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On Being a Mother

Being a mother is charged with many hopes, responsibilities, and disappointments.

Some of us thrive with the experiences of our infant children, and our adult sons and daughters. Others of us sorrow with what might have been.

My infant son, Jack, died on 4th June 1987. Cot death. Jack’s dreamlike birth-arrival, brief but full life – he was a frequent visitor at the National Gallery Victoria! and a regular sight at the local park, leaning zestfully forward in his stroller to feel the breeze on his face — and sudden infant death have shaped the contours of my life. His absence is an ever-continuing presence in my days.

I have lived as well as I can in the intervening years because I am Jack’s mother. How have I achieved this? One name: Eloise.

My mother, Eloise Helen Sharrock, is a force of nature. With my father, James Albert McDonald (Jim), she was one of a group of dedicated parents who co-founded the Oral Deaf School for the Education of Deaf Children in 1957. I was in the first intake of children. Eloise advocated with that ferocity only a mother knows to make sure I went on to have the best education possible. She laid down the track-lines for my university education and subsequent professional life.

What does this have to do with Mother’s Day?

Each year, Mother’s Day arrives on my calendar as a cautionary tale. I don't want to rain on anyone’s parade. My much loved nieces and nephews now have their own little ones clamouring around their ankles, vying for their attention and love, making their paintings and micro-videos of awesomeness to their mums and dads about the wonders of the world.

And yet, and yet …34 years on, still I grieve. What could I have done to prevent my son’s sudden death? How do I rise above my maternal grief to honour and celebrate Mother’s Day in the wake of my enduring sorrow?

My mother, Eloise, is the unbroken thread in this intergenerational story of families, mothering, courage and resilience. Eloise never saw a problem that couldn’t be tackled. If she couldn’t overcome it through the milestones of grinding effort, then she would learn to accept it through the arc of stoicism and wisdom. She would wait it out. Time would tell.

Eloise is 95 years old now. The same age as the Queen! This is a point of pride for her (my mother, not the Queen).

Just as my mother stays the course of life, so do I, her daughter. It’s what I do for my son, Jack.

Mother’s Day is a day of recognition for all of us. Much love to you.


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