My mum and dad married in 1965. Soon after they bought a small cottage just outside the town of Ballymoney. My dad has often recalled the time my mum first saw their new home – she cried. It was, by all accounts, a complete ramshackle with lots of damp and wallpaper peeling off the walls. They had bought two cottages that sat side by side with the goal of putting them together into one modern bungalow. In the meantime they lived in a cold and damp 1960’s caravan in the garden.
My mum worked in the NHS. She attended training in Belfast. She was respected and liked by all staff in the Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ballymoney. By all accounts she was on the fast track to a senior administration post in the health service. During the day she would work in the hospital and at night would help my dad, uncles and friends to convert the two old cottages into a modern 1970’s bungalow.
In 1973 my brother came along. There was no maternity leave entitlement back then – which meant she had to leave her job in the NHS. Instead she took up a part-time position in the nearby rural sub-post office.
My brother started primary school and then I came along. My mum was by now sub-post mistress and looked after us during the day alongside running a very busy sub-post office and shop.
I remember people queuing outside the post office early in the mornings. It would often be opened before 8am and seemed to never shut. When it was shut people would ring the doorbell. Day and night mum would always answer – always putting her customers and the community before all else, fuelled by a bottomless tea cup.
Holidays were restricted by the needs of the post office. So Bank Holidays would be used in order to get a long weekend. Every now and again there would be a trip to Scotland or to different parts of Northern Ireland. But we’d always have to be back in time for opening the post office. Sick days were even rarer. The post office really never shut.
Any money that was saved went to furthering mine and my brothers education. Piano lessons, singing lessons, private tuition, Encyclopedia Britannia (Google it). Anything that would help us succeed in life.
As if all of this wasn’t enough public service my mum also gave blood. She donated blood for many years and received a Gold Badge for donating over 50 times.
In the late 1990’s the post office was robbed. Masked men entered the house. My mum was tied up with cables pulled from the back of our old TV set. A gun held at her head. But she wouldn’t give away the keys to the safe and instead tricked the masked gunmen into sounding the alarm. They were caught. The gang leader was son of a lottery winner. He got five years in prison – out in three.
My mum continued to serve the community. A new alarm system and safe were installed at personal expense. We got a dog.
My mum continued to run the post office for many years while both me and my brother moved out, went to university, got jobs, families. Over time her memory started to fade. Then her mood changed. Then things that she’d always done, like washing the kitchen floor every night, stopped being done. I didn’t notice at first. Then it became hard to ignore. Running the post office eventually became impossible. After forty years of continuous service it closed.
Later, even living at home became impossible. Too dangerous, and too onerous on my dad, who had his own health problems to manage. She now lives happily in an amazing care home (paid for by her pension and life savings). It’s not a life she choose. It’s a life dictated by Alzheimer’s Disease.
My mum doesn’t have the retirement she deserves after more than 50 years of working life. She hasn’t got to know the grandchildren she always wanted. She doesn’t get to play and look after them as she would like. The crippling nature of dementia has stripped all that away. She is happy, happiest in the company of visitors, and there are still wonderful moments of clarity and lucidity. But so much has been lost.
Looking back now I can’t help think of the endless sacrifices she made but at the same time I know that to her it wasn’t sacrifice – it was love. This is why I am raising money for Alzheimer’s Research. For every £1 donated 84p goes towards research to fight dementia. It may be too late for my mum but hopefully the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK will help millions of people in the future.
Please donate to my fundraising page listed below. Every pound helps. Thank you.