0643/17th July 2023

When you lose someone you love, you cling on to favourite memories of them.

Favourite images. Of when they were happy, laughing.

  Of when something you did pleased them.

  A special way they looked at you. Held you in their embrace.

Of the many gardens my mother loved, perhaps the one she liked best was her tropical paradise in Barbados, filled with the most stunning hibiscus.

As I wandered through our neighbour’s garden, I was amazed by the great variety of lilies and my mind took me back to my mother’s many wonderful hibiscus.

The garden was large and my mother was always busy, so how could she fully appreciate it?

Most hibiscus flowers last a single day. My mother toured the garden early each morning carrying a tray. She carefully chose a collection of the blooms and placed the tray in the bottom of her fridge.

When the day was done my father retired to the living room, my mother to the kitchen.

But before preparing supper, Mum took her tray of hibiscus blooms from the fridge.

She had a fistful of fine bamboo sticks which she inserted into each bloom and when they were all thus impaled, she brought them to the living room where she had a large bowl of leaves.

So, as my parents relaxed for the evening they got to enjoy their beautiful garden.

Each display a bit different but always gorgeous.

Mum never spoke of things she missed, but she must have thought often about that tropical garden. I think in many ways those years in Barbados may have been her happiest.

When running an apartment complex became too much work for my aging parents they sold up and moved to Florida and after a few years there, health issues took them back to England and the National Health.

Mum finally had her English country garden. She had tried in vain to grow roses in all those other gardens, but now she had success.

Was it what she wanted? I don’t know.

My father wasn’t shy about expressing his opinions. He missed the tropics.

English winters made Dad miserable. For that matter, so did English summers. He had agreed to go back because my mother needed a hip replacement.

Mum went into the Bath clinic and had the surgery. I went over a few days later and a friend drove me down to collect her and take her home. She was un-fazed by major surgery. Her only complaint was that Dad had not bothered to visit.

Over the years, I realised that Mum harboured quite a lot of resentment against my dad but I seldom heard them argue. Mum was simply not a complainer.

As the winter of 1996 approached, Dad had a brainstorm. My parents were well into their 80’s by then. Dad decided that Mum needed cheering up.

The notion of going to Tahiti for the winter was, I am sure more to do with cheering my father up. Mum hated air travel. Tahiti?

Dad had some sort of romantic idea of the place. To Mum it was a long, long plane journey. But she pretended to be pleased. (As far as I know)

Using my airline discount, I could get my parents Club class seats to Los Angeles where a friend of mine would meet them and escort them to their connecting flight.

A travel agent arranged all of that part as well as the hotel accommodation in Papeete and Bora Bora.

Although my parents had “confirmed” seats to Los Angeles, I knew only too well how quickly they could become unconfirmed or downgraded, so I spent quite a bit of time checking out the fluctuating passenger loads, but eventually got it sorted.

Picturing my aged parents trying to negotiate Terminal 4 at Heathrow, I flew over to meet them there and make sure their journey started well.

In due course they turned up and I got them checked in. Before the hip replacement, Mum had needed a wheelchair, but now she was walking and I am sure it pleased her a lot.

She seemed very bright and she looked really sweet. I remember that she had a silk scarf around her neck.

As they went off to get on their flight to Los Angeles, I said I hoped Mum and Dad would enjoy their holiday.

“Oh, I expect so. We usually do” said Mum.

Thinking back, I wonder why I didn’t pay more attention to the arrangements my father made through the travel agent.

So many other things I had arranged had not seemed to please. Maybe that is why.

Apparently I had at least pressed upon Dad a fax number “for emergencies”.

With my parents safely off to Los Angeles, I returned to JFK.

It’s hard to believe that only 26 years ago there was no immediate connection with someone the other side of the world.

Back in my office at JFK, one of the Special Services staff brought me a fax that had come in for me from Tahiti.

On arrival they learned that their hotel accommodation did not include meals which was a problem because although they had a small number of traveller’s checks, they never possessed a credit card.

A message went back telling them not to worry, I would sort it out. Somehow I did more or less, but it unnerved my parents to be so far away and “penniless”.

Mum was vulnerable because she was very deaf. She was also mentally fatigued.

Returning to England she had moved into a house opposite her middle sister and on that day we came to the realisation that my aunt was probably suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Mum witnessed the progression and had to deal with the awfulness of it.

