I feel guilty for living on the other side of the world from my mum
16 April 2018
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Louise reunited with her mum in Auckland
Louise Chunn, The Telegraph
When I left New Zealand 36 years ago, I didn’t think I’d be gone for long. It was a traditional rite of passage at that time for young Kiwis to leave the nest for some ‘overseas experience’. My new husband and I spent a year in the US then, rather randomly, ended up in London. My mother had done the same thing after she had married, but whereas she and Dad returned home to Auckland when she got pregnant with my brother, I never have made that homeward journey.
My feelings towards the 12,000 miles that lie between my mother and me have gone through many phases. In the beginning, I cherished being a free agent, choosing the way I wanted to live, dress, eat, socialise… My mother is a woman with great style and high standards, and I wanted to strike out and be myself.
When my first marriage ended, Mum was remarkably supportive and non-judgemental. It must have been very worrying to watch from afar your daughter cast adrift as a single mother with two small children, but she never let on.
When she met the Englishman who was to become my second husband she was immediately welcoming, even though this relationship made it even less likely I would ever come home. She was in London for the birth of each of my three children, but it’s inevitable that she has not seen as much of them as she or I want (though they would argue that she is a strong presence in their lives).
Having been semi-resistant to her influence in my 30s and 40s, my 50s found me feeling much closer to her, and so guilt finally set in. The woman who had walked in the Himalayas, travelled in Mao’s China, been to the Galápagos Islands and spent six weeks in Kenya was becoming less independent and I was nowhere to be seen. I have four brothers (and two of them live in Auckland) but I was the the only daughter, and that made me different.
My father died six years ago, and from my far-off vantage I hoped Mum’s routine of meals with friends and trips to exhibitions was continuing as before, but once you’re past 80, life usually changes fairly sharply. After a fall that put her in hospital, my brothers and I found a facility that seemed modern and well-appointed. I phone often – but this week I’m finally seeing her in situ. On the plus side, she fits in perfectly, enjoys the social scene. She has introduced me to every member of staff and many of the residents have become friends.
On the downside, visiting once or twice a year means I see Mum getting older in big jumps, rather than a slow decline. I want to do what we used to do when I hit town – eat out, visit our favourite museum, go shopping, walk on the beach. But now she is an 89-year-old woman with a walker and little appetite for adventure, though she loves to look through the book I’ve compiled of pictures of my London family and life. As it happened, my trip has coincided with a common occurrence in her life: the funeral of an old friend. As we sat holding hands in the church, listening to stories of her friend’s life, Mum admitted she couldn’t remember how she and her friend met 70 years ago, or what her sons are called. But, as she added, it didn’t matter.
‘You know who you love, even when you don’t see them very much.’ We both knew she could have been talking about us.
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