Twenty years ago today my mum Rita Anne Westcott died of “carcinoma of breast”, more commonly known as breast cancer. She was 40 and died on the 11th of November 1991 on my 7 1/2 birthday, when my brother Andrew was 14, and when my Dad was also 40.
As I understand it she became ill, received treatment and died all in a short space of time, not even a year perhaps. Due to my parents’ separation when I was five the details my dad has are sketchy and I don’t remember much anyway.
I have always described myself as not really having a mum as I remember so little about her and have so few memories of our time together. I did however have two nans, two step-grandads, two aunts, a great-aunt and uncle, a step-mother, two cousins, and my dad and brother so I think I did okay. I also have stories from my nanny Brenda of how she would tell my brother off too much and how she was excessively tidy so things like that help me build a bit of a picture of her life and ways.
As I have grown up I have realised quite how different my upbringing was to my boyfriend, my friends and my work colleagues, but that isn’t to say that I am any less or more than anyone else, just that I can see how my attitude and outlook on things have developed differently. I am quite independent, I have always been used to looking after myself, and until moving in with my Sam I don’t think I realised how much a relationship, living with someone and relying on them means to me.
But this isn’t about me really, this about my mum and marking her life in some small way. So many people live and die in such a short space of time, and if you don’t remember them, who will.
My mum is of Welsh and English descent and happened to be born in Greenwich not five minutes walk from where I live now. This is all co-incidental but makes me so happy. She was born on Tuesday the 13th of February 1951, nine days before my Dad, and her parents were William James Desmond Westcott and Joyce Gwendoline Bishop.
My grandad was an Engineer’s Fitter at Greenwich Power Station and they lived at 9 Circus Street with my aunt Yvonne who is a year or so older than my mum. She was born at St Alfeges Hospital which became Greenwich District Hospital, where my brother was born, before it was demolished in 2001.
It makes my heart warm to know my family were born and living in this area, I love it so much.
At Sydenham my mum became a prefect and moved up the ranks to become Head Girl from 1968 to 1969. I never knew this until I went through the papers my dad had saved for my brother and I two weekends ago. It made me so proud, my mum represented a whole school!
At eighteen my parents started dating, and then married in 1970 when they were both nineteen. My dad is from Penge but was born in Beckenham Maternity Hospital, as was I, and they met through the church they were both members of. They lived in a flat in Limes Grove in Lewisham at one point, before moving to Glenfarg Road in Catford a few years later. By the time I came along in 1984 we were still at Glenfarg Road but then moved out of London in 1989 due to my dad’s job.
Unfortunately for my brother and I, not long after we moved to Lincolnshire my parents separated and my dad moved half an hour’s drive away to Northamptonshire. Then not long after that I guess my mum became ill, had treatment and then came home again.
Then she got seriously ill and ended up getting admitted to The Royal Marsden Hospital in Chelsea through her London friends. Again, this is partly guesswork as my dad, brother and I weren’t overly involved at this point. My dad feels my mum kept it to herself as long as she could.
By this point, maybe September, I was sent to London to stay with friends from when I was little and I went to school with a boy who was the son of my mum’s friend. My dad was still working, and my brother was kept in school where we lived because he had just started his GCSEs. I think it was a bit messy, I just don’t really know.
I think it was quick though, I vaguely remember a call in the middle of the night on the 11th and have vague memories of the funeral and a party for the children afterwards. Like I said before, I don’t remember much and it is only now, twenty years later that my dad and I freely discuss this time.
I know from my mum’s death certificate that my aunt Yvonne was with her when she died and that makes me glad. I love my aunt and her children and grandchildren. None of us were particularly close to my nanny Joyce so I am so glad that she is in my life as a representation of that missing part of the family.
Family is very important to me, and whatever differences are in my family (and there are a lot!) I like to spend time with them whenever I can.
I miss my mum, but I didn’t know her at the same time so that is an odd thing. I have my dad though, I love him so much and I think he worked really hard to build a life for me and my brother the best he could.
Everyone grows up differently, I am just glad that my parents were happy together for a good twenty years at least. That is quite a long time.
I was at my dad’s recently and I went through all the papers and photos he kept from his time with my mum and these two photos are my favourites, what a gorgeous couple.
Rita Anne Ruffle (née Westcott), 13th February 1951 – 11th November 1991