As I drove past the Swansea Leisure Centre on a bright July morning I found myself looking at the people in their cars as they passed me. I wasn’t driving very fast, they obviously had places to go. Maybe they were late for work or rushing to get their kids to school. I’m pretty sure none of them noticed the old guy tootling along in the inside lane with a few small tears, slowly rolling down his cheeks.
The reason for my tears…I had just said goodbye to my mum for the final time and I was hurting. But this is no tragic story.
Meudwen Pope had lived a long, love filled life and I’m sure as she fell asleep for the last time she had no regrets; but I had just kissed her forehead for the last time, and I was heartbroken.
When you search the history books you probably won’t find any mentions of this lady. If you had asked her if she had been an ‘important’ person I’m sure she would have laughed but like all of us her life touched many others, so I’d like to tell you a little bit about her…to the best of my memory.
Meudwen was born in Brynhyfryd in 1924. Her father was a miner and her mum was the organist in a little Gospel Hall. During the depression her father lost his job. I remember her telling me how heartbroken she had been to see her father weeping with his head in his hands as he agonised over how he would provide for his family. She always said that the next day she woke up and one of her eyelashes had gone white. My mum wasn’t big on make-up, maybe a little powder to take away the shine…but always a little mascara to hide the white eyelash.
Meudwen’s dad growing potatoes to help make ends meet.
She was a bright child and after passing her exams went to De La Beche School for Girls. Apart from studying and learning the piano my mum loved to play tennis. Her parents had saved up to buy her a beautiful wooden racket which she kept in a clamp. As kids she would give us anything, well, everything except that tennis racket.
During the first night of the Swansea Blitz she and her family hid under the kitchen table. The following morning she emerged from the little house in Brynhyfryd covered from head to toe in soot. The bombs had shaken the house so hard that the chimneys had emptied their contents onto the terrified family. The following night they all sheltered in the basement of New Siloh Chapel and for the final night she went to stay with family in Tirdeunaw.
Even the Luftwaffe could not stand in the way of her education and even though the school had been damaged in the blitz she continued her education eventually training to be a teacher in Townhill.
After qualifying, and with no work in Swansea, Meudwen and a few friends found teaching jobs in the East End of London. Those days were filled with the constant threat from V2 rockets and ‘Doodle Bugs’ falling from the sky killing indiscriminately. She had indeed seen terrible sights and been terrified but as she told those stories I could see how exciting those days in London had been. On VJ Day she and her friends had danced the Hoky Koky and done the Lambeth Walk with strangers.
Coming back to Swansea she got a job working in Gendros Primary School. Before long she had met my dad and become Mrs Pope. With the help of her parents she managed to have 3 children but still hold onto her job as a teacher. Added to that she ran the Sunday School and Band of Hope with my dad in Philip Street Gospel Hall. Every year tens or maybe hundreds of kids came into contact with my mum. That was her life until she retired.
Many, many years later my dad started to fail, and my mum became his primary carer. Social Services were fantastic supporting her, but she knew that if anything happened to her, my dad would have to go into a care home.
It was in December 2016 that she had a little fall. For the best part of 4 days she tried to convince everyone that she only had a little case of sciatica. Finally the doctors insisted that she be taken to hospital where x-rays confirmed she had broken her hip!!!
For the following years Stan and Meudwen sat together in one of the day rooms at Hengoed Park. 2 years ago we lost my dad during Covid lockdown leading to one of the saddest days of my life. Seven of us stood around his grave side, 2 metres apart and only able to shake hands with my mum if we wore rubber gloves.
In recent months visiting at Hengoed has opened up again but every visit has marked a little decline in her health. Her smile was always there but each time it appeared that the light was just a little more dim. As she faded her concern for the family still burned brightly. Was I working too hard? How were the children? Even last week as I encouraged her to take a little juice she said no, but then she made sure that I did because she was worried I might be thirsty.
That’s Meudwen’s story and of course I’m probably terribly biased. She was our mum and we thought the world of her…but it soon became clear that we weren’t the only ones.
We weren’t sure how we should let people know about the sad news, but my brother put a picture on Social Media, and I shared that. Almost immediately my phone started pinging. From all over the world people started sending us their condolences and also their memories. We started to reply to each message, but it soon became impossible to keep up. In the end I posted another picture saying thank you for your kind words and I hope people would understand that I probably wouldn’t be able to like and reply to every message…then my phone started pinging even more!!!
Children my mother had taught in school or Sunday School, now grandparents themselves, told how my mum was always a great encourager. She would always remember them by name and ask after their brothers and sisters if they bumped into her in town.
We knew Mum was a great letter writer but so many of the messages told us she had written to old pupils at times of sadness or joy.
And always Mum would pray with or pray for people.
We had a lot of private messages from care staff who looked after mum and dad at home or in the Care Home who told us how they would go to Meudwen if they had problems or exams and ask her to pray for them. One person described her as the Mother Theresa of Hengoed Park.
I have to say my mum didn’t like people showing off so I’m sure she is looking down now, slightly embarrassed, and possibly even a little cross with me for writing this, but this isn’t just a eulogy for a much loved parent.
What I really wanted you to know is your life matters. Just like my mum you might think that the message you sent someone when they were heartbroken or the word of encouragement you gave someone struggling may be little things but as my mum would say ‘How good is a timely word’.
Earlier this year I had taken in my phone to show her a video of me on an ITV Wales interview programme called ‘Face to Face’. In it I had said that I still felt I had unfinished business. Mum always had an appropriate word for me. ‘Remember’, she said, ‘I am immortal until my work is done’.
Those words have been ringing in my ears this week. I could rest assured that her work was done.
She had fought the good fight, she had finished the race, she had kept the faith.