A lot has happened since I last blogged about my dear mother. She passed away on 17th of August while Annette and I were on holiday a few hundred miles away in the north of Scotland: I wouldn’t have been able to get back home and see her in hospital before she died. I am so very sad not to have been able to say goodbye to my mum. Her cremation was at Robin Hood Crematorium (in Hall Green, Birmingham) on Tuesday 3rd September 2013.
My mum’s wish was to join her father and mother, David and Catherine Muir, in the Muir plot in Hoddam churchyard near Ecclefechan in Scotland, where us Muirs come from. Accordingly, Annette and I placed my mum’s casket in the grave during a short ceremony on the morning of Thursday 31st October 2013.
The eulogy I gave at my mum’s cremation service follows.
Jean Burnie Johnstone Muir Etheridge
I have an image of my mother that is frozen in my mind: that is of her making her way slowly across the path that leads away from the church in Hanpton-in-Arden after Annette’s mum’s funeral. There was a flurry of snow on the ground and it was very cold. Mum was wearing a smart coat and one of her large hats and was supported on one side by Prue and on the other by Bertie. Prue and Bertie pretty much looked after her for most of the day. Such a generous act of kindness.
Indeed, our friends Prue and Bertie, Gethin and Judith, our family and the Thompson family – everyone really – they often asked after my mother. These simple and frequent acts of kindness are part of the fabric that holds family and friends together.
It is usual at this kind of gathering to say something of the life of the person we are saying goodbye to. However, I don’t think that I could do justice to my mother’s long life in the time that we have, so I want to take this opportunity to thank a few people.
Before I do so though, I should tell you that Annette and I have often suggested to Jean that she ought to write down her life story. She always dismissed our suggestion. On the first occasion that Annette was searching one of the drawers of my mother’s bureau, she came across an exercise book that turned out to be the beginnings of mum’s life story. Mum never mentioned the existence of this document. The first page is titled Reflections Through the Mist: a brilliant and mysterious title. There are only ten pages or so, most of which tell us about her childhood. It is a great pity that mum didn’t continue writing, but we were so glad to find it, despite its brevity.
Mum refers to her childhood in a one-down, one-up house, the third of ten children. Cooking and heating was by means of an open, coal fire. If there was no money for coal, the children were sent out to scavenge for wood. This early childhood was, in my mum’s words, very poor.
As soon as any of the children were 14, they left school and went to work. My mum was sent to a farm some distance away. She lived there and sent all of her meagre wages back home. In my mother’s words: life was hard.
When mum was about 24 she was conscripted to work at GKN during the second world war. Shifts were long and the work was hard: my mum did two years on nights, 12 hour shifts, 6 days a week.
The book then skips forward: my mum mentions that we never had a home but were always living in someone else’s where my mum was the live-in housekeeper. In this part of her book, mum briefly writes about me going to school.
Perhaps mum’s life experience explains why she was so tough? I remember our nephew Simon saying to me once: “Aunty Jean is tough isn’t she Uncle David. They could put her in defence for the Villa; nothing would get past her!”
Next, I would like to thank a few people.
Annette has been a massive support to me. She was always calm and patient with Jean, whereas I would easily get exasperated. For example, while I was away on a bike ride in July, Annette took mum to a hospital appointment at the QE. The logistics of this usually require both of us, but Annette offered to take on the task single-handed.
When I ‘phoned Annette on the Tuesday evening of the bike ride mum had told her that she had done quite well, but she had bought the wrong size bananas. I should explain: Annette did my mum’s shopping while I was away. Faint praise you might think: did quite well. What mum actually said to me the next time I saw her was a sentence that included the following words: calm; patient; wife; wonderful; man; lucky. How very true. I am so very grateful to Annette for everything she did for my mum and for her support since she passed away.
A week or so after this appointment, mum said to Maureen: “There can’t be anything wrong with me; they haven’t been in touch.” Thank you to Maureen and Neil for visiting my mother over the years.
Apart from her toughness, one of mum’s other characteristics was her independence. No, her fierce independence. Annette and I tried on many occasions towards the end of last year to persuade her to have carers: she flatly refused until she suggested it herself. Since November of last year, mum has had care givers from Home Instead. So, thank you to Terry Cheung and Sue Parkes for organsing my mum’s care package. Mum got on so very well with her care givers and spoke highly of them. So thank you to Jennifer; Palisa; Sheila; Rihana for looking after Jean.
As mum discovered that she was not able to do the things that she used to do, a network of people at Ashwood Court (where she lived) did things for her. Thanks go to Pam, who did mum’s laundry and to Derek who used to do little DIY jobs and put out mum’s bin bags.
I’ve referred to my mum’s independence. There was the occasion when we were in the Dales, I ‘phoned mum early in the week and later in the same week. During both conversations, she said that she was fine. It was only when we returned home at the end of the week that we found out that she had been in hospital between the two ‘phone calls. “No need to worry you,” she said.
Mum’s toughness, independence and fighting spirit were with her even at the end. On the evening before she died in the QE, she said that Doris could go home now!
I think that we can say that my mother knew her own mind. Apparently, when the paramedics arrived at her flat to take her to the QE for the last time, one of them told her: “Jean, you are having a heart attack!” “No I’m not!” came the defiant reply. On this and other occasions when we were away from home, Doris went with mum to the hospital.
Doris was much more than a neighbour to my mother; she was a very good friend. We could not have managed without Doris. Doris would look in on my mum on a regular basis, do bits of shopping for her, deal with emergencies if we were not at home. Annette and I are enormously grateful for the friendship, help and support that Doris gave to my mother.
I hope that I have not left anyone out. So many people in their various ways helped my mum to continue to stay in her flat: this was her wish.
The next time any of you are traveling north on the M6 to the point where is morphs seamlessly into the A74 M somewhere near Carlisle and takes you beyond to Scotland, can I ask you to look out for the exit to Ecclefechan between Gretna and Lockerbie and think of Jean. If you glance to your left, you will see the small village of Ecclefechan: blink and you will miss it. This is where us Muirs come from, where my mother, Jean Muir, grew up and where, in accordance with my mother’s wishes, she wants to return, to be with her father and mother. Accordingly, Annette and I will take mum’s casket to Hoddam churchyard near Ecclefechan so that she can join David and Catherine Muir in the Muir plot.
And so, my mum can now begin her last journey: the journey home.