Goodbye Mollie

In my early days of blogging I wrote quite a lot about my family, particularly about life with my mother-in-law Mollie, who had Alzheimer’s. For a number of reasons, including a growing awareness of privacy issues, the blog has become less personal, pretty much restricted to literary matters. But here is one more post about Mollie.

After some years of not leaving her bed, of not speaking, of not eating solid food or more recently being able to manipulate spoon or cup,  Mollie died last Wednesday, aged 92. The visiting palliative care nurse phoned Penny two weeks ago today to confirm – what Penny already thought – that death was imminent. For what turned out to be 10 days, someone from the family was by her bedside for several hours each day, and as the days went by, Penny was there most of the daylight hours. Although Mollie was shockingly wasted in body and mind, she responded to touch and to voices, and seemed to be conscious until the end. She died with Penny’s hand on her forehead and Penny’s voice in her ears.

All her grandchildren were able to say goodbye in those last days. Penny’s brother interrupted his work in London to fly home, and arrived just three hours after she died, so was able to say goodbye in the nursing home.

With just family present, we buried her on Saturday in the Katoomba Cemetery, in a bushland setting not far from where she spent formative childhood years and the last years before she decided she couldn’t live alone any more. We had readings – some of Mollie’s writing about her childhood and her activism, a blistering letter she wrote to the general manager of her husband’s firm criticising an unjust policy, a letter she wrote to her husband on their 25th anniversary. Each of us spoke. We read Marge Piercy’s poem ‘The Low Road‘ in honour of Mollie’s life as an activist.

Yesterday we had a small memorial gathering at our house, with scones and jam and cream, one of Mollie’s favourite treats. It was very good to come together with a small gathering of people, some of whom had come long distances, and remind each other of who Mollie was. My own mother said she didn’t want people to talk about her at her funeral, because if someone needed to be told about her then they had no business being there. We honoured her wishes, but she was wrong: any one life has so many aspects, and I think we all came away from yesterday’s gathering with a deepened and enriched sense of the person we have lost: a woman who had handed out how-to-vote cards when young for the Liberal Party (note to non-Australians: that means Conservatives), who educated herself about the world and became a tireless activist against wars, for Aboriginal issues, for the environment; who embraced new ideas and stayed curious and experimental well past the age when most people settle for the familiar; who stayed gracious to the end.

We put together a small leaflet with a version of her life story written by Penny – you can look at a web version of it here.

28 responses to “Goodbye Mollie

  1. I will admit I had thought she must have died years ago, when she disappeared from your blog stories. This is a lovely post to sum up her long life. Condolences to you and Penny, and the family.

  2. It was Mollie’s voice, those odd things she would say, the way that she read signs on shops as you drove her to and fro in the early stages of her decline, that reached out to me when I first started reading Family Life. Molly gave me the gift of your friendship and I always hoped that one day I might meet her, if only to hold her hand for a moment myself and say “thank you.” It saddens me to let go of that dream. Her legacy lives on in the two of you, though, curious activists and explorers, census takers and dispensers of medicines, and so much more. What riches she leaves behind for us. That gladdens my heart. H joins me in sending condolences and love.

    • Thanks from us both, Will, to you both. It’s kind of you to remind me of your response to those posts. I reread some of them last week and they seemed kind of callous, even though they didn’t feel that way at the time

  3. What a wonderful woman. My sympathies for Penny’s loss, and to all Mollie’s family.

  4. Beautifully written Jonathan. Please pass our condolences to Penny and all of you. Seems like she lived a rich fulfilling life.
    Libby and Euan

  5. Such a thoughtful reflection on a life lived to make our world better! Penny’s mother. And Jonathan – you were so right about your mother – even while honouring her wishes. Surely that self-abnegation was largely governed, too, though, by the formerly honourable desire not to push oneself to the forefront – to invite the gaze of others – or their praise. A humility. My own mother has asked for similar treatment! Thank-you for your honesty about such things – it validates my experience – adds a dimension!

    • Thanks Jim. I’ve been thinking about the term ‘the Silent Generation’: the term kind of applied to my parents, and yours too from what you say here, but definitely not to Mollie

  6. Dear Jonathan – condolences to you, Penny and your family. I remember Mollie fondly from the creative writing classes for women I ran in Glebe in the early to mid 1980s. Mollie was a great addition to the group, writing intriguing and vivid pieces about her childhood in the Katoomba boarding bouse where she lived as a child with her mother. She contributed stories on many subjects and always enlivened us with her presence and conversation.
    Vale Mollie.

    • Thanks for commenting, Colleen. And a big thanks for all you did for Mollie. That creative writing course meant a lot to her. Pieces she wrote about her childhood under your guidance were among the ones read out at the cemetery and at the memorial.

  7. Thank you Jonathan. I didn’t realise just how wonderful she was. Wish I could’ve seen some of those houses. Lots of love xx

  8. A lovely piece, Jonathan. Love to you and Penny and hope to see you in the next week, while I’m in Sydney.

  9. Condolences to you all on the loss of a marvellous mother and family member. I never knew her but from what I’ve read from both of you it sounds like Penny you are so lucky to have had such a wonderful mother and role model. Love to Chris who might remember me as his neighbour in Drummond St in 1970 too.
    Daniela Torsh ( previously Dany Humphreys)

  10. Thanks for adding this Jonathan. It’s a lovely piece.

  11. kathyprokhovnik

    Thanks Jonathan. Thanks to you and Penny for sharing these important thoughts about Mollie’s death. I was touched by Mollie indirectly through the book about the community that she founded, so she has had a big influence on me as well. My best wishes to the family. Kathy xx

  12. Condolences to you, Penny and the family. Mollie was a true trail blazer.

  13. Condolences, Jonathan and Penny. And what a marvellous memoir of her life. I only knew of Mollie a little, and remember the cottage in the garden at Annandale where she lived near you. With affection, Suzanne

  14. I remember too, when Mollie began to feature less in your blog but guessed she had entered another phase of her life. On those occasions I logged into your blog my thoughts were first drawn to Mollie and how she was faring. My mother Jessie spent her last years in Springwood in a retirement unit on the grounds of the old catholic church and her last days were happy ones. My brother Steve and sister Anne were close by and provided wonderful support. Please pass on my best wishes to Penny and the boys.

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