Barbara’s Tribute to Grandma
Our mother must have been a fighter right from the start. She was the youngest of 10 children born in 1916 to Fitzherbert and Ethel Clarkson, in the backblocks of Victoria, Australia. Tragically, her mother died when she was born and she was brought up by her older siblings and then by a housekeeper who then married her father and by all accounts became the original wicked stepmother. She was just 16 when her father died following an accident in a sawmill.
Mum came to New Zealand with one of her sisters not long after her 21st birthday, met our father when he was on holiday in Rotorua and then married him in Christchurch. They moved to Silverhope, which for those of you who don’t know, is a suburb of Hunterville in the central North Island. Not an ideal location for a girl used to the streets of Melbourne and Sydney. Dad was a country school teacher and there were a number of moves and the births of four children before they shifted to the South Island and then eventually to Christchurch in 1964.
They lived in what we think of as our family home in Fitzgerald Ave until Dad died in 1984. Like many women of her generation Mum had never owned a cheque book or managed a bank account and never had to make major decisions on her own so she had to learn a lot of new skills very quickly.
At this stage of her life Mum started to enjoy overseas travel and took a trip to the UK to visit David, a bus tour through Europe, Norfolk Island with her sister Ida and various trips to Australia sometimes to celebrate a significant birthday of one of her sisters.
In time Mum moved to a small owner ship flat in Linwood and lived there very happily with Nina her Siamese cat and then Zulu the black and white cat on long term loan from Richard. We will all smile when we remember how she would pour warm water into the bird bath to break the ice for the birds in winter.
In 1994 she had noticeable health issues and following some intervention from the family was diagnosed with heart failure needing a pacemaker. She bounced right back from near death, having told us she knew she couldn’t let the family down by dying before she reached 90. Around then we discovered her sense of adventure and for her 80th birthday we gave her two tickets for a hot air balloon flight. We drew straws to see who would go with her and Louise her youngest granddaughter was the winner. At that time I also took her on a jet boat ride near Queenstown which she just loved and declared was much more exciting than the hot air balloon.
Well Mum did reach 90 and as Judith has said we had a wonderful celebration of that milestone.
In 2006 during a routine replacement of her pacemaker she was infected with an MRSA bug which changed her life dramatically. The result was that she could no longer live on her own but moved into the Maples rest home where she carved out her own little niche, walking every day as she always had, befriending new residents and helping them settle, going on all the outings and feeding the birds with crusts from the lunch table. She joined in all their activities with enthusiasm and enjoyment. She even won a gold medal in the Maples Olympics much to the amazement of great grandson Josh who told her he thought she was too old to win an Olympic gold medal.
Following a fall in 2009 when she broke some ribs, and punctured her lungs she was given 48 hours to live, but her strong constitution once again had her back on her feet, unfortunately this time needing hospital level care. We moved her to a room at Windermere. She found it difficult to accept her increased dependence on other people for assistance with daily routines and personal care, spending most of her time in her room, but continued to enjoy family outings and visits.
Mum’s room at Windermere was largely destroyed by the earthquake of February 22 and she was moved to Nelson by the powers that be and we can only imagine the horror of that trip. Seven elderly people, a nurse, a driver and a box of sandwiches left Christchurch at 4.30pm on 23 Feb, drove to Blenheim, arriving very late in the evening and then some of them were moved on to Nelson the next morning. Mum was never a demonstrative person, greeting anything other than a kiss on arrival or departure with a “What do you want?” But I will never forget when Jude and I went to Nelson to see for ourselves how she had survived that trip getting the biggest hug I’d ever had in my life from her.
We arranged to move her to Wellington, knowing there were not going to be any spare beds in Christchurch in the foreseeable future and that the family there had enough on their plates just surviving. It was going to be our turn and indeed our privilege to look after her with the knowledge she was unlikely ever to return to Christchurch.
We brought her to Wellington on 9 March, another traumatic trip for her, and began to look forward to her return to her former self once she was settled. Unfortunately another fall, resulting in a broken hip, and a lengthy hospital stay meant she never walked again and began a steady downhill slide.
During her last two weeks Mum’s condition worsened noticeably and we know she wasn’t going to live much longer. My only wish at that stage was that she shouldn’t be alone at the end after all she had been through. So when that phone call came at 4.00am on Thursday 16 March I was so grateful to be able to sit beside her with Ian and Sally until she took her last breath.
Our mother wasn’t rich in the accepted sense of that word, but so very rich in the love of the people who mattered to her. They are not all here today but we know where ever they are they are thinking of us and of her. Her name isn’t a household word except in our homes, she won’t be remembered by the rest of the world, her lifetime achievements haven’t added hugely to the sum of human knowledge. But we all for the rest of our lives will remember our times with Mum. We may laugh or cry but we will have warm comforting memories of a great lady who had the love and respect of those she left behind.