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In Memory of my Mother by Gina Ford

In your book 'Good Mother, Bad Mother' in the acknowledgements you write:

"Finally, to my beloved mother, who I know still watches over me. Thank you for all your amazing wisdom and the very special love and encouragement you always gave me. The answer to the question that your death prevented me from answering lies here in this book. Yes, you were a good mother; you were the best mother any child could wish for".

One can tell from the message that you were very close to your mother. Will this Mother's Day be a sad day for you?

My mother died nearly eighteen years ago, and in the early years after her death I shed many tears on these special occasions, wondering how I would ever get over her loss. Family and friends would reassure me that time is a healer, and of course they were right. I still think of her every day, and miss her as much now as I did twelve years ago; but the pain lessens, and every day I thank God for being fortunate to have had her as my mother. She was not only a wonderful mother, but she was also my best friend and the sister I never had. On Mother's Day, I now fill the house with her favourite flowers and plan a special day with friends to celebrate her life and the things she achieved. She was such a positive person - her cup was always half-full, never half-empty - and she would often say, "Gina, live every day as your last and thank God for each day". She was a wise lady and I try to follow the advice she gave me.

What are the happiest memories that you remember about your childhood?

There are so many. We spent a lot of time doing creative things together, which I loved. I remember us making a doll's house out of a large, wooden box that originally stored loose tea. I can still recall how painstaking she was at getting the details right, from real wallpaper on the walls to linoleum on the floor. Together, we made tiny furniture and blankets for the beds. I was so proud of that doll's house and spent hours playing with it. The same amount of time and effort was spent making bedding for my dolly's pram and cot. I also used to love Sundays, which was a day when the whole family met up. On sunny days we would spend hours at the beach or down by the river. My mother was always happy and full of fun, joining in the games and entertaining the children. And the most important thing about my mother was that she was a wonderful listener, always took time to talk and listen to not only what I said, but at times notice what I didn't say.

Was your mother quite strict with you as a child, or were you spoilt?

She was very strict about manners, being polite, speaking properly and taking care of things. I was never allowed to be destructive with my clothes, toys or books, or throw them on the floor like some children did. She always took time to explain that I should be grateful to have them, and to respect the effort of the person who had made the toys or written the books. She also taught me the importance of sharing these things with children who had less than I did. Whilst she was strict she was also a fun person and was great when I had friends stay for sleep-overs at weekends, allowing us to stay up and watch late night movies or listen to the latest pop music.

Did you have lots of 'things' when you were growing up?

Looking back, I suppose I did. Being a single parent, my mother didn't have much money, but I know that my grandfather and uncle often gave her money to treat me. She always bought me gorgeous party dresses at Christmas, and she was a beautiful knitter, producing sweaters and cardigans for me. My dollies and soft toys also had the most amazing knitted outfits! As I mentioned, she was creative and got a lot of pleasure from making things. On my birthday and at Christmas I would always get at least six books, as I loved reading from an early age.

How did she discipline you? Did she ever smack you as a child?

She never smacked me and I remember how appalled and upset she used to get if she saw another mother giving their child a smack. If I did misbehave, she would usually take me aside and quietly, but sternly, explain why I should not behave in that way. When we got home, she would then spend time talking to me. She would listen to how I felt and reassure me that I could talk to her without her getting angry, emphasising the importance of kindness and respect. She was very focused on positive behaviour and would give lots of praise when I had been well-behaved or had done something nice for another child. I think because she gave me a lot of time, I didn't feel I had to be naughty to gain her attention.

Being an only child, did you get lonely when you were young?

Looking back I now realise that I had a very privileged and happy childhood, growing up within an extended family who were all very close. I spent all of my childhood growing up on a farm. My four cousins lived a few doors away, and there were usually at least four other children living on the farm, so I was never short of company. During the school holidays we used to spend most of the day outside, no matter what the weather. In particularly bad weather, we would play in the old farm buildings, which we would turn into dens; and in the summer we would spend hours down by the river, climbing trees or collecting wild berries along the disused railway track. In the evening, the other kids used to love coming to my house because my mother was fun and easy-going. There was often music, dancing and singing in the evenings. I feel sorry that so few children nowadays get the opportunity to be adventurous outside. So many activities are focused on organized play or computers, where children have less opportunity to develop their wonderful imaginations.

