A warm memory today of my mum.
She loved adventure, never hesitating to take an opportunity. For example, she worked as a telephonist for The Universe, a Roman Catholic newspaper in London. The editor, Christopher Hennessy, asked her if she would be the tour guide to take pilgrims to Jerusalem.
Despite no experience, she jumped at the opportunity. She was a social butterfly. “Oh, I loved it. People in Israel were so kind to us,” she recalled. My mum also went with pilgrims to Rome, Lourdes and Walsingham in England.
My mum gave a public talk on her visit to Jerusalem at the invitation of the Catholic Womens League in Croydon.
I asked my mum if she was nervous as it was her first public talk. “No, of course not. They are people like myself. I spoke for 30 minutes and then took 30 minutes of questions. It was a lovely evening. After the talk, we all had a cuppa tea and biscuits.”
After my sister and I left home, my mum and dad took care of students from Germany studying English during their school holidays. My mum told me one night at 11 pm, there was a knock on the front door. One of the German students answered. He called to my mum in the living room. “Mrs Titmuss, there are two guys with bald heads and dressed up in orange curtains asking for you.”
My mum replied: “Oh, they would be friends of Christopher (I was a Buddhist monk in Thailand at the time). Invite them in.”
I told monks visiting London they could always stay with my parents.
Aged 78, she emigrated to Australia to live close to my sister. I said to her she should consider keeping her modest home in England and rent it out. She then had a home to return to if she did not like Brisbane. House prices keep going up.
“You will be priced out of the housing market,” I told her.
She responded: “If you are going to make a big step, don’t do it by half. Just go. Don’t look back.”
She sold the house and took a one-way flight.
The flight from London to Brisbane with a two-hour break to change planes took 24 hours. “Don’t you find it tiring sitting on a plane for so long?”
“Oh no. I love it. People have so many interesting stories to talk about.”
In Australia, she had various operations over the years, including two new kneecaps, two new hips, two laser operations on the eye, a metal bar for her broken shoulder blade and cow’s valves for her heart. I didn’t hear her complain. She chatted away in the ward. I visited her in hospital. She spotted the doctor from India doing his rounds and laughing shouted over to him using his first name: “Andrew, why are you ignoring me?” She turned to me: “Isn’t he handsome?”
“I have a body full of spare parts holding it together,” she told me. “I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I see. I still feel 25.”
We spoke on the phone a couple of times a week. She told me the hardest thing about being in her 90s was knowing she had a 70-year-old son.
From the age of 90, she lived in a home for the aged in Windsor, a suburb of Brisbane. Previously, she lived contentedly alone after my dad died in 1990 but she needed extra care as frailties developed and required daily medication and two injections for diabetes. She loved pudding and a slice of cream cake. “I am digging my grave with a spoon and fork,” she told me with a poetic flourish.
I would see her wheeling the trolley around the tables and chatting away on my annual visits to Australia.
Judy, my sister, visited my mum most days of the week. The evening before my mum died, the two of them were planning to go to the cinema. My mum wanted to make or buy a cake for her upcoming birthday. On her final morning, a carer came to her room at 8 am. My mum loved her morning cup of tea in bed. The carer told my mum she would go and make her a cuppa tea. Just as she opened the door to go to the kitchen, my mum said to her: “Oh, I am going to die.”
The carer responded. “Oh, Peggy.” She returned a few minutes later. with a cup of tea in her hand. My mum never drank it. Her religious faith gave her immense comfort especially in the latter years of her life. She knew she was going to heaven.
Photo of Mum aged 93 taken in Windsor, Brisbane in 2013.
Photo of mum aged 40. Take in a photo booth in Croydon, Surrey, England in 1960. Am aged 16.