When I was a teenager, mum went to Uni to do some media studies, as far as I am aware it was just for fun because learning is enjoyable and all knowledge is worth having. One of her projects involved interviewing Allan Pease who was a communication and body language expert whose books mum was interested in. She also did one year of Linguistics, the technical study of how language works. She didn't continue with that subject, but she made it sound so interesting that I took it when I went to Uni, setting me on the path of my eventual career as an editor.

Mum returned to full time work teaching adults how to work in Childcare. Yet again she devoted years to improving the lives of children by showing others how to look after them. And while doing so, she studied for her Bachelor of Education - which she didn't need to do - to keep her own knowledge and skills up to date so that she could be the best teacher possible, and because she loved learning for its own sake. She got excellent marks, too, even in her final year.

Mum was good at most subjects, but she told me she failed one unit back in Teachers' College. As a Kindergarten teacher, she had to be able to play simple tunes on the piano and lead the children in singing. Playing the piano was fine, but unfortunately mum was tone deaf and couldn't carry a tune. They failed her rendition of 'Happy Birthday'.

She was also terrible with technology. She went through a lot of mobile phones; lost or broken or so out of power that they could not be revived - but I think mainly she would give up on ever learning how to use the current one and go and buy whatever the salesman convinced her was the easiest and most basic model.

In her early years teaching TAFE, the students would do skits taking off the teachers' mannerisms. Mum told me about one they did of her trying to get the Video Player to work. Getting flustered, dropping papers, trying to work out why the video wasn't going yet, eventually getting a student to help her. Mum loved it. It was funny, true, and affectionate. [hence the 'where's the remote' award]

Nearly eleven years ago, mum got her first grandchild and she suddenly started visiting us a lot more often! It was a shame the my husband's work kept us in Canberra, but we visited back and forth frequently. Mum babysat Jasmine and later Aiden, read to them, did craft with them that always seemed to involve lots of flowers and leaves from the garden, took a million photos of them when she could get a camera working, and gave them endless cuddles. My husband's mother has also passed away and it is sad to know that from now on my children will miss all the benefits of having a loving grandmother.

I think my brother Darren will miss her most of all as he spent the most time with her throughout his life. She looked after him, and then he looked after her. With me so far away, he did everything and I thank him for that.

I had a wonderful mother and I was lucky to have her. But there are also hundreds or thousands of people out there who were lucky to have had her as a teacher: when they were in Kindergarten, maybe their first time away from their own mothers; when they were a new mother themselves and struggling with something they thought would be so easy; or as a young adult learning a new career and hoping to be as good at it as she was. We are all lucky to have known her.


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your mom. And now through this post, I feel like I knew her, too.