My Mother Hated Swimming

So why she wanted her ashes scattered into the sea, I’ll never know.

But she always used to say … to all of us … “I don’t want to be buried.  I don’t want anyone tied to a place.  Just scatter me off the heads.”

We used to go to this place a lot, mum and I.

Although she didn’t like swimming.  I do recall one 42 degree day that she finally came for a paddle.  Years ago.

I have always loved this beach.  I love being in the sea.

Although it is right at the heads, this little part is surrounded by rocks and quite sheltered.

My children swim here a lot.

I am proud of my boys – her boys – for coming with me.  I didn’t take them to the funeral, that would have been too much for them.

But this was perfect.


She was right.

As usual.

Even when she wasn’t.

I think the death of a parent is one of life’s great fears.

As a child I would sometimes work myself into a right state … and cry myself to sleep.

But I am lucky.

I had my mother for 41 years.  My father had his for 8.  I still have him.

My mother collapsed and died at my feet.

I tried to resuscitate her.

I went to the hospital with her.

And I told them to stop.


Because she would have expected me to.

And I knew.

She had raised me to know.

Her siblings called her ‘Skinny’.

She was beautiful.

And my mother.

Who had held me in her hands.

Who had spent night after night with her arm hanging out of her bed, in the middle of winter, because I needed her to have her hand on me.

To touch me.

This was what she wanted.

She knew.

She was right.

And I knew.

Because she had made sure I knew.

And that is the gift.


I love being in the sea.

Today the sea was warm.

Strangely warm.

So I fulfilled my mother’s last request.

Because I knew.

Life is complicated.

Joyous, beautiful, confusing, heartbreaking, ridiculous, wonderful, challenging, frightening, thrilling.

Love is everything.

Divine. Perfect. Flawed.

Worth every risk.

And you know it.

My mother knew it.  She took the risk.

It is the weekend before Mothers Day.

I am a motherless daughter.

A motherless son told me that what I did today was a very Hindu tradition.

Yes, it is.

It is also simply a beautiful thing.

And a wish granted.

45 thoughts on “My Mother Hated Swimming

  1. What a beautiful heartfelt post. I am dreading the day I will have to say goodbye to my own parents, and only hope I can give them the dignity and love you have shown towards your Mum. I am sorry for your loss.

    1. Thank you. Yes, we spend our lives dreading it, don’t we. My mother’s last lesson to me was that I can cope. And that I will be OK. And so will you. But I hope you don’t have to find that out for a long time. x

  2. (This is Ken)
    Bear … I just done read your story and the following comments, all of them, done good Sis, I going to bed to have a little weep! Done good Bear…tough little shit aren’t ya?
    (This is Shirley)
    Took me a while to show him, sorry Carol, hope all is well with you and yours. Keep from them thar hills XOXOXOX
    <3 🙂

  3. G’day cous! Wow awesomely put together! What a beautiful dedication to a beautiful woman. I felt your heart and soul release as I read each word and I related as I lost myself in the reality of it. I miss my dear father, my friend, every single day and pray my amazing mum is with us for many, many more years. Much love to you and all my Aussie family always! Naomi xoxo

    1. Nay!!! Hi … John is living in Dubai so I wanted him to be able to see it and kinda ‘be’ there … he’s taking it the hardest, I think. I was a *good* day … I had a howl afterwards, but it was all good. Not sad, this was what she had asked for many times … and I’m glad she had as it made it easier to do. I’m sure you miss your Dad … I hope I have mine for a long time yet, too. Love to your and yours, and your ma! xxx

  4. The hardest thing we can do is eulogise our parents. To do so in such perfect prose, not one word out of place, must surely have been a communion with angels. Thank you Carol, for expressing the inexpressible and for bringing your mother back into the room for us to know her.

  5. Hi Carol. I love the irony in this story, and the way you have put so many words together in such a way that rings so personally yet with stories for us all.
    We lost my wife’s father late last year and met to take him for a final swim at Mollymook. Unlike your mum, he loved a swim. You might enjoy

  6. So, I’m just scrolling through Tweetdeck, quick catch up on the day, what have folk been up to…and someone I follow tweets your @Name, and I follow that to see who the hell are you…? And I click through from your Twitter page, and find a blog, and start to read….and…

    Tomorrow is Mothers’ Day. For my mum it will be the first without her mum.

    And for my partner, though it is now the second without his mum, this time last year we were one month into my breast cancer diagnosis and Mother’s Day went a little by-the by.

    And just a few weeks ago we went to the Henley Beach Jetty (SA) and he held that funny plastic container that his sister had been carrying around in a plastic bag….and it was a beautiful day with the water crystal clear so that we could watch the little fish come in to great her…

    And I think: It’s Mothers Day tomorrow. And somone wanted me to find your words and pics – now, tonight.

