Another chapter in my saga. When I last wrote, my father-in-law (Pa) had recently died, my mother-in-law (Ma) had decided to move out of the family home where all their surviving children had been born, the Sage and I had agreed to move there and we were having a baby.
Ma started to look for a house. She didn’t want to move far and preferably, to stay in the village where she had lived for 55 years. But there were hardly any properties on the market and she could not find anything she liked at all. So she came back to us and asked if we would mind her building a house in the garden.
This was obviously a reasonable suggestion and I could hardly object. But I did have doubts. I had an affectionate relationship with Ma, but to live in ‘her’ house, with her next door might be difficult for both of us. And she was approaching 80 years old – very fit and active now, but when the time came for her to need more care, would that change our relationship for better or worse? However, I kept quiet about it. It was not long since her husband had died and I would not hurt her.
We made enquiries about planning. There is plenty of room here, but it is outside the area of the village where planning permission would readily be given. After considerable negotiation, we were given permission for an attached granny annex, with the proviso that only a close family member would be allowed to live there. And, in due course, the bungalow was built and Ma moved in there. Initially, she rather assumed that we would move in to the house straight away, but we had to explain that this was not possible – the roof tiles badly needed replacing and other work needed to be done (my priority was to get rid of the orange and stainless steel 60s fitted kitchen, though I didn’t say that!). She took the news good-naturedly and her old ‘retainer’, Hilda, who had gone there as a mother’s help when the Sage was a year old and stayed ever since, agreed to postpone her retirement until we had moved.
Ma entered into the spirit of the thing cheerfully. We have photos of her climbing a ladder and clambering onto the roof. When I expressed a hankering for an Aga, she said that it would be her welcoming present to me. I still was not entirely sure that the house would ever feel like my own home, but I could not feel anything but loved and welcomed.
And then one morning, Hilda took her in an early-morning pot of tea as usual and said ‘good morning’. An hour or so later, she was a little worried as Ma had not got up. She went to consult K who helped in the garden – maybe she was ill? K went and rattled dustbins loudly outside the window in case Ma was asleep: but eventually they realised there was no option but to go into the bedroom and poor Hilda ventured in, with K hovering outside in the hall.
Ma had poured her tea and put down the teapot, but then her heart had failed her and she had lain back and died in her bed. A good death, who would fear an end such as that? Her fourteen months of widowhood must have been hard for her, but she never complained and was brave and resolute. We were so sorry that the work had not been completed and that we didn’t move in while she was still alive, she had so looked forward to that, but there had been no inkling. We carried on with the work, but the urgency had been removed and so we didn’t move in for another nine months.