Mum’s story and me

Saturday before last I was finishing my grocery shop at Castle Plaza. I had one last item to pick up from “The Cheese Board”. It was crowded and I was on a schedule. I had a lot to do that morning. As I waited my turn I was gradually distracted from my impatience by the way the elderly woman in front of me was served. I watched with increasing admiration, forgetting my schedule for the moment.

The customer was probably in her late eighties or early nineties and her husband stood well back behind the crowded counter while his wife conducted their business.

The woman serving made sure the old lady did not feel hurried at all. She spoke clearly without sounding patronising. She spoke loudly without shouting. She listened carefully to the softly spoken customer and asked good questions. She gave the woman options. She was happy to get fresh sausages from the cold room, even though the ones in the display refrigerator had only been put there that morning. She was happy to do trial slices of salami until she got the thickness “not too thick but not too thin”, just as the customer had asked for. She brought the purchases around from behind the counter so the woman wouldn’t have to reach up to get them, and handed them to the woman’s husband to carry, wishing them a good morning. I didn’t get the impression that she knew them personally, but she was treating them like she would her own grandparents. It was a master class in respect and service for an elderly customer.

My first thought was, “I hope I get treated like that when I’m that old.” My second was, “I hope Mum and Dad are being treated like that.”

Anyway, Mum died within the week. It was a real shock, but not entirely unexpected as she’s been very frail and had poor health for quite awhile now. Heather and I went to Brisbane to be with Dad and the rest of the family who were gathering there – to comfort each other, to remember Mum, to remember who we are as a family, and to return to our independent lives more mindful of our deep, enduring connectedness.

There were some beautiful speeches at the funeral – especially from Dad and my eldest brother. I got the job of writing and delivering a narration of Mum’s life, gleaned from a day of conversation with Dad and a couple of days of cross checking dates and details with my siblings afterwards. You can read it here.

It was helpful not to have to say anything personal to me. I wouldn’t have know what to say anyway. I was all over the shop. But it was a wonderfully healing task to be given. As it turned out Mum’s story and the story of my family is all personal to me. It doesn’t matter one bit that the story isn’t about me. This is what makes me. This is who I am.

When I get back to Adelaide I’ll make sure I go back to “The Cheese Board” and thank that woman for the way she served a little old lady. Noticing the old, knowing their stories, and respecting them will help us keep our bearings in challenging, hectic  times.



  1. A year for farewelling mothers Andrew. Sounds like your Mum and mine are likely to be having some fun times together in Heaven. Thanks for your reflection of the respect our elders deserve.

  2. Andrew, I’ve only just read this. I don’t know what to say. When you came up to Mount Barker I was going to ask you about your Mum but the conversation took a different turn. My Mum will greatly appreciate reading this. The Kohlers are also family friends of the Mitchells. Your mother’s story is extraordinary, wonderful. We have one degree of separation in many parts of this story. I wish I’d met your Mum (and your Dad). Your parents are very recognisable – I saw them last at my Dad’s funeral. One day I’d love to meet Neil. Shalom.

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