In the early hours of yesterday morning my mother-in-law Jane Watkins (nee Lanyon) passed away. I knew instantly that I wanted to honour her life in some way even if it is through this humble blog post. I first met Jane in August 1999, just weeks after her 51st birthday. I was immediately struck by her no nonsense attitude and fiercely determined spirit. Seven years prior she had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease related to manganese poisoning. When I met her, she had a barely noticeable limp and she held her left arm across her chest but she didn't ever complain or allow it to slow her down or inhibit her life. She continued her life in that vain, even as the prolonged manganese poisoning symptoms began to take away her abilities to walk, talk and basically function. For a time, Jane continued to travel with her husband, my father-in-law Roy, and enjoy the simplicity of life. She could no longer do the things she loved most in all the world, her pottery and artwork. Over time the symptoms of her disease robbed her of the ability to sculpt and paint.
Jane came from a long line of Cornish artists, notably her father Peter Lanyon (read about him here in my blogpost written ten years ago). Her brothers Andrew, Matthew, Jo and Martin are also revered artists. I had the pleasure of meeting some of Jane's family when I visited the Cornish coast in 2006. I felt an instant connection with her mother Sheila and her nephews Arthur and John. Being able to see Jane's extended family and her beloved Newlyn through her mother's eyes, I became fascinated with the Lanyon family and began researching the family tree. However, I wish I had of asked more questions of both Sheila and Jane but both of them possessed a "look ahead" only spirit. I honestly felt that they would simply evade my questions and curiosity, not because of any sense of family pride or rudeness but from a standpoint that life goes on, look forward towards the future, and don't dwell or look back on the past.
For instance, when I first met Sheila at her house in Newlyn, she had a framed photograph of her late husband Peter resting on a table beside her armchair. When I pointed it out, admiring his youthful good looks, she simply waved her arm around flippantly and said "Yes, that's Peter" and said no more on the subject but got up to go put the kettle on. Sharing memories of Peter Lanyon were usually shrugged off and mentioned only in passing. I also personally felt that for Jane's sake, her father died as a result of injuries incurred from a gliding accident when she was just 16 years of age, so bringing him up in conversation might have felt almost too intimate for Jane. I remember only once she spoke about him at great length and brought out some books and reels to show me; she sat on the floor with me for a short time but then without another word, got up and left me alone to pour through them. She rarely said another word about her father to me, it was like the door had quietly closed leaving no room for loitering in the doorway but to swiftly move on and never look back. I respected that silent motion at the time, but I do now regret that I didn't ask her any more about her childhood.
|One of my favourite photos of Jane in her youth.
This was taken around 1964.
Jane was a wonderful mother-in-law. She made no fuss, interfered only once in my bringing up of her grandchild, and she quietly doted on all of her friends and loved ones. She was always smiling, I remember the many times we visited her and Roy, she would usually always be in the kitchen pottering around, baking and cooking even though she was increasingly restricted in her movements. She rarely sat still, she just developed a natural shuffle to get about in her own way. She would laugh heartily too. I can hear her laughter in my mind even now, and in the months before her passing she laughed at Goon Show references and my rendition of "A Little of What You Fancy". And yes, she sometimes cried unabashed too, especially as the years passed and she grew increasingly frustrated and restricted.
I shall miss Jane profoundly. Her legacy is of course her artworks, her pottery and her paintings. But also her husband of 52 years, her two sons, her two grandchildren, her extended family in the UK, and her lifelong friends in Australia. I shall miss her smiling face, her cheery outlook, her infectious laughter. Thank you for being my mother-in-law for 22 years. Rest in peace. You fought a long, arduous battle and you did it with dignity and sober realism. It was a pleasure to know you and call you family.
For further reading on Jane's journey to uncovering more about her manganese poisoning and Parkinsonism please read this article.