There was this wonderful woman, raised in the depths of New Zealand on a farm that could have stood in for Cold Comfort farm (see Stella Gibbons). She was tough and hardy and smart and funny and unafraid to be herself. She married an Australian, high risk for a New Zealand gal. I’ve watched Australians chase New Zealanders around a room with their conversations – Aussies are aggressive and Kiwis tend to seek compromise, and thus it was for some 50 years of marriage between these two people.
I only got to see in from the outside for a while when I was married to their son, another tough, hardy, funny, smart type, who had a perfect blend of Oz and Kiwi temperaments which made for an interesting life with him. His sister, ever so slightly older, constantly astonishes me with her wisdom and humour and I’m honoured to call her a friend; his younger brother is a character in his own right and much fun to know.
They all circled in their own orbits around this sun of a woman – she would pull them in with her love but, compared to my mother, rarely used guilt as the short leash. She made wonderful cakes, some heavy enough to support buildings, and lighter than air Pavlovas that swept across the tongue like a cool spring breeze. She worked tirelessly for those less advantaged than herself and made me ashamed of my own selfishnesses.
She and her husband supported each other through years of happy marriage – yes, lumps and bumps and a few muttered asides as occur in all happy marriages, but they rubbed along together well, even through her last challenge, ALS.
ALS is a horrible disease – it shrinks you and wastes you and for her, it was a huge challenge in that she had to let others do things for her. She fought this and strove to look after herself, walking on her own until her last week of life. One visit I made she was barely able to hold up her head, and yet she was offering me tea, and had to make it for me, hostess parfait til the end.
I remember after we lost my mother how disorienting this was; how we didn’t really have connections except through her; how we had to relearn how to communicate with each other to keep the family connection going. We’ve learned imperfectly – I am rarely in touch with my brothers, for example. When the heart of the family no longer beats, it’s hard to re-establish those connecting neurons. I know my ex-in-law family of SILOR, BILOR, FILOR, and ex will have those challenges reconnecting, finding a way to establish communication. I hope they do. She’d like them to, I’m sure.
But, being the practical, wise, thoughtful sort of woman that she was, she’d also know that without her to pull the family together, they might just spiral outwards, get involved in their own lives, touch base infrequently. When she married, she left her family behind in New Zealand. She’d understand the need to focus on husbands, wives, friends, careers. And she’d be above using guilt to try to drag people together. Nope, she’d just be there, quietly or noisily supportive, making people want to come to her.
As we all did.