Her sister’s name was Win.

My parent’s holiday did not get back on track. Each day I went to work dreading the next fax. One day when I asked, my colleague said “No news is good news!”

Which is why I have never said it since.

The details have long since been purged and I did not learn the most dreadful bits till later.

One evening my mother told my father “I’ve got Win’s trouble. Don’t pay attention if I say silly things.”

Because of her deafness, I had dismissed small misunderstandings and confusion.

She had still been able to do the Times crossword puzzle. Hadn’t she?

Maybe her cooking was ever so slightly not quite as it had been. But she was 85.

Maybe you just always make excuses to deny what you see.

The passage back to England was disastrous, their flight cancelled, their replacement flight downgraded making the journey unbearable. A nightmare.

When next I saw my mother she was having episodes of paranoia during which her eyes looked strange. Full of anger that I had never seen there before.

She thought my father and I were plotting against her. My father turned away from her as if in disgust.

Two minutes later, Mum was putting together a birthday cake for Dad and laughing because it was all a mess.

One morning I helped Mum to get dressed and saw how weak she had become.

My good friend came to pick me up and as we drove away I turned to him and said “She’s dying.”

“Do you want to go back?” he asked

To do what? What could I change?

A month later Mum was hospitalised, for evaluation. A family meeting was going to be needed.

Mum had wanted me to promise that I would never put her in a nursing home but I had never said the words because I could not. Now the time was coming.

My brother flew home to see her and she greeted him warmly, recognising the flowers he had brought: “My delphiniums!”

She told him I had been there that morning. I was in New York, but it was a comfort of some sort.

Mum studiously ignored my father.

The “family meeting” was no closer to being scheduled, so my brother went back to Zambia.

A week later I got a phone call from Dad one morning. The hospital had called to say Mum’s heart was very weak. I asked if I should go but he said not.

Thirty minutes later Dad rang back:

“She dead!” he said.

The day I had dreaded all my life, but you don’t know until it happens how you will react.

When a beloved animal dies I go to pieces, but it is never so simple with a person.

With a person there are so many details. Things that must be done, other people who may need support.

There was a flight from JFK that would get me to London the same night. As I bought my ticket I phoned my brother and my aunt Kay. Automatic actions. Things that must be done.

What I kept telling myself, as I waited for the funeral was that losing your parents is inevitable, something that must be faced. I don’t know why but it helped me and it helped too, knowing that Mum would never be in a home. I actually think she willed herself to die. She certainly had the strength of mind.

Flowers make me think of Mum.

And when I remember her, I think of that last time I saw her looking so sweet before she went away to Tahiti.

9 thoughts on “Flowers

  1. Thank you, Carolyn, for the sad but beautiful memories, Your mother was such a beautiful woman!
    The flowers make your words even more poignant! Thank you!


  2. Wow, the different hibiscus flowers in your post are beautiful (just like your mother). You tell your mother’s story so beautifully Carolyn … and how you remember her. I have to admit, I read this with a lump in my throat – losing a parent is not easy.

  3. Memories of our mums are both wonderful and bittersweet. The last conversation I had with my mum before she died was not quite an argument, but not a happy one. She thought it was still 1943, and she was getting ready to go dancing with an American soldier. I tried to tell her it was 2012 and she was 87 years old, and she became annoyed with me. I still regret doing that, 11 years later.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I understand how you feel Pete but I am sure your Mum only remembered all the happy conversations. Although I dearly loved my mum it was her youngest sister Kay that I lived with the longest and she was my best friend. I adored her but loving someone doesn’t mean you will always be able to make them happy. The last time I saw Kay she had suffered a stroke and was in a nursing home. Her dog bit a child that was teasing it (while I was at Kay’s husbands funeral). I had to tell Kay the dog would not be allowed to visit anymore which was the worst news I could have given her. I think it would have been easier to cut my own wrists. Next day I had to go back to NY. Kay could not speak. As I left she tried to smile but all I remember is the profound sadness in her blue, blue eyes. I think I shall never get over it.

  4. Your Mum was a lovely lady and I appreciate your sharing your recollections of her, interspersed with the beautiful Lillies. I think she would have loved the way you presented it.

  5. Thank you for sharing your memories with us. And, as always, your wonderful photographs.

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