Isn’t it amazing what life can pack into one small year? Two beautiful weddings: my niece Anna & her Alex and my friend’s daughter and long term boyfriend; the sad loss of Roddy’s mum; Roddy’s daughter Alex reinventing herself by completing a course in aged care and getting a job despite her own struggles; Paul and Tina’s graduations and dispatch into adulthood; a year split between my three countries; and me working as a teacher in both Australia and Scotland. And no melanoma recurrence!

Writing this blog on The Spirit of Tasmania, the ferryboat to Tassie, it is apparent that we have recommenced our roadtrip and are enjoying every minute, but before I write about the thrill of Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road, I want to focus on our last trip to Scotland in November/December.

Scotland featured heavily in 2018. After our time there from Christmas 2017 till the end of January to celebrate Lillias’ 91st birthday, we returned to Glasgow a fortnight afterwards to look after Lil after she had suffered a fall. We ended up staying for six months, a period of time I am glad we had to spend with Lil as described in an earlier blog. In September we returned, flying first to Germany for my niece’s wedding and on to Scotland to see wee mum again. She was deteriorating steadily and each good-bye could have been the last. In November I was due a solo trip to Glasgow for Paul and Tina’s graduations, but when we had word that Lil’s strength was waning further, this was an opportunity for Roddy and me to see her one last time and to be with her. The death of a loved one is so cruel and also surreal. One minute they are such an important part of your life and the next minute they are gone. When the second parent dies you feel like, well you are, an orphan and I guess this applies to any age. I remember that after my mum died, something would happen at school or with a friend and I had the impulse to go home to tell her but then, with a jolt, you realise that you can’t. Roddy used to write letters to his mum. Both he and she loved that particular form of expressing their love. For a long time, Lil had not been able to write back but Roddy loved writing those long ten pagers anyway. Just one of the things he will miss something awful, a palpable sense of her absence. Despite having lived in Oz for 30 years, he was very close to his mum and saw her several times a year, plus weekly Skype and phone calls. He is one of life’s great copers but he has a mushy core. Don’t be fooled.

Lillias and Roddy

Lil was very close to death when we arrived in late November but she did clearly recognise us and seemed pain free and content to ‘fly away’ as had been her wish for a long time. All the family came together which was testament to her having been a loving mother to all her 4 children and grandmother to 7 grandchildren. Westerton Care Home provided us with rooms to nap in here and there, which was most generous of them. She managed to say that it was wonderful (I think she meant that all her children were there and maybe that it was her time) and that we should celebrate, her strength and determination to look for the positive evident to the end. After a very full and long life, Lil died on 23th November with her children by her side. Her departure could not have been more peaceful. Since then, the first Christmas and New Year without her have seen tearful moments but also made us feel deeply happy for having had her in our lives.

Lillias with baby Roddy
Lillias and her sister Janet at our wedding in 2014
Lillias and the piper at her 90th birthday party

I might have mentioned before that the Macduffs are a close-knit clan and a kinder, more generous and caring family I have never met. Over the 9 years that I have known Roddy, I have been to numerous Macduff family celebrations and witnessed the effort every member goes to, to make someone’s special day truly special through poetry, song, dance, bagpipes, guitar play, games, photo montages, dressing up, food and drink. And so it was to be expected that Lillias’ funeral was an outpouring of love from all, received and understood as such by all 80 people who attended. 80 people is quite a high number for someone who has lived to the age of almost 92 years. Lillias was the last of her generation, having outlived all her siblings and most of her friends, so the people who came were mostly younger family members, nieces, nephews, neighbours and friends, but all had been affected by her beautiful personality and the relationships they had had with her. Even staff from Westerton attended, in tears by the end of the service and full of new impressions of the woman they had cared for so lovingly. Roddy, Colin, Shiona and Alastair organised this last special day, while on the day of the funeral, Colin took on the role a minister or celebrant would have had and Roddy had written and delivered the eulogy, taking the gathering through Lil’s life story in his special way. Cousin Leila read Lil’s favourite poem “The Lamplighter” and her favourite pieces of music were played – see The Order of Service below.

It was exactly what she wanted and I am sure she would have loved it!

On the day she died I was in Dundee, getting ready for Paul’s Masters graduation. Roddy told me the news first thing in the morning. It felt surreal, feeling the sadness of what had happened but looking forward to Paul’s big day. However, I knew that, as a mother, Lil would have wanted me to enjoy every second of that proud day and so I decided to do just that.

