At 45 my father’s health broke down. A miner, a soldier, and a miner again, and a smoker, his lungs began to weaken. He spent three months in the Miners’ Home in Blackpool, recovering, never to work in the pit again.
As a result, my mother had to go out to work. Mother of four and a homemaker, her work experience had been domestic service when she first arrived in England, and then a munitions factory for the duration of the war. After that it was marriage and homemaking and four children. Suddenly she is faced with the need to go out and earn money to feed her family.
She began by going back into the only thing she knew, domestic service, cleaning a house for a local business family that she knew. Very quickly she realised that this was never going to bring in the money that was needed. The quiet Irish girl needed take the plunge into the wider world. She became an auxiliary nurse at a local hospital, and cycled the four miles or so every day to her new employment.
This work brought her experience of the elderly, knowledge of medicine and confidence in the work place and good friends. After a few years she applied for a position as a deputy matron in an old people’s home in Leigh and got the job. She was earning good money and going places.
Then the chance came for her to become her own boss and matron of another care home, with forty beds, forty elderly people to look after. She made a great success of this position and was well regarded in the Wigan area where she worked. Many trainees were sent to learn the work under my mother’s guidance. She often sat through the night holding the hand of a dying old lady and eased their passing from this world.
When she retired she looked after my father in his final years and when he died, she would have a further twenty-two years of life before her own dying day at the age of 94. The quiet Irish girl from Glencullen in Erris had become a confident and very capable carer, not just of her own family, but in the important work of looking after elderly people, and in bringing peacefulness to their final years.
As a child I used to kneel beside my mother in church and together we would say the prayer to Our Lady that asked for her help ‘through all the changes of our journey in life’. There were many changes, for her and for me, and indeed for all of us.
Change can come suddenly and unexpectedly. It can appear at first like a challenge we would rather not have to face. My father did not want to face the challenge of ill health. But he had no choice. My mother might have preferred to stay at home, but she had to go out and find work to feed us all. These changes led on to greater things, good things.
In later life my mother said to me that each stage of life prepares you for the next one. We can grow into things. Each day we can grow in our understanding and in our ability to live life well. We don’t need to fade away. Our life can come to its own perfection, so that like the Lord himself, we can say at the end, it is accomplished.
20 May 2022