Motherhood means different things to different people. Beneath it all runs the idea that mums exhibit selflessness and strength.
Nobody embodies that better than Mary McKenna, who was nominated by her daughter Fiona Brown in the Belfast Telegraph Mother of the Year category.
Mary (69) knows how to put on a brave face when the situation is tough to heartbreaking. “You just have to keep going.” Her stoicism belies the difficulties facing her family in 2008.
Her second daughter Fiona, nominating her, wrote: “My father, Seamus, had cancer and sadly he passed away on August 31, 2009. Mum looked after my father in ways that showed total love and devotion in, as the wedding vows put it, sickness and in health. Mum’s approach was, and still is, inspirational.
“During dad’s last year of declining health, I was also admitted to hospital with complications during pregnancy, which resulted in the premature arrival of my baby daughter Ellie Louise. During this time my father was also in hospital. Mum was there for dad and me. She has been a rock to the entire family. Even in bereavement, she has been an inspiration.
“I had to undergo surgery on dad’s first anniversary. This would have been a hard day for the whole family, but more so for mum as dad was her lifelong partner.”
Mary says: “Looking back, it was tough but, like everything else, you just got on with it. And I had hope, we never really gave up hope that Seamus would get better. We have a farm and my first reaction was that we should lease out the land and sell the animals. But he was adamant that we wouldn't and he would recover, and so I had to cope with looking after my husband and the farm.”
Fourteen months on, Mary is now getting rid of some animals and restructuring her life.
She says: “As a mother, you just automatically do things as the children need them. You're a troubleshooter.”
As a mother of six, Mary has some experience. Her definition of a good mother is typically modest. “Probably just being there for all their needs, at any time, with support.” She says the role of mother continues all through her children's lives. “It doesn't stop.”
Of her hard times, with characteristic modesty, Mary says: “I didn’t always think of it as hard, especially as my children all helped with Seamus’s physical treatment in the final months. They had a rota. But when I was seeing Fiona, who I knew had complications, and Seamus, I just focused upon the practicalities.”
Mary remains philosophical. “I wouldn’t be a big one for worrying about what will happen. It’s a pointless exercise and you’re better able to help someone if you keep calm.” So although she had a couple of bereavement counselling sessions at the hospice, she has found her own way of coping with the loss of her partner.
Christmas was hard, and Mary said she felt down and couldn’t see life getting better. But with the New Year came new hope and energy. Naturally, the support of her children has helped — as she says, she not only gets cards on Mother’s Day but through the year. “The mantelpiece is rarely empty.”
What the sponsors say
Brenda Morgan, sales manager Ireland of bmi sales, sponsor of BT Inspirational Woman of the Year
Which women do you admire?|Penny Holloway, whose son, Thomas Devlin, was stabbed to death near his home. She mounted a tireless campaign against the DPP decision not to charge his killers and succeeded in bringing two men to court, where they were convicted. An inspiring story.
Why is it important to recognise women via the Women of the Year Awards?
There are very few platforms in which women are recognised publicly for their achievements. So the Belfast Telegraph is to be congratulated on using its considerable resources to recognise the vital role women play within the Northern Ireland community.
Why are you sponsoring the award and what do you hope to achieve?|bmi has been involved in serving the local community for 26 years and the awards provide us with the opportunity to be part of a very important occasion.
Colette Wilson, marketing manager, Irwin’s Bakery, sponsors of the Mum of the Year category
Which women do you admire?|I’d have to say I really admire my own mum. I think you truly appreciate your own mother after you have children yourself.
Why is it important to recognise women via the Women of the Year Awards?|As a local, family-owned business, Irwin’s Bakery believes it is vital to recognise the talents, achievements and sheer strength of women in every field, every community, every walk of life.
Why are you sponsoring the award and what do you hope to achieve?|Irwin’s has been baking bread and cakes for families for almost 100 years — so we know every mum is truly special. A mum has the power to shape and change lives for the better, putting others first on a daily basis.