In an interview you said that you slept in your mother's bed until you were ten. Did she ever try to implement a routine?

She certainly implemented a routine for me just after I was born, as my aunt - who had given birth six months earlier - recalls helping her to establish one. Apparently, I was an easy baby and stayed in a routine until I was nearly three, at which point I learnt that I could climb out of my cot; because my cot was in my mother's bedroom, I used to get into her bed in the middle of the night. Once I began getting out of my cot regularly, my mother dismantled the cot and allowed me to share her double bed. In truth, I imagine there was no space for a single bed in the small bedroom and that she had no option but to let me sleep in her bed, once I had outgrown my cot. At the time, we lived in a two-bedroom house, with my grandfather having the other bedroom.

At that point, my bedtime routine went awry and I ended up going to bed at the same time as my mother. I was still in something of a routine during the rest of the day, only with a late bedtime. I recall cuddling up on the sofa for a nap after lunch. I imagine that is another reason why I was never ready to go to bed at 7pm. Once I started school and could no longer nap during the day, my mother got stricter about putting me to bed earlier - but because I was so used to staying up late, I rarely fell asleep before 9pm. With regard to how many years I slept in her bed, I used to think it was until I was around ten years old. But I recently discovered my mother's second marriage certificate, which was around the time we moved house and I moved into my own room, and I was probably nearer eight years old.

In your book you mention that your mother suffered from post-natal depression and continued to have bouts of depression during her life. Do you think this affected you as you were growing up?

Obviously, I was only a baby when she was experiencing post-natal depression, so I have no recollection of that. As I grew older, she did suffer from bouts of depression, usually when she was troubled with rheumatoid arthritis, which could leave her crippled for weeks at a time. She was, however, open and honest about how she was feeling, and I think that helped her to get through the difficult times. She got a huge amount of support from my grandfather, aunts and uncles, who would recognize the signs and ensure that she talked about how she felt. Also, once she became mobile again, they would make sure that she got out as much as possible. I think this helped her to get over those low periods quickly and, as she got older and worked part-time, the episodes became less frequent and less severe. She was always very open and honest about how she was feeling when she was suffering a lot of physical pain and dealt with her condition very positively. No matter how much pain she was in she would still look on the positive side and always manage a smile and crack a few jokes. I think her positive attitude and her faith in God, along with the huge support from family and friends helped her to get over those low periods very quickly.

Your job working with families took you all over the world. Did this affect the close relationship you had with your mother?

I know that she missed me when I was away, and the family used to tell me that she would spend weeks preparing for my arrival home. But she never made me feel guilty about wanting to travel. Even if I couldn't make it home for Christmas, she would say, "Honey, don't worry. As long as you're happy, that is all I care about." No matter where I was in the world, we spoke almost every day - and when I was in the UK, often twice a day. When I did arrive home after time away, we would sit up until 3am or 4am talking. Considering that we talked every day anyway, I can't imagine what we used to find to chat about - but talk we certainly did!

Your mother was only 65 years old when she died of cancer. How did you feel when your mother first told you that she had cancer?

I was actually on a six-month booking in Hong Kong at the time, and I remember the day I got the call as if it were yesterday. "Gina, honey, I want you to remain very calm when I tell you this. It's bad news, I'm afraid. My tests show that I have a small tumour on the lung." I asked her what the prognosis was, and she said, "It's not very good; it's a fast growing tumour, so they think it may only be a matter of months." I was devastated and could barely speak. Her final words as we ended the call were "Gina, I love you more than anything, and I am going to fight this as hard as I can. But you must promise one thing: That you will not simply pack in your job and fly home. You must finish your booking and not let the family down". This was so typical of my mother; always thinking of the needs of others.

