This morning, we also honour the mothers who are with us in spirit.
We remember those who are no longer with us.
For all of us whose mothers have died, there will be many different responses to these sorts of occasions.
We all have our own ways of remembering.
My mum is no more special than any of your mums, but perhaps my story may spark some sharing of memories among you here this morning, or maybe later with your family and friends.
Please bear with me as I read this. I don’t trust myself talking about Mum without losing it a bit, so if I get a bit wobbly, please forgive me.
When Bruno mentioned the idea of this chat, I had a physical reaction. It was as if a hand gripped my heart and, without thinking, I simply said, “I miss her every day.”
My mum died nearly eleven years ago.
Life needs to be lived without the paralyses of grief. So for me, I needed to wrap my grief up as if in some lovely colourful paper and ribbon and carry my mum’s memory with me, as one does a gift.
I was lucky enough to have Mum as a part of my life for a very long time. She lived until the age of 83. All these years later, I feel the gift of her mothering is still with me.
I often look to her for advice: I think … what would Mum say? What would she do?
I still use her wisdom, her values to guide my life.
I still talk to her.
So today, I have written her a Mother’s Day card.
Photo credit: Bruno Lettieri
But before I read it, I’ll just give a bit of a background to who she was.
Joan was born in Ouyen in the Mallee here in Victoria, 1922, the eldest of three girls. Like many women of that time, she lived in the shadow of war. Her father served in the Third Light Horse Brigade in Egypt in WW1 and returned a sick man, both physically and emotionally. Her husband, my dad, served for four years in the Middle East and New Guinea during WW2. Back then, people were expected to just put it all behind them and to get on with it. Not so easy.
When Mum’s father died from cerebral malaria, contracted during the war, she was only eleven and her youngest sister was just five days old.
Shortly after, she and her second sister were sent to boarding school: Sacred Heart College in Ballarat with the Mercy nuns. Might I say, Mum just loved her time there and had enormous respect and gratitude for what the nuns did for her. It was such a broad, thorough education delivered with a strong faith and discipline. Both empowered her with a personal strength that held her in good stead throughout her life.
From there she completed a science degree at Melbourne University.
After the war Mum and Dad met and married. They moved to Kyneton and there they stayed, raising a family of seven children: five girls and two boys.
I’m the classic middle child.
After four children had left home, Mum began her teaching career at Sacred Heart Kyneton. She spent two years studying part-time at La Trobe Uni for her teaching qualifications while already teaching.
She didn’t drive, so Dad was her taxi driver! Kyneton to Melbourne before the freeway – Dad was so glad when she graduated!
She taught at Sacred Heart in the 70s and 80s. She got her driver’s licence when she was in her mid-fifties, and after she finished teaching she continued to be very involved in the parish and community. She loved music, mostly classical, but that Johnny Cash album always seemed the odd one out in her collection.
So to the card…
Happy Mother’s Day!
‘No presents,’ I hear you say. Just a phone call or a visit for cup of tea, a yummy cake or lemon slice. You were not one for a big fuss for yourself, but you loved to fuss over others. You loved nothing better than to host the family events and have the house full of noise and chatter.
You will be pleased to know that we have continued your tradition of gathering the family for the ‘Kelly’ Christmas every second year. Thank you for teaching us the value of family: acceptance, support, patience, understanding, generosity, compromise, forgiveness … all the stuff needed to keep our big family of ‘characters’ together.
Mum, as I was growing up, you were just like every other Mum, always there.
As a teenager, it seemed to me that you could be so embarrassing. You could be so bossy and mean making us do jobs at home … with no pocket money! You could be a harsh judge, especially when it came to my school work and my manners. And, boy, were you strict. You had to know where I was going and with whom, and you named the time that I had to be home. Look out if I was late. There was just that look and I knew I was in trouble.
Looking back, I know that you were being the mum we needed. You and Dad created a happy home where we felt encouraged and challenged to be our best. You taught us the importance of learning and the value of hard work. You made sure we knew about consequences of our actions and taking responsibility for them.
When I think back now, I wonder, ‘How did you manage?’
All of us … the shopping, the meals, the school lunches, the washing, the organisation, the characters … the personalities! The everything!
I really shouldn’t have complained when it was my turn to peel the potatoes, to do the washing up or to light the fire in the lounge room. I shouldn’t have complained about having to wear a homemade school dress.
I remember how terrified Dad was when you decided to learn to drive. After the first two goes, he refused to be your teacher. Luckily, we had a kind neighbour with good nerves.
You did well, and how you loved that funny little yellow Datson 120Y and the independence it brought you.
Your devotion to the family and Dad, especially in the years of his declining health, was amazing.
Your commitment during those fifty-plus years of marriage showed us the importance of love, loyalty, commitment, persistence and working together to get through the tough times.
After Dad died in 1992, I so admired the way you kept going, didn’t give up.
It was your time.
You were 70 but, in your words, ‘There is so much to do and learn, I need to live to 106.’
Your large, eclectic library was a testament for your passion for reading, learning, finding the answers. Your thirst for knowledge never waned, especially if it was anything to do with science. There were TAFE courses, French lessons, computer lessons, concerts, tutoring English, delivering meals on wheels … I couldn’t keep up. You were the walking expression of ‘life-long learning’!
Must admit though, Mum, when you announced to the family that you were going to Europe, we all got just a tad anxious. How many mums go on their first overseas trip at the age of 76 … and without one of us!
There was no point trying to talk you out of it. Luckily, you had a fabulous time. I still have your six exercise books of travel notes!
Sadly, your health didn’t allow you to get to that magic age.
It was such a privilege to have been able to support you and witness how you approached your declining health. Your deep faith in God sustained you and helped you live your life with such dignity and acceptance.
You left this life with the firm belief that this was not the end but the beginning of the promise of eternal life. In our family, we believe that it is no coincidence that you died on 1st November: All Saints’ Day.
You know, Mum, when people slap themselves after having used a particular expression or having done something in a particular way, saying, ‘Oh … I’m turning into my mother’, I say, ‘if I become half the woman you were, I will be more than happy’.
With much love … thank you, and Happy Mother’s Day.
Rosemary Kelly has taught at Salesian College, including senior positions, for many years. She is a keen supporter of Twilight School, and can usually be seen at any event hosting, welcoming and being part of a most hospitable community.