    I tried to read your post to him – but the News is on so he wasn’t interested and didn’t get what I was trying to say about “There is this blog post from some woman that I don’t know and she has just lost her mum….” – Which kind of wrecked the mood.

    So – Thank you. THANK you.

  7. Oh Carol, I am almost without words…
    As a motherless daughter myself, who lost her mother twice and never got to say goodbye, just stood at a place in the ground where they say my mother is, I feel you did (are doing) a marvelous job of handling this. I miss your Mum too, and wish I had got the chance to know her better, but loved what I knew of her. How proud she would be of you and your boys and how much she loved you all is without doubt.
    Oh Carol, you were right about the tissues, but tears are good when you are feeling sorrowful. I am glad you were able to know the right time and the right place and I am glad your family shared it with you. And it sounds like it was a wonderful, loving tribute to a wonderful, loving woman.
    Oh Carol, I have to go now, but before i do I would like your permission to steal this page for my scrapbook, the photos are spectacular, the writing brings chills and the subject is LOVE!
    Thank you for sharing XOXOXOXOX Keep strong and be happy 🙂 love you from Shirley (ps: will show Ken when he comes home)

  8. I resonated to so much of this…your beautiful words and photography, your spirit, your matter-of-fact sense of rightness in the choices you made.

    A little over a decade ago I became a fatherless daughter and, being the children of a pilot and hang-glider pilot, we took his ashes to the ramp at Byron where he had leapt into the air so many times, and launched him one more time. A small quantity was also sprinkled and rubbed into the foundations of the timber & stone house he built in the hills. Didn’t think too much about this – just did what felt right at the time.

    I’m dreading the idea of having to say goodbye to my mother when the time comes. Reading your lovely post reminds me that whatever comes, I can and will be able to bear it in the moment, and find the beauty in it, too. Thank you.

  9. Wow, just wow. You are as much a living tribute to your mother as your beautiful boys are a testament to the love, courage and wisdom you pass on to them. And as they teach you and make you wonder at their amazing souls, so must your mother have (and still, somewhere) looked at you in the same way.

    1. Thank you, that’s quite a compliment coming from a woman who truly knows ‘beautiful’. I am so pleased I wrote this, look at all these wonderful, touching comments from … daughters!

  10. Carol,

    Incredible, Beautiful writing.
    My Mother, at 72, calls herself a motherless girl. Every time she says this I feel her pain of losing her mum 25 years ago (& me my nanna) & also get just a small inkling of what I may go through at some time.
    Doing what your mother would have enjoyed – red shoes, wine, roses & beaches, honours her & honours you & the person she helped you become.
    I feel what you have shared here is a wonderful gift. Thank You & May You Have Many Peaceful Thoughts at this difficult time.

  11. And with that I will close my laptop for the night and the week. That was the most spine shivery, tear inducing piece of loveliness. What a daughter you are and to your mum; sweet dreams. xox

  12. Oh Carol, this is so, so beautiful.

    We, my brother and I have decided we are doing this on Mothers day. Off a pier in Brisbane, where she was married, where she owned a shop and where she was happy.

    Do you reckon that’s when I’ll feel it’s real?

    But get this, when I was cleaning her house out, I found another box of ashes. Now these are either my granddads or my dads. My husband suggested I release them together with Mums. Only thing is, if it’s dad, there would be nothing worse in the world (bad divorce).

    Hope you are ok after doing this x

    1. Bern … it’s the right thing to do. For some reason, yesterday just suddenly became the ‘right’ day to do it. No idea why … I had fed the kids breakfast, was on Twitter … and I looked out to the garden and I just knew. I feel that I’ve set her free. As for your bonus set of ashes … oh dear! Not knowing whose they are is tricky and I’m nowhere NEAR brave enough to even think about that one! x

  13. Frances, my mum was an amazing multi-tasker! It seemed so very right to do this for her. One of the hardest days was the day I collected her ashes … in the funny little plastic box with the engraved casket plate, in a discreet carry-bag … and I put the bag into the boot of the car. And as I did … I heard the sound of her ashes move in the plastic box. That was really hard. But no, holding her ashes today was just fine because she was where she wanted to be, and I was doing what I had told her I would. I think … that’s part of the key … that we have these discussions with people while we still can. That we KNOW!

    Trish … one of the lovely teachers at my sons school confided to me that after her mother died, she went to sort her mother’s clothes and so on, and found her father’s ashes in her mother’s wardrobe. So now she has BOTH of their ashes. It took me two and a half years to get to the point of knowing it was OK to part with them. Did you read my Aunt Chloe’s comment above? She’s one of mum’s sisters. That was what mum meant by ‘tying people to a place’ … that’s what graves do.