How did you cope after her death?

She had been very ill for nearly five years, but the pain she suffered during the last few months was horrendous. While I didn't want to lose her, I told myself that death would release her from her suffering. But this didn't make my pain any less when she passed away on the 10th of November. I went back to work within a week of her dying, and I am sure that my work helped me to get through those difficult early days. I was lucky that all of my jobs the year after her death were with families I had worked with before, and they were understanding and supportive. Looking after the babies brought me comfort and joy; and knowing that my mother wanted me to carry on with my work helped me to get through. I also sought support from a bereavement counsellor, who helped me to see a way forward. She was the most amazing woman, and I shall always be grateful to her.

During the five years when your mother was ill, you continued to work. Did you manage to spend much time with her?

When I returned from Hong Kong, I wanted to give up travelling and move back home to live with her, but she wouldn't hear of it. So we compromised: I continued to travel to jobs, but only within the UK, and I never took bookings for longer than two weeks. Then I would usually take a couple of weeks off to spend time with her. I tried to fit this in with her chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatments. She spent a lot of time in hospital during those five years. My step-father and I always made sure that one of us was beside her. The nurses at the hospital were fantastic and made sure that I had a reclining chair by her bed, so that it was more comfortable during the night. Although there were some very difficult times, as anyone who has gone through a similar experience will know, I also have wonderful memories of the things we did when she had periods of remission. My parents loved the Lake District and, when my mother was well enough, I used to take them there for holidays. I recall, on one occasion, all of us walking along a riverbank, singing at the tops of our voices, "We love to go a-wandering", not caring two hoots about the strange looks we were getting from passers-by.

My mother also loved to visit London, sometimes staying with the families I was working for, and helping me to look after the babies. When off-duty, I would take her shopping in Knightsbridge and Oxford Street, then afterwards to five-star hotels for afternoon tea. She adored those trips and would talk about them for months afterwards.

We also had great parties on New Year's Day. It would be open house from 10am in the morning until the early hours of the following morning, and there could be as many as 30 or 40 people crammed into our small living room and kitchen. She loved being surrounded by family and friends, and would be the life and soul of the party, far outlasting the younger members with her dancing. I have many happy memories of those five years, and I thank God that we had that precious time together.

What are the most valuable lessons you think your mother taught you in life?

There are so many things that she taught me, but one that remains strong in my mind is that she encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in. She would say, "Gina, you must march to the beat of your own drum, even if you march alone." She also brought me up to "Do at least one good turn a day, without looking for anything in return". She would often remind me of this when I was young, and her words are as important to me now as they were then.

Was she a religious woman? Did she have a strong faith?

I believe it was her faith and strong belief in God that helped her to deal with her cancer so courageously. During those five years of illness, her bible was always close by and she would often spend hours reading it. I'm sure this brought her comfort during those difficult times.

Finally, how would you describe your mother - not only as a mother, but as a person?

My mother was a very special person and one of the most incredible positive people I have ever met. She touched the lives of so many people, she was someone who gave, not only to me, but to many others as well. Throughout her life she would take time to listen to the concerns or worries of family, friends and neighbours - particularly young people. She continued to offer this precious support to others, even when she was fighting her own battle with cancer.

May I end by sharing the words of Thomas Fessenden: I recited the following poem at her funeral, which I think beautifully describes the type of mother and person she was.

To Mother

You painted no Madonnas
On chapel walls in Rome;
But with a touch diviner
You lived one in your home.

You wrote no lofty poems
That critics counted art;
But with a nobler vision,
You lived them in your heart.

You carved no shapeless marble
To some high soul design,
But with a finer sculpture
You shaped this soul of mine.

You built no great cathedrals
That centuries applaud;
But with a grace exquisite
Your life cathedraled God.

Had I the gift of Raphael
Or Michelangelo,
Oh, what a rare Madonna
My mother's life would show.

Thomas Fessenden

 

In Loving Memory of my Beloved Mother
Helen Jane Ford 1933 - 1998

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