The end was as peaceful as you could imagine. After ninety years on this earth her time had come and she seemed content to go. As she would say, “To reunite with those that had gone before”. And she had seen her share of loss.
Raised to a rural backdrop of green paddocks and livestock, she was of a generation whose youth was torn apart by war. As soon as they could shave, her school friends became soldiers, sailors and aircrew, fighting in conflicts across the globe. Yet she would often reflect in later years how they were much simpler times.
Those simpler times took the life of her first love in a bomber over a target in Germany. Then her fiancé perished in flames, crashing into the jungles of New Guinea only weeks before her wedding day. That April, instead of walking down the aisle, she stood in the rain at the war memorial with tears running down her face.
She too had served in World War Two as an air force radar operator; one of the ‘Hush Hush’ girls. She had also worked beneath the streets of Sydney in a plotting room. She was on the first course of peace-time females in the air force, or ‘WRAAFs’. It was then that she met another RAAF pilot, on his way to Korea, but this time her luck held and he returned intact.
Together they raised three children and as I sat holding Mum’s hand that last time, that was the most memorable of her achievements. She wasn’t on committees and never pursued hobbies to any degree, she dedicated her life to us; her kids. As a child I recall her tucking me in with her customary, “Sleep Tight”. Holding my hand as we’d walk to school and working as a volunteer in the library. Cooking pikelets for church stalls and washing football uniforms for our local club. Standing on sidelines, or sitting in audiences, she never missed a significant event in our lives. When I was older and training each morning at 5am, Mum had already risen and sent me on my way.
Even as adults, her children were the focus of her attention and the source of her pride. And at times, her frustration I suspect. Regardless of the situation, she was always there. In fact, as I reflect upon my Mum, she was the greatest constant my life has known. She has quite literally always been there. Often in the background, but she was there.
And when her children had children, the cycle of love and pride started once more. As she makes her final journey I cannot help but feel a deep sense of loss, not sadness, but loss. Like one of the pillars upon which a house was built has now been taken away. The house will continue to stand, but it is a little weakened and even a little rocky until the foundations settle once again.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty was looking into my children’s eyes and telling them that Nanna had gone. Later I found my eldest daughter quietly reading one of Nanna’s many letters. Down the hall her sister had glued a photo to the wall with a poem she had written, “Nanna You Will Always Be in my Heart”. Then as I sat down for dinner, my third daughter had made a placemat that simply stated “Bye Nanna” and was adorned with a million stars.
Their beautiful acts were the only time the toughened constitution of this former paramedic was challenged. Even in their loss, their young thoughts were of hope and of the Nanna they had loved. Death had taken my mother’s body, but her love was alive in my children as strong as it had ever been. Knowing what I know, I should never have been surprised by this