Sunday, 1 November 2015

On the death of my mother

How things can change in an instant. My mother, Maria Dembinska, nee Bortnik, died last night aged 88. She fainted, knocking her head on a radiator as she fell. My father summoned an ambulance, which arrived in less than four minutes. Six paramedics could not revive her on the spot, so she was taken to Ealing Hospital, and pronounced dead just before midnight on Saturday, 31 October.

She was in excellent mental shape to the end, and though frail, still walking - with the aid of a walking stick - albeit only short distances in recent years.

Growing up in Horodziec, a village in what was then eastern Poland - the Kresy, borderlands, my mother had a very pleasant childhood by all accounts. Her father was the forestry manager for a magnate of Belgian origin, Kamil de Pourbaix. When the war broke out, and the Soviet Union invaded and annexed eastern Poland, everything changed. She was deported along with her parents and two sisters to a labour camp north of Leningrad, a place called Punduga in the Vologda oblast. Their exile ended with the amnesty of 1941, when Polish prisoners were allowed out of their camps to form an army. My mother and her middle sister made it out with General Władysław Anders to the Middle East; after the war ended, my mother found herself in Britain, where she married, had two boys, and led a comparatively uneventful life to the end of her days.

Hard work was my mother's forte. She worked as a comptometer operator for many years, before having us, she worked at the head office of Rootes Group at Halkyn House, Halkyn St, London; afterwards as a temp for a specialist agency called Sumlock (including a memorable stint at Levi's in Acton, ensuring I had a good supply of jeans as a teenager), and finally at the head office of Curry's before it merged with Dixons. Juggling sales figures - in the days of pounds, shillings and pence, before the era of spreadsheets and automation, she got on with it.

First heart attack in 1986. A second in 1995, and a third in 2011. It's amazing she lived to the age of 88. If a lesson can be learned, it's "don't eat cake and biscuits, and exercise".

If housework was exercise, however, my mother did plenty of it. And because of her claustrophobia (a result of being transported around the USSR in locked cattle trucks), she didn't take public transport after London's buses lost their open rear platforms - she walked everywhere. Our shirts were always washed (by hand - no washing machine until the 1990s) and ironed, there was always hot food on the table and the house was always clean - had my mother not spent her last day washing and ironing the curtains ahead of a planned bridge party, she might not have fainted.

It has all been very sudden. I have flown to London to be with my father, 92, and I'll remain here for at least two weeks until everything is sorted out. In the meantime, I shall continue to post on my blog and on Twitter.

Et respice finem. Best piece of wisdom my mother passed to me: Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem - "Whatever you do, do it wisely and consider the end result/ the outcome".

This time last year:
Marek Raczkowski on All Saints' Day

This time two years ago:
Disclosure of UFOs - are we ready?

This time three years ago:
Jeziorki pond development

This time four years ago:
Captain Wrona's perfect gear-up landing

This time six years ago:
Where's the daylight gone?

This time eight years ago:
All Saints' Day - Wszystkich Świętych

9 comments:

Paddy said...

Really very sorry to hear about the death of your mother, Michael. My condolences to you, your family and your father. Paddy

AndrzejK said...

Very sorry to hear the sad news. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Bob said...

Sad news Michal, I know how close you all were, sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

My sincere sympathy
A

student SGH said...

My sincere condolences on this sad day. In such situations no words can render grief well. I believe even if a human passes away, as long as they stay alive in fellow humans' memories, part of their spirit does not fly away.

David G said...

Sincere condolences at this sad time. Your mother lived in remarkable times and her story leaves a legacy

dr Marcin said...

I can only repeat, what I told you some whiles ago at the ours phone talk. Please, accept my the warmest words of sympathy for you and your family.

My Grandma (+ 2008) and my Mom (+ 2011) also repeatedly told me:

Wszystko co robisz, rób rozmyślnie i patrz końca. Quidquid agis, prudenter agas et respice finem -'Whatever you do, do it wisely and consider the outcome'.

Ian Wilcock said...

Michael, my condolences on your loss.

Anonymous said...

Moje najgłębsze wyrazy współczucia.
Większość naszych rodziców umrze przed nami, ale innych osób; nie nasi rodzice.
Tak nam się zdaje. Ale Tobie I Markowi to się stało realne.
Ból straszny. I niedowiara.
Aby Pan Bóg dał Wam siły.