real life

10 questions every woman should ask her mother (before it's too late).

Bern Morley: “The night Mum died was both surreal and yet, perfectly expected.”

The night mum died was both surreal and yet, perfectly expected. I’m not really sure that can make sense unless you’ve watched someone actually stop being, right there in front of you. It’s both terrifying and also an unbelievable privilege.

My mum died of cancer. It took hold of her suddenly, savagely and left us without her in our lives before we even had the chance to digest what was happening. We are not unique, she having cancer is not unique, cancer itself is not unique. But Betty Clarke herself was unique. And I’m only just starting to understand this now.

I focused so much on her illness back at the time that I rarely wrote about her as a person. I still don’t feel like I have asked enough questions, knew enough about her childhood beyond what I can piece together with her scarce voiced recollections and photos. I did though, know what she was like as a mother.

I don’t know exactly what happened in those 40 or so years before I was in her life and this is my biggest regret. I guess I always thought I had more time to request these details. What annoys me most about myself is that I am constantly telling anyone who will listen that “I just love to know people’s stories”, yet the one person who gave me the best chance at mine, I didn’t even bother to learn.

So here is a list of questions I wished I’d taken the time to ask.

1. Can I have the recipe?

Can I have the recipe?

It’s a well-known fact that mums are just ridiculously clever at making delicious food and making it appear effortless. My mum’s Fried Rice couldn’t be beaten even if I visited every restaurant in China. Her Curried Chicken made from scratch and without ever needing to refer to a recipe, I can still almost taste. And don’t even get me STARTED on her chocolate cake. But because all of these were in her head and made from memory, I cannot recreate them, no matter how much I’ve tried. Why didn’t I ask her for these when I had the chance?

2. What was your life like before you had children?

As children, we can be fairly self-involved to the point of ignorance. Oblivious to the fact that before we entered their world, they actually had a “life”. And just like you and I, it was more than likely, an amazing point in time. Get to know your parents better by understanding who they were before you came along.

3. Was dad the one?

I guess we all like to believe that when we were conceived, we were done so with love. Although, you know, if I’m honest, I don’t really want to think too much about the actual logistics of this. What I’m trying to say is that you need to know if there was perhaps “the one that got away”. Most of us have that one person we stalk on Facebook wonder about. The one that broke your heart. Maybe your mum has her own story. Maybe she doesn’t. At least ask the question.

4. Would you have done anything differently as a mum?

Would you have done anything differently as a mum?

As a mum, we’re almost designed to second-guess ourselves. Only from experience and hindsight will we know what worked and what didn’t. My mum already had all of that knowledge and although she was very generous with her practical parenting advice, I wish I had asked if there was anything she may have done differently. My Year 6 fringe, for instance.

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5. Are there any health issues that you’ve never shared with me?

More than likely this conversation would have been had. More than once. You have hopefully discussed her medical history and talked about say, your predisposition to childhood diabetes or breast cancer, depression or high blood pressure. It is so important, imperative that you have this information. It can save lives.

6. Do you see myself in you?

Now, I am adopted so I’m not so much talking physically. That part is obvious. I mean does she see traits in you that she can see in herself. I can already tell that my 14-year-old daughter, although she looks nothing like me, is very much the same in personality. Her wit and her sarcasm, sometimes it feels like we are the same person. I wished I’d asked if she thought I had absorbed any of her beautiful and natural parenting ability.

7. Is it harder to be a mum now or back then?

Obviously, the differences between 1975 ad 2014 are jarring. I’m pretty sure there are obvious gaps in wealth and privilege. That we were sent to our nearest state school or the Catholic school if your family were into that kind of thing. There was a lot more freedom, perhaps a lot less mother guilt. Her insights would have been wonderful.

8. Did you give up on a dream to have me?

Did you give up on a dream to have me?

We all have visions of how our lives will be. The career path we’ll take. Then life takes over. I didn’t really miss out on asking my mother this particular question. Her life revolved around her children. That was, we were, her happiness. Yet, other mothers, I know, stopped following their passion and although they don’t resent their children for this, maybe it’s something as their child, you should be aware of.

9. Who was your first kiss?

Come on. We all remember our first kiss. Find out about your mum’s. If nothing else, you’ll both probably get to have a good laugh.

10. What was your first job?

It’s funny how your mother knows EXACTLY what your first job was but you don’t know about hers. Ask the question.

The beautiful thing about life is that everyone has a story. They aren’t always pretty or even particularly cheery but they are real. And you owe it to yourself and to your parents, to understand them and find out everything you can, before that privilege is taken away from you.

Is there anything you wished you’d asked your mum?