A Place Where You Leave the Story – in memory of Kathy Lodder

Last month, my beloved mum passed away, two years after her initial diagnosis of endometrial cancer. Words seem too small for such huge emotions and the impact of her loss has been massive. The final few days were haunting, as it became clear that Mum’s determination to live and fight was impossibly matched against the aggression of the illness.

But my mum was more than the disease that killed her. She was full of energy, passion and knowledge. There was nothing she didn’t know about working in a primary classroom, based on her eighteen years as a headteacher and an enthusiasm for education that never dimmed. It was Mum who would take me to bookshops when I was small, introducing me to the worlds created by Joan Aiken, Jan Mark and Robert Swindells. It was Mum who, when I qualified as a teacher, bought me a copy of Terry Jones’ Fairy Tales & Fantastic Stories, telling me that if I ever needed to calm a class down or if I was ever stuck for a lesson, I should just read them ‘The Glass Cupboard’ and the rest would take care of itself.

At her funeral in Milverton, Somerset a few weeks ago, I read a tribute to my mum. I’ve chosen to publish it below as I don’t want any aspect of her life to be forgotten – she was beautiful, brave and inspiring until the very end. I shall miss her every day.


A Tribute to Kathy

Thank you very much for coming today.

As you may know, Mum spent the last month of her life in hospital in Taunton, after a long and brave fight against illness. Right up until the last few days, she was planning, organising and letting us know exactly what she wanted. “I don’t want any pop songs or hollow eulogies,” she said, but we couldn’t let this occasion pass without paying tribute to her beautiful spirit and sharing her story with her family and friends. Mum student

Mum was born in 1948, at home in Derbyshire. She was the youngest daughter of the family and if you see a picture of my mother as a small child, you’ll see the mischief in her smile and the sparkle in her eyes. Her elder sister, Julie, remembers Mum’s arrival and looking after her baby sister, a role that she carried on for the rest of Mum’s life.

Though, by their own account they fought like cat and dog as children, they shared a bond that deepened as they moved around the country countless times for their father’s work. Sometimes, Mum said, she and Julie wouldn’t be told until the day before they were about to leave, when she would pack up her books, toys and clothes and start again, making new friends and starting a new school.

She never said as much, but it must have shaped her travelling spirit. Mum loved exploring and every chapter of her life was a search for the next adventure. When she was eighteen, Mum left Nottingham to study languages at Exeter. As a young girl, away from her family for the first time, she embraced the fashion, music and style of the Sixties, sewing her own minidresses and growing her hair long. During her university course, she spent a year in Brussels to immerse herself in the language and culture – she knew she was becoming fluent, she said, when she began to dream in French. She didn’t tell me what she dreamt about – I think there are some things a daughter is better off not knowing.

Her passing has been a shock to many of her friends as right up until the last few weeks, Mum was full of optimism and positivity, facing every challenge of her illness with a brave smile on her face, and always with her make-up on. It’s how I’ll forever remember Mum – even when she was a class teacher at Lidget Green in Bradford, and I was a small child in the Nursery, she seemed impossibly young, glamorous and exotic. I was so proud in school assemblies when she would stand with the other teachers – they’d be wearing their brown corduroy suits while my mum shone in jewel-like colours and velvet dresses. Mum Dad and me

She had the chance, that many of us don’t have, to reflect on her life, and she was enormously proud of what she’d achieved at Lambley Primary School, in her eighteen years as headteacher there. Sometimes I was a little jealous of the children who went to her school. She would spend so much time and effort on making the environment a happy, creative and engaging place, that for a while it felt like I was sharing her with ninety other siblings. Every part of the school was Mum’s vision – from the curtains on the stage to the quilts for the quiet area, from the displays in the entrance hall to the sensory garden. She built a place where reading was precious, a window onto other worlds, where children could travel and explore far beyond this little corner of Nottinghamshire.

