My Mother

I want to write some words about my mother. This isn’t going to be easy for me but I want to try to give some impression of the one person through my life who was always there for me, who I knew I could always rely on for support and who I miss more than I can express. I’m practically in tears now as I’m writing this, which as anybody who knows me can tell you is not like me at all.

My mother, Maureen Forshaw, nee Lowe, was born on 22nd October 1940. Her mother was Elsie Lowe, nee Broxton. She died in Wigan Hospice in the early hours of 19th December 2009 having lapsed into a coma a couple of days earlier after a long battle with cancer. Her initial ovarian cancer was not spotted in routine scans due to lack of clarity in the X-ray images and spread to her brain before being diagnosed. Despite aggressive treatment through surgery, radio- and chemotherapy her condition deteriorated over time ultimately leaving her barely able even to lift a cup to her mouth. Throughout her illness my father took care of her full-time, having retired from work before she first became ill. I can only admire him for his dedication over this period of about 3 years without a break. But even more than that I admire the way my mother handled her illness, rarely showing the immense frustration she felt with her failing body and remaining cheerful throughout.

She was born and grew up in Wigan, Lancashire, one of four siblings. Her father was a coal miner, one of the major industries in the area at the time. Although as a working-class family they were not wealthy she had a happy childhood and always remained very close to her immediate relatives. She met my father, James Forshaw, at a dance as a teenager in the 1950’s and they started going out together. They got married in the early 60’s after courting for a few years. My mother had fertility problems and was unable to bear children so they elected to adopt. I was adopted at the age of about 2 weeks in 1973 and my brother in 1975. As children we were always aware of having been adopted and it never caused any problems: as far as we were concerned we had one mother and father and that was that.

She had worked in a dentists’ surgery before I was born and later for the Home Office (British government). Very little is known about this latter work because it is covered under the Official Secrets Act: I understand that it was a part-time clerical position but she obviously never divulged any details. She gave up work completely before I started school and devoted her time to bringing up my brother and me. I’ve talked about myself elsewhere so I will just say that she had tremendous patience to be as calm and supportive as she was with me.

I can’t emphasise too much just how much I relied on her while I was growing up. Maybe I was spoiled but I can’t remember anything ever being too much trouble for her as far as we were concerned. She taught me to read and even write (a little) by the age of 3. She never put me down; she let me know when I had done something wrong (just being called by my full name, Benjamin, was enough of a clue as to what was coming) without getting angry or belittling me, and more importantly she always explained what I had done wrong and why it was wrong. It was as if she instinctively knew how to deal with somebody who has an autistic spectrum disorder. Equally importantly she always let me know that she was proud of me when I had achieved something. When I was going through my bad time during my school years she tried her best to help me and get me to open up about what was causing the problem and it certainly wasn’t due to any lack of persistence or caring on her part that it took me years to even talk about that time. Likewise when I finally returned home feeling very down after dropping out of university she never showed much of her worry or disappointment: she just reassured me and helped me get back on track towards a job.

She suffered several losses in her life. Her mother-in-law died very shortly after I was adopted. She devoted a lot of time to looking after her father-in-law following this, having him up for dinner every night at first, later reducing to 3 times a week until he died. Her father died aged around 60 of psittacosis as a result of his mining occupation. I can remember going to visit him in Wigan Hospice shortly before he died. Her brother Alan died in his 50’s of cancer and I can remember how much it upset her. She was the main one out of her siblings to spend time looking after her mother as she aged: her mother died in her late 80’s. She also lost a number of close friends over the years.

I received a phone call from my father the morning that she died informing me. In some ways it was a relief that she was no longer suffering with her illness. I needed to be alone with my thoughts and despite the cold weather and inches of snow on the ground I went out for a walk through the local woods. The serenity of the surroundings and the clean crispness of the snow helped bring a degree of calm to my thoughts and I reflected on times spent with her through my life.

She was a very special person who made a positive impression on everybody she met. Since she died I cannot get used to knowing that she isn’t there to support me any more. She was the unassuming rock around which the family was built. I doubt that I ever let her know just how important she was to me and how much I owe her. I hope I have done her memory justice with these few words, although I know that there’s no way I can give more than a brief insight into her life.

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