NEVER TOO LATE
My mother will be 94 years old in April.
Two years ago she wrote her first short story. It was about a Siamese cat named Sam. Sam was an integral part of the family for ten years and mum’s story was so full of unbridled affection and joy, it was a tale that warmed the heart.
For mum to write this was an amazing achievement when you consider her background. She had to leave school at 13, in the middle of the Great Depression, because her parents couldn’t afford to keep her there. What with three brothers and three sisters, life must have been very difficult for the family, especially with her father in and out of work. She managed to secure a job as a shop assistant and her earnings helped to keep food on the table.
She married my father in 1939 when she was nearly 18. My sister was born after a year and I made an appearance three years later. My father was a builder, but was prepared to try his hand at anything to provide for the family. We lived in a coastal town 50 miles north of Sydney where work was always hard to come by. However, because he was an ardent gardener, as well as very competent in backyard poultry keeping, we always had good, nourishing food to eat. Mum was the primary child raiser, keeper of the house and maintainer of the flower beds that surrounded our modest house.
In 1978 she had a major breakdown and after months of treatment was placed on Lithium, a mood stabilizing drug, after being diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Over the years she has had a range of health problems to contend with, including a heart condition. However, always lurking in the background was the specter of depression. Her despair surfaced bigtime about seven years ago and she became virtually incapable of looking after herself. A rejigging of her medication did not help much and it was obvious she needed full-time care, above and beyond the home care and meals that were being provided.
My sister, Carole, lives about 1,000 kilometers north in Queensland and it was wearing her out driving all that distance to assist mum through her bad patches. I was of little help because I lived 800 kilometers south in Melbourne and had a full on job demanding my presence. To our relief, mum agreed to move north to an aged care center near where my sister lived.
My mother had always been a keen reader and letter writer. However, both of these pastimes fell by the wayside as her depression enveloped her. Her first 12 months at the aged care center were a difficult and challenging adjustment for her, having left the family home where she had lived for over 60 years. Fortunately, she struck up some immediate friendships at the center which made the upheaval easier for her. After some months, her reading began to gradually pick up, but my sister had to do all of her writing for her because her hand was too unsteady. However, her attitude was still predominantly coming from doom and gloom.
About a year after moving into her new home, her best friend at the center had a stroke that impacted on her mental ability as well as on her mobility, and mum found herself spending more and more time supporting her. Within a month, I noticed a shift in my mother’s attitude whenever I talked to her on the phone. She was definitely showing signs of being more upbeat and positive. This positive change of mood continued to grow and she wrote me a half page letter, laboriously written with a very shaky hand. A three page letter arrived a few weeks later and her handwriting had improved noticeably. In between time, unbeknown to me, she was working on her short story.
Mum thought her improvement in attitude and moods was attributable to changes in her medication. My guess is that her attitude took a turn for the better when she decided to put her friend’s needs ahead of her own. I believe her concern for her friend’s welfare and her dedication in demonstrating her love and support for her was the catalyst for her positive change in attitude. Regardless, it was a miraculous turnaround.
A couple months after receiving that letter from her, a parcel arrived in the mail. Inside was a folder with typewritten pages, together with drawings, inserted in plastic sleeves. It was mum’s short story. My sister, Carole, a talented artist, had done the typing and drawn the illustrations – mainly of cats of course. She then ran off multiple copies and distributed them to members of the family.
Since then, my mother has written two more short stories about other family pets and, between recurring heart incidents, is now writing a memoir about her life as a young girl and the positive influence of her maternal grandparents
My mother exemplifies the fact that it is never too late to change our minds and change our lives.
I am very proud of my mum!