A Mother’s Day letter: Mum died two years ago but in reality we had lost her years before ‘Alzheimer’s is a bloody terrible disease’

Editor John Elworthy took this selfie with his mum shortly before her death in 2016.

Editor John Elworthy took this selfie with his mum shortly before her death in 2016. - Credit: Archant

We had mum’s funeral in late February, 2016. She died, aged 83, after a short illness. Last night, on the eve of Mother’s Day, I penned this letter in memory of her.

Dear mum, it’s just over two years since we lost you – in reality of course we had lost you several years before that. Alzheimer’s is a bloody terrible disease.

You were always a determined woman and that instinct not only kept you going after our step dad died but made us promise not to make you give up your home. A care home would, of course, have been convenient and a sensible option.

It would also, in all likelihood, have prevented those terrible screaming phone calls you made after the driver from the day centre dropped you off and you walked back into an empty house.

Alzheimer’s didn’t allow you to recall the pleasant day you’d enjoyed with friends but instead it let you believe you had been on your own, at home, all day. Loneliness scared you probably the most.

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I can’t pretend I was the best of sons (whilst he was alive my older and then my younger brother did much of the day to day visiting and caring) but I was good for Sundays, afternoon outings for tea and cake, and an occasional visit back to the pub in Gooderstone and the village where we grew up.

I’d like to think much of your eight decades were good ones – but you never really said that much about those early years. I remember them of course. Your early mornings being picked up for land work, your struggles to raise us on the money you made to top up dad’s earnings as a farm worker and then latterly as a lorry driver before he finally found his vocation as a coach driver.

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I remember those delicious suet puddings you made (apple was our favourite), those Monday night teas with hot boiled cockles that had soaked in salt water overnight after we picked bucketfuls of them the previous day in Hunstanton, and who could forget the copper stick you wielded – but never used – if we stepped out of line.

You lived, mum, what is called life. Rarely complaining, a bit gossipy, and always wanting the best for your children, your grandchildren and in later years your grandchildren.

The unexpected six months I spent living you in the 1980s after dad was killed by a drunk driver on the A47 on his way home from the bus depot at Kings Lynn remains particularly poignant.

Loneliness then was your greatest enemy and it took a well devised plan to move back out and allow you to restore some semblance of normality to your newly widowed existence. It wasn’t easy and you rushed into some bad relationships before eventually settling on the man you married and stayed faithful to until he died just a few years before you.

I think you know mum I never really took to him but it was your decision and I hope, and believe, he made you happy. For that reason I can, just, forgive him for the financial decisions he encouraged you to take without telling us and which led to some surprises that you knew we would one day find out about.

But today, mum, is Mother’s Day and I will think about you as I do most days.

I’ve kept the words I wrote after funeral and if you don’t mind I’ll repeat them.


I knew I wanted to say a few words today – I agreed with brother Don I would- and spent the past agonising fortnight deciding what to say.

And then I realised what it was that made mum so special, so ordinary yet so extraordinary.

It was something I first read many years ago.

It’s a few lines from the Bible yet it sums up just about everything I can recall about mum. It is from St Paul.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

“It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

“Love never fails.”

Mum simply loved. She loved being a mum. She loved being a Nan. She loved being at work. She loved being at home.

And she loved chatting, incessantly sometimes but chat she did.

She chatted when working with her friends on the land, on a production line in Swaffham, in a café where she worked and at various pubs.

She chatted at country and western dances, she chatted on the phone, and she chatted, if you like, for England.

She was non judgemental, never criticising her sons (me included) when things went wrong (sometimes even when they went horribly wrong!) and she never wished to be anyone or anything other than who she was.

She had this overwhelming capacity to love – and my goodness was she loved in return.

I shall always be grateful to mum for so many things; for the sacrifices she must have made to bring us up. For her kindness. For her sense of perspective.

And for her devotion to her large and extended family.

But mostly and above all I think all of us today will remember her for teaching us the true meaning of love.

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