December 29, 2009

UK: Mum's empty chair at Christmas

. LONDON, England / The Daily Mail / Femail / December 29, 2009 Pam Rhodes on becoming an orphan in middle age By Pam Rhodes Losing your parents as a child is a devastating experience. But few of us consider just how heartbreaking it can be to become an 'orphan' in middle age. Here, in a confession that will resonate with many readers, Songs Of Praise presenter Pam Rhodes, 59, describes the loss she felt at the death of her mother and of having no parent to share the Christmas holidays. Just a box of liquorice allsorts - but it had tears filling my eyes in the supermarket one day last week. You see, my dear mum, Peggy, and I always bought each other a box of them every Christmas. It was our little tradition. Only Mum has gone now. And so it was a few days ago that I found myself standing in the sweet aisle, acutely aware of my loss; a 59-year-old orphan feeling bereft because my mum is no longer here to share liquorice allsorts - and so much more - at Christmas. Perhaps it hurts so badly because I have had to face my own mortality and realise that, with my parents gone, my generation is now the oldest in the family. I think that at my age you are expected to be all grown up and to take the loss of your parents as a natural progression. But it is never that simple. You are never ready for it. And yet it is something few people talk about. Frankly, I'm not so sure that facing life without your parents is much easier in your 50s than it is at 15. Bringing back the memories: Pam, pictured with her mother on her wedding day in 2003, is struggling with becoming an orphan aged 59 Mum died of old age last February. She was a few days shy of her 86th birthday and she was tired and ready to go. She felt she'd done all she wanted to do and had seen her grandchildren grow up. It would be easy for people to say that she was an old lady and had had a good innings, but she was still my Mum, and even though I'm 59, I miss her dreadfully every day. Our bond became unbreakable after my dad died from cancer of the oesophagus when he was 44: Mum was 42 and I was 14. We were a naval family, so we lived in Gosport across from Portsmouth harbour - Mum, Dad, my older brother Geoff, younger sister Terry and me. I remember hearing Dad die in the next room at home. The hospital had sent him home because there was nothing more they could do for him. When I asked Mum if it was cancer, she replied that it was and that was the moment I felt we became friends as well as mother and daughter. On the night Dad died, Mum was smiling when she came through to hug me, because she was relieved he was no longer suffering. My sister, who was only seven, asked very practically: 'Who's going to mend my bike now?' Tough years followed, during which it often felt as if it was Mum and us against the world. During the War, she had been a senior aircraft fitter and was incredibly self-sufficient as a result. Her attitude was always that anything men could do, women could probably do better. Dad had often been away with work, so Mum just got on with things. He was a Work Study Officer, which meant that if ever they decided to do any decorating at home, by the time he'd finished his 'To Do' list, she'd be up a ladder with the ceiling painted.
It might sound odd, but that cold February day when Mum died on the ward of an NHS hospital was one of the most special of my life
Of course, she suffered terrible grief when he died. Her life was thrown into disarray. Until then, she'd been a housewife, but suddenly she had to provide for us and became amazingly resourceful. Mum was a very capable lady, like most people who'd lived through the austere years of war. I think it was Margaret Thatcher who once said that women are like tea bags - you never know how strong they are until they're in hot water. After I left home to start working, initially for Thames Television, I used to ring Mum every day - and that continued wherever I was sent as a presenter - and when I had my children, too. I thought it was very important that someone was interested in what she was doing, even if it wasn't a lot. More than two decades of presenting Songs Of Praise has taught me that one of the biggest challenges these days is loneliness. We get a lot of letters from people who are very lonely. I was conscious of that with Mum as she got older because she was so self-sufficient she never joined any clubs. Sometimes, she'd go a whole day without seeing anyone. Oldest generation: Pam, who supports Sue Ryder hospices, presenting Songs of Praise in 2000 By the time Richard and I married in 2003 - it was the second marriage for both of us - Mum had had several strokes and was very frail. Richard was thoughtful enough to say immediately that she must come and live with us at our farmhouse. I was incredibly touched by that. It was a huge wrench for Mum to leave her tiny, 200-year-old cottage in Gosport, with all its memorabilia and garden full of flowers, where she loved to sit and watch the world go by. We never sold that cottage while she lived with us because it was important for her to believe that one day she would be able to move back there. Sadly, she never did. [rc] Click here to read more Pam Rhodes is supporting Sue Ryder hospices and their Lights Of Love Christmas remembrance services. Website: Interview by Sadie Nicholas © 2009 Associated Newspapers Ltd