I've always visited regularly but twelve or so years ago Mam had a bout of flu that really set her back. I stayed with her for a week until she was well enough to get back on her feet, but I felt she hadn't been taking care of herself as well as she might have done. I made a pact with her: she had to promise to look after herself, and if she did this, I'd visit (whenever humanly possible) every six weeks for three or four days. I'm very lucky that I have an understanding wife who never once complained about the garden being neglected or rooms not getting decorated because of these journeys. She loved my mother too and often spoke of her as being like a second mother to her. My son Tom visited his grandmother regularly and often shared the drive with me to pick her up for Christmas and bring her to our home and then return her afterwards.
My mother passed away on Tuesday 20 November at 8.40 am. I was with her when she died. She was tiny and frail but she gripped my hand tightly right to the last. Her speech was mostly incoherent. It was not easy for her. I don't think she suffered much pain, but she became agitated at times, and was frustrated and sometimes distressed by the long drawn-out process of dying. She was desperately trying to let go but she was a survivor by temperament and her body even in this weakened state still put up a fight.
I was grateful that I could be there just to hold her hand. She would have done the same for me.
16 April 1924 - 20 November 2012
Mair was a sickly child. In her later years she used to joke about being 'very delicate'. At eighteen months she was diagnosed with meningitis and the local doctor told her parents that she would not be with them by the morning. Back in those times every community relied on 'folk medicine' and her 'Bopa' Sarah (Bopa being Valleys dialect for aunty) said to her parents, "Bring her over to me, we'll see what can be done for her" and together with her mother Gwen they applied poultices to the baby's feet every fifteen minutes throughout the night. Mair liked to tell the story of how the doctor (who liked to swear apparently) said to Bopa Sarah the next day, "You've done something to this bloody baby, haven't you?"and she particularly relished re-telling the part where Bopa Sarah shook her head and said with a look of choirgirl innocence, "Nothing at all doctor!" "Well," he said, "I know you've done something, and I take off my hat to you!"
Until she went to school at five Mair spoke only Welsh. Her parents occasionally lapsed into French, which they both spoke, if they didn't want her to know what they were talking about. Unfortunately, Mair lost the ability to speak her native tongue confidently after beginning school. The Thomas family adopted Ebeneser chapel in Trecynon as their spiritual home. Her father was a deacon in the chapel, in those days the congregation was large, and he produced dozens of amateur theatrical productions, either put on in their vestry or at Aberdare Coliseum. As Mair grew older she became very interested in one particular boy who generally took the main part in her father's productions. She told me often how she might nonchalantly inquire when her father was casting a new play, "So who's playing the lead then, Dad?" and feel a flutter in her breast at his reply, "Oh, Danny Johnson of course!"
In 1995, my father tragically died of a perforated ulcer which had been mis-diagnosed. Mair found herself a widow at the age of seventy-one. She put enormous effort into finding hobbies and interests to fill the void that now existed in her life. She took up art and calligraphy classes and made full use of her bus pass by visiting friends and relatives in Aberdare on quite often a weekly basis. She went out for lunch several days a week to pass the time. Unfortunately, as she got older she began to suffer with glaucoma and cataracts and it became harder and harder for her to see, which made art increasingly difficult. Mair had three great grandchildren.
Mam had a quirky way of looking at the world and could express herself in ways that often amused those in her company. On the subject of age and the prospect of getting older, she'd say with a deadpan expression, "I don't think much of this old age business! I won't be joining again!"
She is no longer suffering the many hours of desperate loneliness she often felt in her last years and is, I believe, happily reunited with her Danny, "The best pal I ever had," as she would have put it.