When she and my Dad finally retired, they had great plans for what they would do, released from the pressures of work. However, life doesn’t always follow a plan, and after my Dad passed away, Mum had to rethink the next chapter of her life. She was never going to become a quiet widow. She threw herself into village life, and the village caught her, held her and supported her. In the last seven years, she made many good friends in the twinning association and greatly enjoyed the quizzes at the Victoria Rooms. She also loved working with Nicki’s class at Milverton Primary School, sharing the joy of reading with a new group of children.15462_176508174689_747184689_2942046_4492279_n

When she wasn’t enjoying the pink roses in her lovely garden, or supporting the shops of Taunton, she would be on a cruise ship with her sister Julie and brother-in-law Nick, sailing the oceans of the world and exploring new countries and cultures. She’d always come back with some interesting objects or jewellery, each item with a story behind it and a collection of new friends in her address book. She’d take painting classes on board the ship – always painting in an abstract way, never following the rules. She’d go to dancing sessions, just like she did as a teenager and Julie says that when she and Nick had enough for the night, Mum was still dancing, still enjoying every moment. She was planning another cruise for October – Chris and I will be going in her place, and Mum will be with us on her final journey. She wanted to be a free spirit, she said to us, and feel the sun one last time.

In the last few years, Mum and I rediscovered a love of the cinema and theatre. She wasn’t always the most patient audience member – I remember her turning to me halfway through a National Theatre screening of Skylight and saying ‘do you know, I’m not really bothered how this turns out’ – and we left a number of plays at the interval as she decided time was too precious to spend doing something you weren’t enjoying. One film we did see through to the end recently was ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, and I’d like to end with one Maggie Smith’s lines from the film, as it sums up what Mum would have wanted for us all here.

There’s no such thing as an ending; just a place where you leave the story,” she says, and although my Mum may have left this tale too early, she taught me enough about books to know that stories live on with you forever, and you can always add new chapters while still remembering the much loved characters and events that made the story what it is today.

Thank you again for coming to remember Mum, and I hope that she added something special to your own story.

Categories: Children, Opinions

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9 replies

  1. Although I don’t know you personally my heart goes out to you and I am so sorry for your loss. You paint a vivid picture of a wonderful, warm, vibrant woman and your words are a beautiful tribute that passes on how special your mum was xx

  2. Now, a year later I hope these wise and lovely thoughts are still sustaining you, very much my feelings about my own Mum, whose stories will definitely live with me forever.
    I was looking for ways to write to a friend whose mother died just a month ago, and this has helped, thank you.
    Good to catch up in these mysterious ways.

    • Thank you, Lizza – your mum’s stories were so much a part of my mum’s gift to me. It helps me to see her legacy in everything I read and write, and I hope it does for you. Many best wishes x

  3. Hi there,
    I felt like I needed to comment. I attended Lambley Primary from 1988 to 1994 and your mum was my headteacher for the last few of my years.
    What little I can remember from that time was happiness and your mum and dad. She was a lovely woman, always smiling and always caring. Weirdly though, the one thing that sticks out is when she brought your dad on board in a vain but valiant attempt to get us all playing football at a level where we could compete against other schools. It didn’t work. We were utterly terrible. But they both kept on at it! I always wonder if she ever succeeded.

    I went searching and stumbled upon your page and I know it’s been a long time now and you may never read this, but sorry for your loss. Take care

    • Thank you so much for commenting. I wrote the post so that there would always be a little bit of Mum online (she was never big on technology!), and I’m so glad that you stumbled across it. Lambley was her life’s work, and as I said, I was always a bit jealous of the children who got to see more of her than I did. It’s lovely to know she’s remembered kindly, and that Dad’s efforts at football coaching were just like his approach to DIY (enthusiastic, but doomed to failure). Thank you again – it means a great deal.

  4. Hi Amy,
    I have just read your beautiful tribute to your mum, it did make me cry, but also think what a lovely person she must have been. You look so much like her. With all that has happened recently I hope we will all get together soon to catch up properly.

    You are so clever and talented, please write spooky stories for small children. Since retiring I am spending lots of time with my two small grandchildren and love it. Molly in particular loves scary things and I have to read Meg and Mog stories over and over. We certainly need an updated version now and I think your stories would be amazing.

    • Val, thank you so much for getting in touch and reading Mum’s tribute. Every day without her is very hard, but I know she’d want to be remembered with laughter, not tears. When she was in hospital for the last time, we planned a book about a cat called Otto and a wise old dragon named Albert. who lived at the bottom of Otto’s garden. I still have all the notes we wrote and keep thinking about it!

