Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lin's Eulogy

She was quite a character, our Mum, our Nan, our dear friend Helen.

Despite all that had happened to her over the past 12 months, she invariably had us – and the entire staff of her nursing home (the Donald Coburn Centre) – smiling. It’s hard to remember a time when she didn’t have a cheeky remark or a kind word on her lips. Over the space of a year she had lost her husband Bob, much of her physical capacity, and the home she’d shared with Dad at Mowll Village. And yet her first words on seeing any of the nurses (or any one of her many, many visitors) pop their head into her room to see how she was doing was invariably, ‘Oh I’m fine, but how about you?’

And when we say there were many visitors, we mean many, many visitors. In fact, the staff at Donald Coburn always reckoned that Mum had a much better social life than most of them! There were all her wonderful friends from Mowll Village, and many from her and Bob’s days at North Epping as well. The Wilkos, the Fabulous Five, Flo, Alison, and all the gang. John Butler and his pastoral team, and the new friends she’d made in the nursing home itself. And, of course, her family: her daughters, her sons-in-law, and her five lovely grandchildren. We were often there visiting her: not just because she wanted (sometimes needed) us to be there, but also because we just loved being with her – we loved her and enjoyed her company with all our hearts.

Every Monday Jen and Marg, and often one of their daughters, would take Mum out to lunch. She’d have had her hair set that morning, put on some snazzy outfit, and instructed one of her devotees to pack the essentials for the outing. These consisted primarily of a back-up jumper, cardigan and rug (she always did feel the cold) and at least one box of tissues, preferably two – just in case of emergencies. (This may count as insider trading, but with her passing, the family expects a major downturn in the share price of Kleenex!) Thus equipped, the happy party would venture forth from Castle Hill to explore the world and to compare the relative merits of its various cappuccino machines. From Lane Cove to Balmoral, from Hunters Hill to Chatswood Chase (a favourite for the takeaway Chinese!), from Manly to Balmain … wherever the fancy took them.

On Monday nights I’d be there with Mum to hear all about where she and the gals had been, what they’d seen, who’d had what for lunch, what the coffee was like, and how many dogs they’d patted along the way. Then Mum and I would read the Herald’s Column 8 together. She’d try to remember all the best stories from the Column so she could come out with them during the Trivia session at Cooking Class (held just after the Music Hour) that she would always attend of a Friday afternoon. Mum would attend that class with Jen, having also, earlier that week, been to Gardening Club, Creative Writing, Exercise Class and Chapel; having probably had at least another outing with one of her girls, gone for a wheelchair ride around Mowll Village with Marg, done a spot of painting, and perhaps been on a bus-trip to Palm Beach or Woy Woy. There was just no stopping her: she always wanted to be involved in everything – and everything was always the better for her being a part of it.

It had been ever thus, of course. At North Epping Helen and Bob were always engaged in a myriad of activities. The church at All Saints, the kids’ schools, the North Epping Bowling Club, Meals on Wheels, Bush Church Aid Society, Chesalon ... the list goes on and on. Doing this or that for a neighbour, taking someone to a doctor’s appointment, visiting friends and family, planning the next big trip overseas … there was never a dull moment.

Nor had things slowed down that much when they moved to Mowll Village some 9 years ago. Helen and Bob quickly became active members of the congregation here at St James, and they were big participants in all manner of community activities – including the Annual Fair at which Dad was a ‘runner’ (the thought of which always cracked Mum up!) While Dad served on the Residents’ Council, Mum was involved in the Social Club, in Probus, in working at the library, and generally in doing for anybody anything that needed to be done. She was the most other-person-centred human being that you could ever hope to meet.

All this was squeezed in between the odd chinwag with Jean & Arnold and Alison & Bill (conducted over a gin & tonic if it was Happy Hour), lunches with a lovely group of ladies dubbed the Fabulous Five, as well as the regular family get-togethers to celebrate birthdays and other special events. There was no denying that Mum and Dad lived such happy, healthy, full and independent lives.

Of course, that independence came to an end this time last year when, quite out of the blue, Mum suffered the first stroke – the stroke that left her completely paralysed down the left side. (It won’t surprise you to know that, even as Dad was frantically calling the Sisson Clinic to get emergency medical help for Mum – while she sat slumped on the couch – she was telling him to stop making such a fuss and offering to pop into the kitchen to get him a soothing tonic!) Within a month of Mum’s stroke, our dear, dear Dad had himself succumbed to the advanced pulmonary fibrosis with which he had been diagnosed only a year or so earlier. Over 50 years of married life came to an abrupt and devastating conclusion. It certainly was a very grim time.

Not that you’d know it from Mum’s demeanour and attitude, however. As she was shifted from hospital to hospital, from nursing home to nursing home, she never complained or grumbled (unless, that is, the cup of tea we made her was too weak!) She seemed to view each new environment as an opportunity to get a little bit better (for she was completely determined to walk again) and as a chance to meet and make new friends.

Of course, what we were all hoping for (in that first couple of months after the stroke) was that she’d finally be able to make it back here to the Anglican Retirement Village at Castle Hill. And when Geraldine Tattersall, the then Manager of Donald Coburn Centre rang us on Melbourne Cup day last year to tell us that there was a spot free at the nursing home for Mum, we were all completely delighted.

As well we might be. You couldn’t ask for a more caring complement of staff than those at the Donald Coburn Centre. Mum really did get to know and love them all over the past nine months: the sisters, the nurses, the diversional therapists, the physiotherapists, the kitchen and ancillary staff ... they all took such wonderful, loving care of our wonderful, loving Mum. As a family, we really can’t thank them enough for that. In fact, many of the staff are here today, and many more wanted to be. We really are so terribly grateful to you for all you did for Mum: you made her time in the Donald Coburn Centre very, very special.

The same goes for John Butler. John, you have been an enormous support, both to Mum and to the rest of us in the family. We will never forget your warmth, your kindness, your heartfelt words, your comforting presence. Thank you.

One learns a lot in life – from teachers, from experience, from books, from friends and family. But it was Mum and Dad who have taught me, by example, the two most important things I know: the fulfillment that comes from caring for others; and the love, support, comfort and joy of family.

Helen’s most wonderful life is testament to both.


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