My mother and I

Dipping in and out of all your lovely messages and wise words has been hugely comforting over the past week. To hear your stories about the loss of your own mothers has been both soothing and reassuring and I thank you all so much for sharing them. The warmth and solace that your messages bring with them might seem disproportionate to the content, but just reading them makes me know that we're never on our own.

Strange the cards we are dealt. My mother was an intelligent woman who either didn't have the right circumstances to develop her intellect or maybe she never wanted to and the curiosity was missing.  Either way I feel sad that she could have had a much happier life - on her own terms not mine. Her cup was always half empty and she was always afraid of what others might think. I remember her telling me when I was in my early teens that she would rather I went into town with rollers in my hair, plus headscarf, rather than chance any of her friends meeting me and seeing the horrendous backcombed bird's nest that sat on top of my head. I of course thought my hair was the epitome of cool!
Lily's 85th birthday
Over the years I embarrassed my mother over and over again.  She wanted a secretary married to a doctor and she got someone who gave up living out her dreams aged eleven - full stop. After that I had no interest in being a high achiever at school, after all everyone hated me for it and I'd had enough of being the one to beat. I was much more interested in colouring my world with a rich tapestry of dazzling experiences. I had no idea how to achieve this other than having an instinctive knowledge that there must be more in life and the best thing to do was to get out there and live it.

My mother loathed the path I'd chosen and felt utterly betrayed.  She had spent her life in the cotton mills of Bolton as had her sister and mother and always swore her daughter would have a better life. The only problem was I knew it too and my version of a better life was totally different to hers. I couldn't get away from the satanic mills quick enough, and it didn't matter to me where I went.
Lily on a day out with Philip and I, having tea
 at The Dutch House in the Howardian Hills
After I gave up trying to please her academically, I decided it was better to do well but never ever excel and that way I could please both of us. This was my first big mistake, my mother wanted me to be the best, like she was, at school. I was the first daughter, niece, grandchild in the family and was adored and made a huge fuss of. I was hothoused like an orchid by my grandmother and great-uncle in the evenings when my mother was on the night shift in the mill.  Uncle Denis, who was in the Great War and so learnt some French, would be teaching me pidgin French on his lap when I was three years old. In their two up two down terrace we would all sit around the table in the gas light at night, where I'd recite french, draw pictures and sing songs for them until my mother came home from the mill at 9.30. My father was never considered to be an adequate carer by the matriarchs so I was never left with him.

My mother's family sowed the seeds to create a person who ultimately none of them could recognise. I remember thinking when I was less than five years old, if I was asked to choose between my mother, my aunt and my grandmother, I just couldn't - they were all equally important to me. They all thought, as I think many before them had, that their hopes and aspirations would be achieved in the next generation. I felt the weight of this and it was my raison d'etre in my first decade to be the person they wished for. However, the swinging sixties came along with feminism following hard on its heels and from then on I started to rebel - I would lead my own life, whether they liked it or not.
Lily with Lyra, her third great grand-daughter
At the moment my head is full of the things I could or should have done for my mother. I've come full circle in the past five years, once more striving with every fibre of my being to be the daughter she always wanted, not realising by then it was too late. I always instinctively knew you can't live your life for another person and Lily's legacy to my children has been that I've always tried to give them the wings to soar, without holding them down with my expectations of how they might do that.

My emotions are pretty raw right now, examining myself as a daughter. I'm wondering what my mother would have wanted at her funeral and I'd so like to get it right for her, even though I know she won't be there and it's really an occasion for those left behind. Knowing how emotionally fragile she was, I only once asked her what she would want.  She said she would like to be buried, that she had no faith and that it should be a dignified occasion.  With this in mind Philip and I have been considering the options.

Lily and me
We've found a natural burial ground where there are no headstones and no wreaths, instead the site is planted with wild flowers, bulbs and several trees. We've ordered a willow coffin with turquoise handles and trim - the colour of peace, serenity and tranquility, and I also know this was one of her favourite colours. There'll be Lily of the Valley on top of her coffin and we'll have bunches of daffodils, her favourite flower, for each person to throw into her grave. If it can be arranged at short notice, I'm hoping that a local soprano will come and sing one of Lily's best loved arias at the graveside. I'll read a poem and I'm hoping that anyone else who feels moved to contribute will do so. We have another week for things to fall into place but my hope is that although I feel I could not live up to her expectations in life, I'll not fail her in death and somehow she'll realise how much I've loved her all my life.

