How do I sum up the life of a woman like my mum?
Losing my mum during Covid 19 was so hard. Mum, Pat was born in 1925, the second child of 7, one older brother and six sisters. Her own mum died when my oldest brother was a baby and as I nurtured my own family I was very aware she had not had her mum around when she had us. Her dad, my grandpa was quite a character and I remember singing with the whole extended family.
Mum and Dad (Jim) met in Bridge of Allan (where mum lived as a child) at the dances which were held at the Museum Hall, and tho she had danced with soldiers, GIs and lots of local lads, when she met dad she told me she never looked at anyone else. They were a beautiful couple and fine dancers! I remember looking on impressed as they danced a quickstep at Jim McLeod’s Saturday dinner dances at Dunblane Hydro in the 60s. They spent time courting on motorbikes with friends, climbing local hills and dancing.
Dad became a Scout leader and mum took over the local cub pack. Looking back at her Cub diaries I realise she was really good at organising games! And certainly on camping trips we were always playing rounders or tig and on one occasion dressing up round the campfire. An old childhood friend remembered when mum dressed up as a sweep once, blackening her face and taking her false teeth out, stuffing a cushion in dad’s boiler suit so she was no longer recognisable! He was terrified. That was the Fat Pat incident often referred to!
Dad died in 1983 aged 63. From 1941 - 45, he was a prisoner of war in Germany and had not long returned when they met in 1947. But I think that time took its toll and when he had a stroke and lost power of speech and use of his right side I had this feeling he had given up. He had horrendous injuries at St Valery in 1941 after a grenade exploded in front of him and he lost the sight in his right eye. I can imagine him thinking he’d had all those wonderful years but not wanting to live a half life! Mum was only 58 when he died and I am not sure how she managed for all those years! She went through breast cancer, a mastectomy, losing her father, husband and brother within two years of each other, losing her eldest son, a failed cataract operation, then her youngest losing an arm and leg in 1992 in another motorbike accident.
She kept busy and visited Lanzarote many times with either her sister or daughter Caroline, having a great time with the girls! She managed a few trips to Canada to be with her other 3 sisters too. She and dad had wanted to go too in the 50s but a shadow showed on mums xrays..she had had TB..and she was refused entry.
She bowled on Tuesdays after a game of scrabble in the church hall with the scrabble club and a hair appointment. She got a lift home in the afternoon. She would often bowl a couple of times a week, and was once a champion bowler. Locally she was also known as the scrabble queen!
When she was younger she was good at badminton too and after dad died...so early at 63...I discovered she also liked tennis. When my son Ben became a tennis umpire 20 years ago, she watched Wimbledon every year in the hope of seeing him. When Andy Murray, also from Dunblane hit the scene there were two reasons to watch. I managed to take her to the tournament for her 82nd birthday, no mean feat! We saw Ben in action and Jamie Murray in doubles the year he won with Jancovic. We also had seats on Court 1 to watch Andy Roddick play Philippoussis in the longest singles match to that date. Mum was amazed at how clearly she could see from so far back. I will never forget the excitement in her face...she wouldn’t even leave to go to the loo.
In 2016 she was in hospital after a UTI when a scan revealed the onset of Dementia.
Looking back I think her memory had been failing for longer than we realised. I was with her one day when a friend called her. She got her diary and answered questions of ‘what have you been up to?’ by flicking through the pages. ‘Oh on Saturday the grandchildren came, and on Tuesday I was out’ etc. I had been calling her over the years and had no idea she had any trouble remembering, since she always was able to answer enquiries about her life. Clearly she used the diary instead!
Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, and after its diagnosis in 2016 mum went physically downhill as it progressed but often showed us a lighter side to her personality during her last years. Carers were amazed at her ability to do crosswords and to beat everyone at Scrabble. My sons would appear to visit her at home and she would break into song, or get the cards out for a game of rummy...usually winning! It was heartbreaking to take her to a care home when life at home became impossible but she kept on playing and singing. It was lovely that the carers involved her so much in sing songs and invited us all in to join in. We were discovered one day in a quiet room singing and asked if we could come out and share our songs! Mum always said she couldn’t sing but she found her voice as her dementia progressed, often leading us all in songs I had never heard before!
During her stay in hospital in September 2019 after a fall, I took her out for the day to watch a tournament Ben was working at. Andy Murray was playing at this too so she was over the moon. But also it broke my heart to see her face fall when she realised she was not going home afterwards. She spent 6 weeks here and was sent home at the end of that time. But she quickly developed an infection in her legs and was taken to a home for respite. I managed to bring her home for Christmas dinner. She had no interest in gifts but sang her heart out at the table, and was mentally the best we had seen for a long time.
How she loved family visits! Her family became everything to her!
She was a wild swimmer before such a thing was a fashion and childhood memories are of camping walking climbing trees picnics and swimming in cold water wherever we went and I learned to swim on a tractor inner tube in Loch Venachar. Visits to Venachar are now a family tradition and I swam there on her birthday this year. It became one of her favourite lunch spots over the last 10 years. We went there with all the family for her birthday in 2019. I don’t know how we all managed to be there! But it was the last time we were all together and I have not seen my sister, who is in Australia, or twin (who lives in France) since!
Last year I swam in Carnoustie on her birthday, the first without her, remembering a holiday there when I was 5. Holidays were usually camping trips but on this occasion we stayed in a cottage as I think mum was pregnant with a child she lost at birth. . There were 5 of us kids growing up. My eldest brother Roddy sadly was killed in a motorbike accident in 1998. I and my brother Gordon are twins and then Caroline and Colin the youngest.
After the dementia diagnosis mum attended a great weekly session in stirling rehab unit with a quiz, which she always finished in record speed! Games..dominoes a favourite and songs..always great.
I took her every week to a drop in cafe in Dunblane where she saw friends and played cards and scrabble and had tea and cake! We even managed a whole family visit when my sister was over from Australia in 2019. The last visit was for a Burns day in January 2021 when she sang all the songs and enjoyed haggis. On the way back I drove her over Sherrifmuir and we saw a wonderful sunset. I took a photo of that, imprinting it in my memory, not knowing it would be the last time I saw mum fully awake. I went to Australia a few days later and when I got back in March we went into lockdown and I was asked not to visit. On April 6th we discovered Covid 19 had reached the home, and on April 11th a call from the home telling me mum had sat down and would not get up. A doctor had been called, a blood vessel blockage was diagnosed and end of life was imminent. I spent 5 hours with mum playing songs sung by the family, reading letters and messages and talking to her. She was aware but not really responding much, tho she did laugh when I told her that her grandson had made her a wordsearch with RED WINE in the words!
I left at 9pm and she died at 3.00 am on Easter Monday April 13th, six hours after I saw her. If there had been no Covid 19 I would have camped out on her floor and she would have had a constant flow of family to visit. I was grateful to be with her, and only because her room was very close to an exit so I did not need to pass anyone. I was dressed from head to toe in protective gear, but I dressed in vibrant yellow. It was my voice she recognised as I sang. We were lucky to have my husband Neil, a celebrant, conduct a very intimate and personal funeral at the graveside. And we sang.
She left behind two sisters, four children, eight grandchildren, five great grandchildren who called her GG, extended family, a lot of friends and precious memories....too many to describe here. She is missed.
As told by Tricia Anderson