Anastasia Finnigan, my Mother, was born 100 years ago on December 29th,1912.
It was a strange experience honouring her birth. I felt her presence. Her birthday was always special for me and ever since I can remember I tried to convey that to her.This year was a little extra special although she is dead. I bought a large bouquet of white carnations, over 100 buds and had a candle light vigil for her. Ruan, her grandson and I had tea in the afternoon with fruitcake (which she loved) and a glass of port. It was solemn but not sad. She would have been a little disturbed by the white carnations but they are for death, Mother’s day was always honoured with a red carnation if you had a living Mother. For some reason that always resonated with her. For me birth has more meaning than death. You treasure someone’s birth, surely.
Mama was a part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was born in a town now known as Tolstoi. After WW1 it became Poland, then after WW2 it became Russia and is now Ukraine. Because of the concentration of Jews in the town during WW2 it was more or less obliterated. My Mother was always extremely adamant that her hometown was a town and not a village (with cobbled streets, dating back to the Romans). One of her happier experiences about 8 months before she died was spending a whole afternoon at my computer checking out names of friends that she had remembered from childhood. Ruan had researched places and names for her and had set everything up. She loved it and proved to be adept at handling a computer for the first time. She was totally engrossed and I saw my Mother in another light.
She was part of something that I knew nothing of. One name she sought was Margulies/Margolies. Someone with that name was also seeking to find anyone who had survived the war. My Mother had left in 1925, the town devastated by many occupations. I found it interesting that a little Greek Catholic girl would have so many Jewish friends. When I commented she was surprised.They were her playmates. Her Mother had sold their home to a local Jewish family when they left the country. My grandmother had survived with her children (her husband was in Canada and could not get back in to the country) selling vegetables, jams, eggs and milk to her mostly Jewish clients. I thought of all this the afternoon and evening of the 29th and wondered what Mama would make of our lives now. I tuned into the radio to have a late night listen and to think my thoughts when a song came on that I had not heard for over 45 years. It was something my Mother always sang to me and to my children, untill my Father died and then not ever again. It was the Connemara Cradle Song:
Roses love sunshine, Violets love due,
Angels in heaven, know I love you.
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow.
She must have learned it from my Father, how else could she have known it? I did not recall him singing this (he sang, played the piano and harmonica) but who knows and unfortunately I never asked. It was a part of my family culture.
I then realized how much I missed her, even though she had made my life more difficult than she knew. I had divorced once, she was horrified that I would consider it again. How could I do this …..to her?? MY husband, John Harding, robbed her blind without any conscience. It was a family trait. The Hardings’ had collected ground rents in London for centuries, so what. Present day Harding family members keep valuable belongings (music manuscripts) and have allowed valuable douments to be destroyed that they were storing – letters from composers to my son and a letter of Elgar’s that I had bought at auction. Destroyed by a water leak only to be told “they were only some letters”. But don’t rock the boat.
I wonder what she would make of all the stalking, harassing and hacking that we are subjected to on a daily basis. Stalking in the UK now carries a 5 year prison sentence. They are lining up.
The harassment started in Kelowna, cars following me slowly while I walked along the sidewalk, some with women drivers.The most unpleasant thing I think about is the incident which hastened my Mother’s death. She was unable to sit at a computer again so I tried to bring her books which she would enjoy. The last one she read I had in storage which I was unable to continue paying for because I was kept so short of money and Ruan was not allowed to earn anything. She got herself to a telephone one afternoon and timidly asked me if she had to stay in her room I asked why and and with growing horror heard her relate her experience of the night before where a woman in the next bed (bedridden) had some man come in and have intercourse with her for some time and so much so that her bed rammed my mother’s and it shook and rattled.
I guess it ‘s funny on a TV program but if you are 91 and dying, maybe not? The nurses on duty were unable to cope as the two individuals seemed to be well connected. There was also a cat in the room, permanently. You ask why I did not have her in a private room – MY mother was heavily addicted to morphine and whenever she tried to get up she would fall at night. Her falls hastened her death but it was why I had her in a room with more people as the nurses would need to enter more often.
No one seemed to take this too seriously in Canada so I can only assume it has become standard practice for elderly people in hospitals. Unfortunately for my Mother in her case she was still traumatized from an incident in her childhood when her own Mother – Maria Horbal – was gang raped by Turkish soldiers in her home. My grandmother had seen the soldiers coming and fearing that they would steal her children she hid them quickly. Thinking their mother dead my mother and older sister fled to my grandfather’s uncle, the local sheriff and he took charge. The men were found, dealt with and unfortunately buried on the family property, a constant reminder of what had happened. An interesting event later was that the Turkish government had their bodies exhumed and returned to Turkey, about 10 years after the family had moved to Canada.
Needless to say, that night in hospital all this came back to my Mother. She was subsequently moved to another room but developed bed sores and I could not understand why. One day I stripped her bed to the bottom only to find the matrress soaked through in urine. Everything was changed but by then it was too late. The morphine helped and she had a peaceful, calm end. She would frequently wake up and smile at me. My beautiful mother. Two weeks before she died Ruan asked if she would like to speak to her great grandaughter Chiara Harding in Rome. He had been very unhappy that she was unable to see his daughter. My Mother could not travel and his wife Simona had refused to come to Canada, She thought it unnecessary. It would have meant so much to Mom…death is more acceptable if there is continuity. It was especially so for my Mother. So this,her last Christmas, on Christmas morning he played the piano for the patients (yes, a concert pianist) as he had promised her and the nurses hooked up the phone and she spoke (in Italian as he had helped her) to her only grandchild in italy. Then she was ready to die. Mama could have lived much longer but she was tired and she knew that things were out of her control. This lady who had done so much in her life. The little girl from Tolstoi (near Chortkiv).
Rest Mama Rest, Let the winds blow.