And I hope when you grow up, someday you'll see
Your parents are people and that's all they can be.
Loudon Wainwright III

Wed 7 Mar Jen Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Jen Arnall-Culliford

Thurs 8 Mar Needled Kate Davies

Fri 9 Mar Rock and Purl Ruth Garcia-Alcantud

Sat 10 Mar Woolly Wormhead Woolly Wormhead

Mon 12 Mar Yarnscape Alison Barker

Tues 13 Mar Confessions of a Yarn Addict Anniken Allis

Wed 14 Mar Joli House Amanda France

Thurs 15 Mar This is Knit Lisa & Siobhan

Fri 16 Mar The Knitting Institute  Knitting Magazine

Sat 17 Mar  Life’n Knitting Carla Meijsen

Sun 18 Mar ConnieLene Connie

Mon 19 Mar  Just Call Me Ruby Susan Crawford

Tues 20 Mar Tiny Owl Knits Stephanie Dosen

Wed 21 Mar Ulla-Bella Anita Tørmoen

Thurs 22 Mar Heike Knits CANCELLED


  1. I have to believe that she knew you loved her. I hope you can take a deep breath, and believe it yourself.

    I am going to see my 85 year old mom this weekend, after a winter apart. It will be boring at times and there will be irritations (we're both know-it-alls), but the miles of distance loom large after winter. She now has eye problems, and mourns for the days when she could drive up to see me. I simply have to drive to see her at least twice as much, while I can.

  2. Your plans sound just lovely, and even though she won't be there, honouring her in the details and the overall scheme will bring a sense of completion. I know some of how you feel, my mother and I were very different people, and after my father died when I was 12 we had some very difficult years. I've faced similar circumstances with my daughter, as she is much more like her father, personality wise, and I try my best to let her be herself. Sometimes the lessons we learn take a long time to come full circle. You will always be Lily's daughter, and will try to find the best of what that means.

  3. Jean you seem so bent over with the weight of your perceptions of your families expectations of you. Between the words I see that the love between all of you was fierce and while your mom couldn't always say it she did love you and knew you loved her. This next year will lead to lots of reflections of times past. I hope you find your peace and move forward without guilt. My mom wasn't always pleased with my actions but I knew that she loved me no matter what. She has been gone a little more than a year and it is getting easier to bear her loss.

  4. Mother-daughter relationships are so complex, aren't they? And very rarely easy. Reading your words strikes a chord with me. My mother has spent most of my life hating the choices I've made, making fun of the things I did, and criticizing pretty much every blessed thing about me. I was never "good" enough. She will be 85 in May and she is failing fast mentally. The good thing is that she is losing her sharp edges as her memory and mental acuity fade, so our relationship is better now than it ever has been.

  5. Dear Jean, I think your words resonate with so many of us daughters! From early on we are torn between wanting to please parents and being ourselves. My mother came from a farm, and was determined to pack me off to university, even though I spent far more time in the art room at school than the biology lab. By now I suppose she has accepted that I will never be the "career woman" she herself would like to have been. Remember the words of Tolkien, that "Not all who wander are lost"... even if our families would like to think we are! I'm glad to know there will be 'Lili y dyffrynoedd' (Lily of the Valley) on her coffin - that hymn has been running through my head ever since I learned of her passing. Pam xx

  6. Dear Jean:
    Your comments about your mother are so very touching, and your plans for her funeral are incredibly thoughtful and loving. Reading about her, and seeing her pictures ... she loved you indeed and surely was proud of you and your accomplishments. Try not to be so harsh on yourself as you do not deserve it.

  7. Dear Jean, I was reading your posts backwards so it was shocking to read your Mum had died.
    I too have days of regrets about my Mum and she died 6 years ago!
    I believe we judged her too harshly because we didnt understand the why and the wherefores of her life. My sibs and I took turns so she was never alone, even at night ( she died 2 weeks after disgnosis)
    I believe she was pleased/proud that we attended to her when she needed us the most.
    Hang in there!!

    peace and kind regards


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