Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tribute to Marie Donovan

2/1/1925 to 11/7/2013

Mum has gone after battling against her final illness. It has been an up and down existence for her over the last few years, with the past 18 months particularly trying.

A period punctuated with illness and hospital visits. She has gone from sleeping upstairs in her own bed with a little care help in the mornings to coming downstairs, receiving constant care and only able to move from bed to commode to chair by hoist.

There has been a steady deterioration in the quality of life, as the world seemed to close in at times. Her eyesight was rendered virtually non-existent by first glaucoma, then macular degeneration. The hearing worsened.

Then there were her legs. Riddled with arthritis, the level of movement reduced seemingly with each month. At night she suffered agony in bed with the legs, often crying out with the pain.

Incontinence was another indignity.

When I asked Mum how she was each morning the regular response was “awful.” Few days went by without the plaintiff call:

“I wish I was dead” or “I hate this life.” She could not see anything getting better. So when she did finally succumb to the latest illness, most of us saw it as a mixed blessing.

Sitting in a house surrounded by Mum’s belongings is a strange experience. Sitting in her chair with a slight whiff of her perfume, remembering how she loved a glass of wine brought back memories.

You knew something was severely wrong if she did not want her wine. Second only to wine was a choc ice. I’d often ask whether she wanted a choc ice after lunch to which the answer was almost always “I’d love one.” Occasionally she refused on the grounds that it would go down her front and make a mess. Difficulties with eating were also causes of irritation to a proud lady. “I eat like a pig,” she would sometimes protest as she spilled something.

I sometimes helped her with the last spoonfulls of a meal. In hospital I’d feed her with all the meal, a strange experience, completing the circle of life, from when she fed me as baby, toddler and child.

It is a truly humbling experience to remember that no matter how strong, fit, intelligent or creative at any point in our lives, at some time the faculties will reduce and we all come back to where it all began.

My Mum was a battler all her life. Her Mum died when she was 10. She was put in the “care” of a governess, who regularly beat her with a rod. The governess was only dismissed when it was found she had been stealing from the neighbours, whilst doing some cleaning for them.  Mum was so traumatised by the experience that years later on a day out at school she fainted upon spotting the former governess in the street.

Mum went to a boarding school, run by nuns, excelling academically and on the hockey field. She was always full of praise for the nuns and what they did for her. The phrase: “We’ll just have to hope now, as Sister Maureen would say” was a constant refrain of Mum’s down the years, never more so than in her recent hospital stays with illness.

At school she made friends with Diana Ebsworth. The two remained firm friends throughout their lives, still in contact right up to Mum’s death. Diana’s parents welcomed Mum into their family.

Another strong support for Mum in the early years was her aunt, who ran the Logan Rock Inn in Cornwall. Mum spent many happy holidays at the pub, working behind the bar as she got older. Among the clientele was Dylan Thomas, a firm favourite with Mum, though her ready memory was how he told her she would not make a great poet.

Mum had a first brush with serious illness, when she caught pneumonia. Then a deadly disease, she was expected to die. However, it was the early days of penicillin and she became one of the first people to try the new medicine. Fortunately it worked.

She went onto become a junior school teacher, first in Portsmouth, then in Newham, east London. Mum taught for more than 30 years at Kensington School in East Ham, Newham. She met my Dad Denis Donovan there, only taking a break to have my brother Andrew and myself in the early 1960s. When she returned to teaching.

The family spent many happy holidays near Rye in east Sussex. The days on the beach at Camber Sands and Hastings live in all the families memory. Picking blackberries (Andrew and my role), making wine (Dad’s role) and drinking wine (Mum’s role). These days were certainly among Mum’s happiest.

Mum and Dad retired, moving to Eastbourne in 1986. Mum had another battle shortly after retirement, when she was diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery and survived.

The school timetable converted into a retirement timetable, one day shopping, another for Dad’s bridge, a day out travelling round the countryside etc. So it all went on until the years began to take their toll.

At the turn of the millennium Dad got dementia, slowly becoming more forgetful. In 2004, this took a sharp turn for the worse. For 18 months, Mum was effectively his carer. A strong willed man at the best of time, where his drives had previously gone in positive directions, the illness made life problemmatic. The next 18 months probably took as much out of Mum as they did Dad. He finally went into a home in late 2005. Mum continued with life, though her sight was beginning to fail.

One of the enduring gifts of my Mum was her constant kindness toward others. She was always considerate of other people and tried to help out where and when she could. She was also a very tolerant, live and let live person.

There was a memory from Mum’s cousin Peggy, who told how she had been like a sister to her down in Cornwall, when no one else would talk to her. Kindness to others was a watch word for my Mum.

She was helped out in the later years by several people at the local church. David and Barbara Hylie were regular visitors, bringing the weekly eucharist. The Hylies helped Mum out in other ways, taking her for hospital visits – when the argument “I’m not going near that place again” could be overcome.

Mum was a convert to Catholicism. She converted when at school. Her faith though took some knocks in the last 10 years of her life, first seeing her husband struck down by Alzheimers, then enduring her own physical distress as seemingly the world closed in. At times she would question, what have I done to deserve this?

However, her life was one of true Christian witness. As a mother, wife and friend, few would be more loved than my Mum. That quiet consideration of others, a desire to never leave a situation worse than she found it. A life of good relationships, bringing harmony and love with them. The world will certainly be a lesser place without Marie Amie Margaret Donovan.

* Funeral - 12 noon on Friday 26 July at Our Lady of Ransom Church, Eastbourne.
See: 30/9/2013 Guardian - 22/9/2013 Catholic Herald - Lives Remembered

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