It has been a hard week, first losing my mother to pneumonia and the gruelling last days of her life, then to be informed of my younger brother’s death from a heart attack. This post contains a draft eulogy for my Mum, and I’ll make another post for my brother.
My Mum’s funeral has been suspended indefinitely due to COVID lockdown in South Australia and I’m unlikely to make it to my brother’s funeral in Queensland as state borders have closed.
No pity party here. Many around the world have had it much worse but it is helpful for me to share these thoughts with others until I have the chance to do so with friends and family….
Mary Eileen Matthews
10/9/1927 – 12/7/2021
Loving wife of the late Bob Matthews, loving mother of Robert Margaret Brian and Ian and mother in law, grandparent, great grandparent, step grandparent and great grandparent.
4 children, 8 grandchildren, 15 great grandchildren
Mum was one in a large family, common in her era. Her father had migrated from Malta before world war 1, her mother was a descendant of Prussian immigrants who came to South Australia in the 1850s. As the eldest girl in her family she took on many responsibilities at an early age and was, by all accounts, a de facto mother for her younger siblings. She had little schooling. She told tales of being rowed over the river Murray to school by an older brother in her very early years but not so many years later it was she who would drive her younger siblings to school in a horse and cart, then returning home to do chores and watch the cows so that they didn’t wander as the fences were poor.
Audio file of Mum in her final months
Her schooling was by correspondence and she admitted that when she received her course materials she would complete tasks by filling these in from the answers in the back. But while Mum had minimal formal education she learned many practical skills in childcare and domestic tasks both through her family commitments and the work she started at a very early age. Though a child of the Great Depression she said she never went hungry though, as an adult she would not eat rabbit. She talked about how it was one of her jobs to trap, gut and skin rabbits for the family and for many years this was their main protein.
Mum met Dad in Mannum. Their romance was short and he proposed to her one night when drunk. She told him she would if he came back and asked her again in the morning when he was sober. He did come back and they were soon wed. They lived in Adelaide for a time where my older brother Robert was born but then moved to Mum’s home town, Mannum, where me and my other siblings were born. Dad worked at Shearers, Mum reared children and they lived in a house not far from Papa Joe and Grandma Emma. They moved from Mannum to Adelaide around 1956, partly for work opportunities and schooling options but also, I later learned to escape perceived stigma over the tragic death of one of her sisters at the hands of an estranged boyfriend. Domestic violence is not a recent phenomenon.
In Adelaide Mum and Dad leased/bought a Deli in Alberton which Mum ran while Dad worked. After a few years they bought the ultimate family home in Rosewater where Dad set up a backyard engineering business. He would work night shift as a fitter and turner, have some sleep, and then work in his business. Mum was heavily involved in the business, managing accounts and working lathes. She also had other jobs when work was slow, reared her children, painted and maintained the house, and catered to Dads every need. He was a hard worker but Mum worked twice as hard. As her children grew Mum continued her work in the business and, when work was slow worked as a domestic at the Spastic Centre in Woodville.
Eventually, of course, we all grew up, Robert went into the army, Margaret worked in Insurance, I went to University very unsuccessfully at first and Ian worked in the paint industry. As we all moved out of home and on to creating our own families, Mum and Dad settled into a routine that allowed them more time to themselves, bought a caravan that they left onsite at the Mannum Caravan Park and they would spend a weekend there every fortnight visiting Grandma Emma when she was still with us, but mainly pottering, socialising and, for Dad, frequenting the closest pub. Mum was not a drinker beyond a very tame low alcohol option. Anyway, the fortnightly visits to Mannum continued and friendships begun in her place of birth remained important all of her life.
Once Dad passed away, Mum lived in the family home for a while but soon moved and eventually settled in her unit in Parkholme where she lived happily for two decades and a half before failing health and mobility led to her living at Villa St Hilarion for a number of years.
Mum played a lot of 10 pin bowls in her 40s and 50s, learned to drive in her early 60s after Dad had gone and joined various clubs and was often the driver for friends and family. She was very active into her 80s and only stopped driving after her first fractured femur when she became dependent on a cane and was worried she might fall getting out of the car.
Mum influenced many people in her life, was always willing to help others, and maintained a high level of independence until her last few years
I have two lots of props for my eulogy.
The first, ornamental hands, one with a finger missing, that remained in Mum’s possession for over 60 years. My late brother Ian and I saved our meagre pocket money for the better part of 6 months to buy these and give them to Mum for Mother’s Day when I was about 10 and Ian 8. Mum would never get rid of them, even though damaged. Gifts from family were important to Mum and she routinely kept things that were well past their use by date.
The second is a hand towel that will be familiar to many. Mum made clothes in her younger years, knitted and eventually settled on crotcheting the surrounds of hand towels she purchased so that they could be easily hung. These were regular and valued gifts to friends and family and it was only recently that she could no longer do this. Mum showed her love by doing for others and she did a lot for many over the years.
I need to thank my Sister Margy for her unfailing support to Mum for so many years. I also need to thank my first wife Margie for the company, support and kindness shown to Mum over those years. The staff of Villa St Hilarion also need acknowledgment for the kindness and support shown to Mum over a number of difficult years. And finally, to my wife Barbara who always ensured that Mum had some special treats and Mum’s last meal was sticky date pudding which Barbara insisted I take to Mum when she last went into hospital and Mum hoed into this with a grin. Thank you also to my cousins, family members , and old friends who visited Mum when she most needed company and I’m saddened that COVID limitations impacted so heavily in her final year and a half
Mum we will all miss you but know that your legacy lives on through family and friends who are all better for having known you
My tears will be spent
But not the hole in the heart rent
Remember you we will
When the sun rises and birds sing
Your spirit lives on
Though your body failed
In every smile you shared
You will live on…