BACK in December 2017, my mother died, and the family home became empty. In truth, it had become empty before that in some ways because when she got sick, she came to live with me and never went home again.
Even when she was living there, a large piece of life went out of her when my sister died of cancer in her mid-forties in 2005. The house was never the same after that, which is understandable.
It’s not the natural order for children to predecease their parents and my mother never really got over it.
She would always find a way to bring Jillian’s name into the conversation whenever she was talking to anyone. I suppose it was her way of trying to keep her memory alive.
After my father died in 2010, she struggled to motivate herself and, in many ways, I think she was merely existing. She threw in the towel.
She wasn’t a religious person, but she was hoping that she would get to see her daughter again some day.
Looking back on it, we now know that she wasn’t fully fit for a long time. She neglected her health and chose to ignore some of the symptoms she was experiencing. She kept it to herself and it was only after an accident at home that the full extent of her ill health was discovered.
She got up in the early hours of the morning to go to the bathroom and fell down the stairs. She managed to get her mobile phone and she called me but when I got to her, she was shaken and had lost a lot of blood. The ambulance took her to hospital at 6am and, although she didn’t know it then, she would never return to live in that house again.
When she arrived in the hospital, it didn’t take the medical staff long to determine that she was seriously ill and didn’t have much time left. She came to live with me in October and died on December 3, 2017. It was quick, and as far as we could tell, painless, and she was comfortable right up to the end.
It took the rest of us in the family a year to finally get around to clearing out the house and there were a few surprises in store for us when we did.
My father was an avid amateur photographer for as long as I can remember, and he was rarely without a camera in his hand.
In the pre-digital age, he developed his own photographs and slides and there were thousands of them in drawers and boxes all over the house.
When I was a young lad, the kitchen was often designated as a ‘dark room’ where he developed his rolls of film.
It’s great for us now that he did that, because we have plenty of material but it’s going to take some time to go through it all.
Looking through some of the old black and white photographs gives a real sense of how much we have all changed over the years and brings back many memories.
I came across a photo of me sitting on the roof of a three-storey house when I was about eight years of age. My father was a small-time builder and his sidekick was a guy by the name of George Doherty. The photograph shows me sitting on the roof with George while we were taking a break from removing slates. I look very relaxed and the height of the roof obviously didn’t bother me.
My mother had written on the back of the photo that I loved to work with the lads during the school holidays and I loved to put on my overalls to be like them. She didn’t date it, but I reckon it must have been taken in 1966.
There were similar photographs that were taken on other jobs, so I obviously spent a lot of time hanging out with them as a child.
There was another photo of me on a different roof with George when I was about three years old, but I presume I was just put there for the purpose of the shot.
I worked with them when I was older too and I was always comfortable on rooftops because I spent so much time up there. I was at home on heights.
If those photos had been taken in the modern era, the PC brigade would certainly launch a full-scale attack on my irresponsible parents, and I would probably be removed from the family home and placed in care.
There was another photo of an old Bedford van. Because my father was a builder, he always had some form of transport at a time when there were few cars on the road. The two front doors on the vehicle slid back from front to rear and when you pushed them back fully, they would remain in the open position. I remember in the summertime being in the van with the doors open wide, and no seat belt of course then either.
On one occasion — I must have been very young — I was in the front of the van with George and I was sitting on his lap and the doors were open. I was holding on to the door frame with my left hand. My father hit the brakes for some reason and the doors slid forward to slam shut.
George reacted very quickly and threw his large paw over my small hand and he took the force of the door as it slammed shut. Only for him, I imagine my young bones would have been crushed.
This is only the tip of the iceberg and I imagine there are lots more memories to be discovered yet.