Ten days ago, my mother-in-law died. Born in 1929 in a working class family in Birkenhead, she’d lived a modest childhood, endured separation from her parents and siblings as an evacuee during wartime, returned to a bombed-out city, married, had a child at the start of the space race and witnessed the technological age from its start. She supported her husband in his devotion to the Royal Naval Association and the British Legion. Devasted when he died after 51 years of marriage, she became ill herself and succumbed to Alzheimers’ and dementia shortly before her 83rd birthday.
This isn’t a eulogy, though she deserved one for her open, friendly nature, the wilingness to go an extra two miles and for her kindness in praising others for their achievements, irrespective of whether she understood what they had achieved.
But she didn’t have the educational opportunity – she left school at fourteen. She didn’t have the chance to develop any aspiration other than the traditional one of wife and mother. She didn’t have the opportunity to widen her horizons, so stayed in a narrow, closed and uninformed world.
Perhaps she may not have been any different, but she didn’t have the chance. Little wonder she couldn’t understand it when she saw others squandering the rich choices before them and living only to grab money and kick others aside as they blundered on.
But she understood what it meant when her grandson went to a good grammar school – she’d worked in the schools meals service at one. When he gained a place at university, she didn’t know what a Bloomsbury Group university was, but she was happy he was happy there. She was only anxious that he would “get a good job” afterwards. And he did.
As she slid into the brain-rotting illness, one of her constant questions was “Are you happy?” and she always smiled when you reassured her you were.