    When we left this morning, I said to my husband, “Yes. That’s what I want. OK?”


  14. Beautiful, Sad & Loving … I am so sorry for the loss of your mother but what bittersweet joy you must feel to fulfil her wish.My father never told us of his wishes …maybe my mother can’t bear to part with them.

  15. My eyes are a bit misty and I’ve had to swallow a few times. This is a unique post.
    How strange to be able to hold your mother in your hands like that.
    It looks like a beautiful place to remember her.
    I don’t know how you do it, cooking gozlemes in the morning and doing all this by 8pm.

  16. What a beautiful post and a wonderful memory for you and your boys to share as you said goodbye to your mother together.

    Thank you for sharing such a special moment. Your words and photos are incredibly touching. A big hug to you for your courage and sensitivity.

  17. Aunty Bear, I cant say im sorry you did this alone, as we all know you were not. not in body or spirit. but i wish i was there to share this ever lasting memory. Thank you for allowing me to share it here with you now.
    You are a brave and strong woman.. just like Grandma Val. A trait I feel in all us Duncan Women. A trait i feel blessed with.
    Thinking of you today, next week and every day.. your niece Trak xxx

  18. Don’t feel sad, Bear, you have done what she wanted, I try to get to Nowra at least once a year..the grave is always smothered in kikuyu is a double grave ; where my mum & dad lie; I have to walk on them to clean their final resting place !! I HATE it !! I have asked my kids to scatter my ashes to the winds..P.S.I never called your mother skinny, I was skinnier than she was..”The Happy Wanderer” Valderee, Valderah, Valderahahah !! Then later in life “Amazing Grace” I’m a bit handicapped typing this to you, I fell at tennis; broke schapoid bone; am in plaster..what you have done for your Mum is truly beautiful,don’t feel sad…God Bless all Bears..luv ya..Chloe.

  19. NDM … my little one actually swam out to meet me. I did really well up to that point … and promptly lost the plot. But I am *SO* proud of both the boys for being with me. But the little one … he was actually the one who alerted me to mum having collapsed when I heard his little voice say, “Grandma! Wake UP!” There is an amazing and wise soul inside that child.

    Kylie. Oh Kylie. YOU know. Thank you. xxx

  20. You are so strong- and I love how you instinctively know what to do and go and do it. No excuses- that’s quite a gift.
    Fabulous photos- not seeing *your* face makes us focus even more on the setting and the event and your mother.
    You must miss her- I’m a grown woman, and I can’t imagine losing my mother- but you did a beautiful, right thing. Thanks for sharing xxxx

  21. Beautiful.

    The photo of you looking out to sea, hugging your boys on the beach made me burst into tears. It reminded me that one of the best things we can do for those we have lost is to pass on the love they gave us to others.


  22. Tani … you can send me all the emails you can handle!! Yes, I think your account is funny … but I shall send you another and hopefully we can get the interwebz to do their thing. The boys found the ashes very … interesting, bit confronting, I explained that ‘Grandma isn’t in this box, she’s everywhere … even in you …’ I am so proud of them for coming today. Panda found it a bit more of a challenge than James did but they were both very good. James came in the water with me. And yes, Mum would sure be digging you in the ribs, laughing her head off at your tribe and hooting, “Didn’t you learn ANYTHING from me, woman?” xxxxx

  23. Ive been waiting for you to answer my emails. Maybe your not receiveing them, anyway, I feel a connection to Grandma that I can’t expain futher than she is so much a part of me. Shes there with you and your boys and I feel her here, giggling around corners watching my girls and digging me in the ribs knowing, that life is awsome and I feel her enjoying this ride with me.
    Aunty, I wish we were closer, in distance, cause I know you miss her so much.

  24. You are a truly beautiful person and your mum must be so proud of you. Thank you so much for sharing that incredibly personal moment with us. xx

  25. Thanks for sharing Carol. What a beautiful way to honour and celebrate your lovely Mum’s life. Big hugs to you x

  26. Beautiful. My daughter reached up and gave me a little kiss as I read with tears. Thankyou for sharing such a special moment.

  27. Oh.

    So sad.

    I know that day will come for me, when I have to farewell my own mother and I am dreading it.

    Hugs, my friend. Such strength it takes to be the daughter, somedays.

  28. A beautiful post. You had a wonderful mother and reading this, I know she has a wonderful daughter. You were very brave to do this. Thank you for sharing. It has made an ache in my heart ease so much. xo

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