13 October 1942 - 22 November 2001
My mother died suddenly, five years ago. Massive heart attack. I inherited much of her facial features, which means I look younger than I really am. I also inherited her wit, her sense of mischief and her creativity. Her legacy, however, also left me with the same mental illness that finds the odd occasion to steal up on me in the dark to plunge me into the blackest depths of despair.
She complained of chest pains and a visit to the doctor, where she was hooked up to an ECG machine revealed nothing out of the ordinary and she was sent home. Forty-five minutes later she was dead.
I spent almost all of what was left of my savings to fly out to South Africa for her funeral. I sang Schubert's Ave Maria, delivered the eulogy and was one of the pall bearers.
What I remember about her isn't all good. In fact, it's fair to say that a lot of what I remember is not good at all. Still, she had the ability to listen and mete out sensible advice. She was a gracious hostess who embraced causes that were close to her heart and worked tirelessly to help a lot of people. I remember saying in the eulogy that Mom liked to fight the good fight and stood up for what she believed in. She had strong opinions and like me, didn't feel she couldn't speak her mind. We built the rockery in the garden together when I was five. I was too small to pick the stones up, but I helped her mark out its borders and pointed out where I thought the stones should go.
She indulged my eccentricities, mostly because she was a little eccentric herself. And she was beautiful.
The last time I spoke to her was just after her 59th birthday, a month prior to her death. She was in good spirits, and indeed, my auntie Carol told me that Mom had been in high spirits the day before she died too. She had gone to get her hair trimmed by Carol and was laughing and joking, discussing her plans for the future.
Perhaps one story I can tell you about her would sum up her character better than any description I can contrive:
Mom grew up poor. At the age of six, she saw a pair of bright shiny red shoes in a shop window and wanted so badly to have them. She knew she couldn't ask for the money, so she ran errands for other people, saving every penny she could until she was able to walk into that shop and buy those shoes herself.
I hope I have inherited some of that spirit too.