memoriesOn 27 May 1924, Henrietta (known as Hetty) and Robert (known as Bob) Duckworth welcomed their daughter, Eirene in to their home at 64 Taylor Street, Bury in Lancashire. Eirene (known as Renee) a sister for John, both with auburn hair and both in later life having rheumatoid arthritis. Both would pre-decease their parents.

Renee served in the Land Army during the Second World War, was confirmed by the then Bishop of Burnley in 1946 and married Tom Frost in 1948. They welcomed Pamela just over 18 months later. After a gap of nine years, during which time the family moved to Devon and Renee and Tom lost a baby, the writer of this blog made an appearance.

I knew Renee for just 17 years. She was loving, often funny and with a strong faith. For half of that time, rheumatoid arthritis placed an increasingly disabling impact on her life and she spent much of her final 5 or 6 years using a wheelchair. Had it been the 2020s, I might have been classed as a ‘young carer’ – although my Dad did far more than I ever did. Nonetheless, I knew my home life was not the same as that of my friends but I accepted it as such. I knew no different. I had a supported and not unhappy childhood, albeit with a now limited memories of it.

Many have memories of the summer of 1976 for being long and hot, but I recall it for other reasons. My Mum died suddenly, aged just 52, in the holidays before my final year at school. A never to be forgotten moment. Every word. Every action. Every feeling. Etched forever in memories.

Had it been the 2020s, I would have been offered counselling and bereavement support – but that wasn’t available to the extent it is now. School lunchtimes were spent in the local park, going over everything, over and over again. In many ways, I sowed the seeds of my own experience of depression and anxiety. I knew no different.

I have no doubt I would have been a very different person had she not died when she did but some of what my Mum’s life (and death) also sowed was an understanding of the impact that disability and ill health has upon people and those around them. An understanding which, to mix my metaphors, placed a thread, a golden thread, running throughout my life. Most publicly in the honour and privilege of the work I was enabled to do and be recognised for, and in some aspects of those who now make up my own family and the books I have written. It’s a thread which is now somewhat frayed at the edges but it remains a golden one.

You may have seen the BBC’s short film for Children in Need showing a schoolboy carrying a large purple backpack. It’s an image I can relate to from my own school days and contains a message which is familiar. While there is sadness that she never met Jane and our children (and they her), the Mum-shaped space in my own backpack remains full but no longer heavy (… most of the time).


Many people carry heavy backpacks. Sometimes we are enabled to put them down for a bit – perhaps with the help of others, occasionally through the efforts of our own free will. Sometimes the backpack will feel heavier than other times – for some it will become so heavy it takes over their whole identity. We can make choices about how best to carry it (don’t lock it away in a cupboard). Occasionally, we can take things out of it (and put other things in). We might even be able to take it all out and put it back in a different order so it’s easier to carry, perhaps leaving some of its contents and memories on the side to deal with later. But invariably we still have to carry it around in some form – and there is no shame or failure in that.

We are, as Jesus said, to share one another’s burdens and I, like you I hope, remain grateful to those who have shared mine and theirs.

My Mum’s name, Eirene, means ‘peace’. May you know eirene as you carry your backpack.


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Categories: Prayer