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Friday, 30 November 2007

A day that is forever etched in my mind

November 30th is a day that will forever be etched in my mind, for today is the 8th anniversary of my mothers death. Her name was Constance Amy Austin and she was born on December 19th 1920 in the east end of London to the sound of bow bells - a true cockney and therefore a dying breed.

My mother was a truly unique woman - who faced much adversity in her not quite 79 years. She was the daughter of a greengrocer, and the youngest of nine surviving children. In those days childhood diseases could still be fatal as inoculations had not yet been discovered. During the war my mother worked in an munitions factory and later as a bus conductress when the dust began to affect her health. Officially at just 4 feet 11 1/2 inches she was half an inch too short, but they took her anyway, as it was wartime and they needed all the help they could get. When the war was over she started a career in ladies tailoring that she was very good at - placing the garments on to the dummies to check that they fitted correctly.

As the youngest of nine and the last to leave home, when her own mother became ill during the Great Smog it fell to her to look after her, which she did for several years until my grandmothers death. She then went to live with her sister in Essex and this is how she met my father, for he also lived in Barking with his son from his first wife (she had left him holding the baby). You could say that one day their eyes met on a crowded train. He offered her his seat, she took one look at his Frank Sinatra blue eyes and was smitten. Six months later they were married. Two years later my brother arrived, followed six years later by my sister, and then in 1965 I was born. The rest as they say is history.

Mum had been ill for a while when we received the call from the hospital to say that she had been taken in - she was very overweight and had various other health problems to do with her heart and her breathing. Less than a week later though she died - her time was up.

I remember going to see her the night before - I was working for a fitted kitchen company at the time and did not get home until 6pm, so it was a bit of dash to get there and back, since visiting was only until 8pm. All we managed then was about 15 minutes with her. Still I am grateful for the time that we had. I took one look at her sunken, hollow eyes and listened to her laboured breathing and somehow knew that this would be her last night and I would not see her alive again. Just as I left then I leaned towards her and whispered in her ear 'I love you Mum, and thank you for everything'. She gave my hand a gentle squeeze and said 'I know darling, and I love you too'. Then we had to leave.

We were waiting all night it seems for the phone call to come and it finally did at around 6.30am. The hospital told us to get there as quickly as possible, and so we dashed there as quickly as we could, stopping just for a quick cup of tea and to get dressed. On the way there, driving past the slip road to the A3, the sun was just coming up and as we rounded the bend in the road and saw the sunrise we both knew that she had gone.

Sure enough when we arrived the hospital told us the news. My sister, who lived nearer than we did, had been with her at the end, which we had missed by around 10 minutes - like I said at the precise moment that the sun had risen. We then had to wait for our brother and his then wife, and my sister's boyfriend to arrive.

Then we had the business of registering the death, arranging the funeral and visiting the family solicitor about the will. The funeral was I recall on December 9th, just over a week later. The day before, my partner picked me up from work early so that we could go to see her in the chapel of rest. It was raining as we walked up the hill and we sat in the chapel for what seemed like an age listening to the rain as it pattered against the skylight saying a silent goodbye. It was a very poignant moment and a beautiful way to say goodbye. The funeral the following day was no less beautiful in its own way, and many tears were shed by not only myself, but also my neice and two nephews, who at the time were just young teenagers. They loved their grandmother very much as she was the only one they had - thier Mum's Mum died when they were very young, before the youngest was born at all.

After that my life changed completely, since the money that Dad had left to Mum when he died, found its way to my siblings and I, split three ways. It was this that enabled me to give up work and eventually start to write my book. I like to think that I have not let them down, and if they are looking down on me now, they would both be very proud.

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