      It’s lovely to hear about Molly’s fascination for scary things – which shows a perfectly healthy curiousity about the world! Has she read Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House pop-up book? When she’s a bit older, Joan Aiken’s The Kingdom Under the Sea and A Necklace of Raindrops are wonderful. Thank you so much for your kind words and I really hope we all get together soon to talk about happy times xx

  5. Dear Amy,
    You don’t know me from Adam, but I was a contemporary of your late mother’s at Exeter.
    It is by chance that I stumbled across your website and the souvenir, if that is the word, of your mother.
    Can I say that other than being a part of a group of friends I regrettably had no close relationship with your mother. I say regrettably, because at the time she said she had an existing boyfriend, and at the end of the academic year in 1968, she was going off for a year, as I thought, to Germany. Although I fancied that she sometimes hinted that she might welcome an approach from me, I decided not to pursue my suit.
    Those were different days then, and Exeter was a very conservative place. My father told me to treat a girl as if she was my sister. The fact that I have no sisters left me a little confused.
    You mother indeed stood out from the crowd. They say that all attractive girls have a grotty mate, and your mother’s was a girl called Perry, who I can only describe as “drippy London” and Perry had a sub mate – a tiny girl called Monica.
    Anyway, at the end of 1968 I started to go out with a maths student, whom I subsequently married, though we divorced over 30 years ago. The irony is that initially we lived in Taunton , and lived in Blackmoor above Wellington, and she worked in your very Education Department. I was then training to be a solicitor and when I qualified in 1972 we moved to Worcester, where we had our first child, a girl, which my wife innocently agreed to call Kathryn Denise, but who we always call Katy.
    I was amused that you went to Cambridge, because we baby boomers were often the first in our family to go to University, and, wanting our children to do better, have pushed them in the direction of Oxbridge. Katy, sadly, did not want to go to University, but my son went to Cambridge and my twin daughters by my second wife, ended up at Oxford.
    I think that I can say at this distance in time, that maybe if I had been bolder and circumstances different, your mum and I might have made a couple. I have always had feelings for her. Thus your souvenir has made me very sad as it ends a story. I nearly died of malignant melanoma 9 years ago, and learning of your mother, makes me realise how lucky I have been.
    I will end simply by saying that yes, your mother was special, and thank you for writing as you did. For me it has sadly stopped my wondering , as I frequently have, whatever happened to Kathy Dexter, the girl that got away.
    Neil Jopson LL.B. (Exon)

    • I’m glad you found this and took the trouble to write so beautifully about her; thank you very much.

      As the years have passed since Mum’s death, I’ve realised how little I really knew about her, and her life before I came along (with the selfishness of childhood, I was never interested; with the pressures of adulthood, I never had the bravery to ask). She was my mum, but she was many other things to other people, and I am glad that she is a fond, though bittersweet, memory to you.

      Mum was a closed book in lots of ways – either through her natural character or circumstance, I could never work out which. I have felt since that she had hopes and dreams that she never had an opportunity to fulfil, and many regrets about the past and the roads not taken. I know that this is part of the human condition, but I always had the impression that although she was successful at work, she was deeply unhappy in other areas. It’s one of the most awful things about her passing that, for the last few years of her life, she was genuinely doing what she wanted – travelling and making new friendships – but the cancer took this from her. She got a chance to be happy, at least for a while, but if she’d had this chance sooner in her life it may have shaped her differently and allowed her real spirit to flourish. At the risk of sounding mawkish, she was a beautiful tree in entirely the wrong landscape.

      I didn’t put this in the eulogy, as it wasn’t really appropriate for a pulpit, but she had strong feelings about where she should be laid to rest. She didn’t want to be near my dad, for her own reasons, and she didn’t want to ‘moulder away in a corner of a churchyard’. She wanted her ashes scattered over the sea, the last flight of her vital spark. We did this for her off the coast of Valencia, as far away from landlocked Nottinghamshire as you could imagine. There’s nothing to record that she passed away, no headstone to visit that fastens her spirit to the ground, but I think she would have approved.

      Thank you again for sharing your memories of Mum, and the part she played in your own life story. I’m glad that you’ve had a fulfilled life, but have found the time, on occasion, to think back to Mum as she was when she was at her finest and most free. She would be quite pleased, I think, to be remembered with kindness and regret for chances missed.

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