Jean was an inspiring ordinary woman. Jean died twenty four years ago today. Jean was my mum.
It’s taken me a while to get to this point of seeing my mum as an inspiring ordinary woman. There was a lot of stuff that got in the way. A lot that frustrated me that I couldn’t see past. But today I am ready. Today, twenty four years on from the day that we lost her, I’m beginning to grasp just how incredible she actually was.
My mum was born before her time. She had so much creativity and energy and determination that at that time, was frowned upon by society in an ordinary woman like her. She was her father’s daughter (the best bits, not the ways in which his energies and charm were focused in completely the wrong direction). She had spirit, passion. She cared deeply and loved deeply.
My mum worked hard at everything she did. She had such drive. She gave her all. Incredible patience and perseverance too. Like that time she spent hours cutting out tiny ladybirds and beetles from wrapping paper for an activity at the Mother and Toddler group she helped run. Nothing was ever too much effort.
She used to teach Shorthand and Typing at Suffolk College. With her sister Margaret. They must have been an awesome duo. Both brimming with enthusiasm but both with such an incredible eye for detail. And a total commitment to their students too.
On a personal level, my mum gave herself 100% too. She was head over heels in love with my dad. You could see it in the way she looked at him and talked about him. She would never have a word said against him. She was so proud of him.
She loved her kids with all her heart too. That’s me and my brother and my sister. We were her pride and joy. She took such an interest in our lives, right down to the smallest detail. She kept lists to remind herself what to ask us about. And then there were her grandchildren. Ask them today about her and they would still say she was the best grandma in the world. She gave each one of them her full attention. Loved spending time with them, getting to know them and enjoying what they enjoyed. They meant the world to her. She made each one of them feel special and valued just as they were.
She was good at that. She made everyone she came into contact with feel special. She was a good friend. She started up a group called Young Wives which then became Friends and Neighbours as they all got older! She loved bringing people together, bringing out the best in people, looking out for people.
She made the most amazing jam sponge cake I’ve ever tasted. I don’t know how she did it. I’ve tried to replicate it and it’s never been the same.
My mum had her issues – plenty of issues. She struggled with her weight and health anxiety and depression. She carried tough stuff with her in her heart to the day she died. On that day, she still had the newspaper cutting in her purse announcing the death of her son who had died at four hours old. Thirty years before. She lived with a massive weight of expectation of what others thought of her.
Having said all that, my mum knew how to have fun. She liked pretty things. She had a special wooden musical jewellery box that she’d bought on a school trip to Switzerland and in it, she kept all her rings and ear-rings and brooches. I loved looking through them all. And she was very much in touch with her inner child. She loved family gatherings and board games, especially Scrabble. Her joy poured out of her as she stood in front of the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo or fed the goats at Whitehouse Farm with her grandchildren. She knew how to laugh until she cried.
My mum was beautiful. She had the most sparkly blue eyes and really soft, flawless skin. She was great to cuddle into. And she had incredibly shapely legs. She was kind and gentle and saw the best in everyone.
People would look at me and my mum and tell me how alike we were. People still tell me how much I remind them of her. Perhaps you can see it in this photo. That’s me and my mum. I used to hate being told I was like her. I used to see it as a bad thing. The last thing I wanted was to be like her. She died at a time when our relationship was pretty strained. I was only 28. I wasn’t ready for her to go. I thought we had plenty of time to arrive at a more comfortable place together.
But twenty four years have past. Twenty four years is a long time. And my mum has established a very special place in my heart. Now I feel it’s a privilege to be compared to her. My mum is an inspiration to me. I feel her in me. Living on in me. I am like her in so many ways and now I am grateful for that.
In a different time in a different place with different circumstances, my mum could have been truly extraordinary. I have no doubt about that. But actually, she was extraordinary in her own way. She touched lives. She changed lives. She lives on in so many lives.
And so Jean, Mum, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, we salute you. I hope you’re too busy having the best fun to be concerned about us who are still here, but be assured, you are not forgotten. We still think of you and love you and are inspired by you.