Go Gently Into the Night, Maureen Mitchell Kirk

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Beautiful Maureen

Author’s Foreword: I published a blog about my two mothers just over two years ago on Mother’s Day, and today I’m sharing it below, to pay tribute to my Mother-in-law Maureen Mitchell Kirk (November 1933 – November 2017), who passed away in a home in Derbyshire, England on Friday night, 18th November 2017. She died after fighting a painful and sustained battle against the terrible disease of Alzheimer.

Rest in Peace, Maureen! As a born Catholic, you are now no longer suffering the pain and strife of this world, and you are in a happier place. May God be with you!

 

My British and Chinese #Mothers: Two Different Lives

While browsing through posts by friends on social media, i.e. Facebook and Chinese equivalent WeChat, as I usually do first thing in the morning, one post caught my eye: 中国老人抱怨儿子儿媳不孝顺,英国老人说的一段话让所有人沉默了…. To roughly translate into English: When the Chinese elders complain about son and daughter-in-law for not being filial, what do the British elders say in response?

I have seen it before. It is a mock dialogue between an elderly English parent and an elderly Chinese parent, and it started something like this:

Chinese parent: My son has no conscience, no heart.

British parent: What do you mean?

Chinese parent: He asked me if I was willing to live in an Old People’s Home!

British parent: Old people’s home is very good. I live in one.

Chinese parent: Oh? How could you go to such a place?

British parent: Why not?

Chinese parent: That is a place for the lonely old people. If I went, I would be the laughing stock among my relatives, and my life would be cut short.

British parent: That so? When you’re at a certain age, living in a Home is very convenient. How could it be a laughing stock?

……

This conversation goes on, talking about Chinese parents living with their children and grandchildren, British parents choosing to live on their own. There are also debates about why British children strike on their own from age 18, and they don’t give their parents money nor expect their parents to look after the grand children etc.

Obviously this conversation never took place for real, but I can easily imagine the scene if it did. You see, I have a very typical Chinese mother, who gave birth to four children and lived in China all her life. My mother-in-law, a beautiful Derbyshire woman, also has four grown-up children, like my own mother.

Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my two mothers, and how vastly different their lives have been. To show their differences, I’d like to start with the similarities between them.

My Mother Yijun and Mother-in-Law were born in the same year, 1933; my mum six months older. While my mother grew up in Sichuan province, had an University education, worked in a secondary school all her working life, retired when she was fifty-six and now happily living in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. She never lived anywhere outside of Sichuan, and the furthest she has ever travelled to was Hong Kong. (It’s a real pity that she has never been able to visit me in the UK, but that is another story).

My Mother-in-law Maureen was born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the eldest daughter of a coal miner. Her family didn’t have enough money to send her to University. Working as a secretary she married an engineer who joined the RAF and travelled with him to Kenya, and then the USA before returning to the UK.

Both my mother and mother-in-law were politically active in their time. While my Mother is a Communist Party member and spent many years of her life teaching political science in school, while I and my siblings were being brought up by our grandmother (as was the case for Pearl Zhang in The Same Moon). My mother-in-law, on the other side of the globe, was active in the British Labour Party while working and bringing up her four children. Although they both shared an enthusiasm in politics during their prime, I suspect that my mother’s motivation was more a case of being embroiled in the political heat rather than a matter of choice.

In the last twenty years or so of their lives, while my Dad was still alive, my parents lived in a number of places in Sichuan, sometimes with one of my brothers, other times on their own with a full-time nanny – My father suffered from poor health and needed full time care for the last ten years of his life. After he passed away in 2006, my mother has kept a full-time nanny of her own – my brothers are busy businessmen with families and children of their own.

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My parents with me, their first born

My mother-in-law has separated from my father-in-law for more than twenty years, so for many years she lived on her own. We once offered for her to come and live with us. She didn’t even want to entertain that possibility, being the independent soul that she had been. It saddened me deeply when she was eventually diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. For the past few years, she had full time care in her own house, and as her conditions became so poor that she was transferred into a specialist care home.

My own mother, on the side of the world, has fared better health wise. We talk on FaceTime sometimes and she even started using WeChat, downloading Music and ordering Uber from her home, although I know that she had never used a computer and sent an email. But hey, this is the Internet Age and even an 84 year old dog can learn a new trick or two.

thumbnail_IMG_1023Author’s Endnote: I ended the above post on a positive note when it was first published. Today I am in a different place emotionally, having just lost my mother-in-law. I am deeply saddened, and relieved at the same time. Maureen is free of the dreadful disease which ate away at her elegance, her intelligence and her sanity. She is now in a peaceful place where she is meant to be. Here is a poem by Dylan Thomas which I dedicate to my late mother-in-law.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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My mother-in-law with three of her 4 children: John, Mike & SJ

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About Junying Kirk

Originally from China and currently living and working in the UK, Junying has worked as an academic, international partnerships manager, researcher, teacher, professional interpreter, translator and cultural consultant. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and writing, and reflecting upon what's important in life. She is a seasoned blogger, topics ranging from serious stuff such as art, books, cross-cultural communications, education and politics, to more leisure pursuits including cuisine, keeping-fit, music, photography and world travels. Her "Journey To The West" Trilogy - The Same Moon, Trials of Life and Land of Hope, are available on Amazon stores Worldwide, iBook and Smashwords, both in electronic and printed forms. She is currently writing a new book, the first of her "Journey to the East" trilogy. The revival of this blog is the author’s renewed efforts to engage with her readers near and far. Welcome, friends and fans!
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