I don’t see my kids that often so every moment is precious. I met ‘ma boy’ Paul for coffee outside the Caird Hall in Dundee and then he went off to don his gown while I waited for Tina and her dad who were on their way. A lot of Gaudiamus Igiturlater, my son had his Masters in Computer Game Design (Sound and Music) and the three of us waited outside the Hall for him. And waited… After last year’s graduation he had come straight out as he wasn’t planning to go to the sidehall for the drinks reception. This year, however, he did! When we eventually realised this and walked into the reception, there he was standing next to a girl! He introduced her as Lili and I couldn’t believe my ears – as one Lili goes, another one emerges. At this point she was just a fellow student on his Masters course and only after she left to join some friends did Paul tell us that Lili was actually his girlfriend. Well that changed things, didn’t it?! Lili was called back and embraced by the motherly bosom. In fact, more than embraced, crushed she was! She is from Dalian in China and has been studying for her Masters in Dundee on a scholarship. She had no family with her so she was invited to come along for the D-B family meal and to Tina’s graduation the following week, as well as Christmas in Troon. Fortunately she seemed happy enough to go along with that. As Jane’s girlfriend Karyna knows, family membership in the D-B clan is instant. Now, this is early days, of course, but I love seeing the possibilities that new partners and friends open to a person. 

Had I not contacted Roddy on Dating Direct, I would now not live in Australia. Pure and simple. I would not know any of the great people I have met through him and on my own in Oz since 2009, nor would I possibly ever have travelled there. I would be in Troon, working at Marr College – there is nothing wrong with that but, well, I think you know what I mean. Life would have been good I’m sure, but one of the biggest adventures of my life would have been missing, my third country and culture on the other side of the world. Perhaps even Jane wouldn’t be here now. She, in turn, now has Ukrainian ties and is there just now in fact, staying with Karyna’s family in Odessa over Christmas and New Year. Tina will fly to Ukraine tomorrow to meet Karyna for the first time. The UK refused Karyna a visa in September as part of the “hostile environment.” Who knows how Paul and Lili will progress and where this will lead – it’s an exciting development. She is lovely and my boy is happy, which is all that matters to me. 

We all make the choices that shape our lives and our personalities. After both my parents died I remember feeling rootless. Literally without roots or rudder. Therefore I decided to stay in Scotland and was determined to make my relationship work because it was the only one I had. My sister was married and therefore ‘sorted’. I had an acute sense of having no one, of being alone. I had friends, yes, but no one who was there for me, and so I wanted to create something solid, build a base. I managed to do this and I think that those experiences gave me a lot of strength and the belief that I will always cope. The three kids, the two dogs and the odd husband (joke!) replaced the family that I had lost. I remember thinking in the years after my mum had died that things can only get better and that no matter what life would throw at me, I would cope. This was a huge life lesson for me and has guided me well; it was the positive outcome of that sadness, the omnipresent silver lining. Being an atheist, I believe that all we have is this one life and why would you not want to make the most of it, open your heart, pack in new experiences, extend real and mental horizons, love more people? But enough of “mum’s going off on one” and now, back to Scotland!

Together with his uni friends, Paul has now registered a Limited Company called Darkroom Interactive, a new Indi Games company. A new year, a new beginning; my boy, who I used to clutch to my bosom and dance around the living room with, has grown into a man. Gulp!

Tina’s graduation took place 4 days afterwards in Glasgow’s Concert Hall. Tina is my determined, funny, quick witted and loving middle child and my first daughter. She likes to do things her own way and has taken a few detours, just like Paul, to achieving the goal she has had since 4thyear (Year 10): to become a mental health nurse. I am sure that she is very good at her job as she has boundless energy and an empathetic heart coupled with a steely toughness, which will hopefully be enough to handle the situations she will come across. I couldn’t do it and I admire her immensely for her tenacity.

All my kids are very different from one another. Paul hates the limelight, squirms in it, whereas Tina was the only student who danced onto the stage to collect her certificate! She was beaming from ear to ear, buzzing with pride and happiness, surrounded by her friends from Uni. When Lili spilled my Glühwein over Tina’s newly printed BSc scroll, it was not a bad omen. Tina went for her first ever NHS job as a staff mental health nurse at Inverclyde Royal Hospital a few days after her graduation and yes, she bagsied it – her first interview, her first big girl job! Overall, a year worth being alive for.


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