How will I be remembered? That’s a question my mother never asked herself. She was too busy enjoying her life to be concerned with something like that.
Her life was rich as she considered her job as a teacher to be her vocation. I can’t count the number of times someone came up to her and asked, ‘Do you remember me Mrs Browne?’ She always remembered their names even if decades had gone by. Not only that, she would regale them with a story of what they were like when they were in junior infants. The most stoic of cheeks would redden at tales of lunchboxes being thrown across the classroom. Every past pupil treated her with what can only be described as a type of reverence. They never forgot her and she never forgot them. There can be no doubt that she was born to teach and encourage the youngest of schoolchildren.
Beyond the classroom, her great passion was for gardening. She knew the Latin name for each and every plant and carefully cultivated and curated her own garden for almost forty years. I’ve never known anyone with greener thumbs.
As with any passion, the garden found its way to the classroom by providing an education on the environment and being a part of the green schools initiative. She was a ferocious recycler and woe betide anyone that didn’t separate their waste properly. When she believed in something, she was a force to be reckoned with and usually won out through persuasion and a light touch.
She loved to try new things in alternative health and had a cupboard filled with all sorts of lotions and potions, from tinctures to tablets. She swore by cups of green tea before it was trendy and a spoonful a day of apple cider vinegar. For her, that combination was the key to good health.
If I had to describe my mother in one word it would be good. That single adjective encapsulates the myriad of other aspects that made up her personality. I saw her kindness when she accompanied me to countless hospital appointments and never once treated me differently because I live with chronic conditions. She never let me give up on myself. In truth, I lack the words to fully describe the goodness present in my mother. What I can say is that she was the best person I’ve ever known and the standard to which I hold myself. If I manage to be even a shadow of the person she was, I’ll be doing well.
The trouble is that goodness doesn’t make you immune to cancer. She was fit, exercised regularly, ate healthily, never smoked and rarely drank, but she still collapsed during a lunchtime walk and was rushed to hospital. She never saw her classroom again. Normal life ended on that day.
The ensuing months brought a diagnosis of cancer, chemotherapy, radiation and trips in and out of hospital. The cancer was vicious and relentless, the exact opposite of her. I remember her sitting up in the hospital bed after the consultant left and telling me that she didn’t want to die. She did everything she could not to die, showing a level of grit and determination that was second to none. She was remarkably strong and refused to spend the time she had left feeling resentful because she had done everything right and still ended up with lung cancer.
On her final admission to hospital just seven months after the initial collapse, there was a heatwave. The hospital was so stiflingly hot that everyone felt cooler when they went outside. Only in a hospital would the radiators be hot during a heatwave.
As the days went on, she ran out of medical options. It became a matter of the morphine pump keeping her comfortable. Relatives came and went to say their goodbyes. Grandsons began facing the reality that they would soon be without their beloved Granny.
The last words we exchanged on the day she died are something I will never forget. She asked me the time and when I told her she said, ‘Time for Nationwide.’ Every time I watch Nationwide now, I think of that and smile. She died surrounded by her family at the age of sixty-one.
She suffered enormously during her short battle with cancer. She deserved a better death than the one she got. She deserved to live another thirty years. She deserved the chance to retire and travel the world. I still find it difficult to accept that we live in a world where the worst of deaths are given to the best of people.
After the month’s mind, the Principal at the school where Mam taught gave my family a collection of photographs detailing her years in the school and a very special notebook. Each of her colleagues and friends had written down their memories of her. I had tears in my eyes the first time I read it. What jumped out at me was the common ground between them. Every note said that she made them aware of the great benefits of green tea and apple cider vinegar. Mam would be pleased they were still talking about it after her death. I can feel her spirit when I open that notebook and I will treasure it for the rest of my days.
My mother, Mary Browne, was the most extraordinary woman I’ve ever known. It is my privilege to be called her daughter.
(c) Karen Browne