A small tribute

March 27, 2013 § 9 Comments

When I was sixteen, my mother died. It was sudden, it was unexpected. It was probably the most important day of my life.

And it’s something I’ve never been able to write about. I’ve tried, but I’ve never quite had the words.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I wrote a poem the next year, called That Day. I sent it off to the Grahamstown Eisteddfod, and I remember it coming back with a comment from the adjudicator that read something like: “The poem doesn’t give the impression that you have experienced the loss that the poem’s narrator has experienced.”

So yes, perhaps I didn’t have the words.

Losing your mother at a young age has an interesting effect on the way you measure out your life. Everything happens either before your mom died, or after. This year I turn 44 and I’m reminded that I will be two years older than my mother was when she died. I spent 2011, the year I turned 42, convinced that it would be my last year on earth. I now count each birthday as a blessing.

For years after she died I had recurring dreams where I would bump into her, suddenly, and discover that she had not died. She’d just decided to start a new life, elsewhere. Yes, I know. Denial. Eventually, it passed.

And I was one of the lucky ones. My father remarried and my siblings and I were given the gift of a wonderful stepmother, who has now been in our lives for longer than our mother ever was, and who is a fantastic grandmother to my children.

But I still think about my mom sometimes. This morning, unexpectedly, I had a pang of missing her, just wondering what she’d think. Of me. Of her grandchildren. She never got to meet them, and I know she would have been a wonderful grandmother too.

I’m old enough to remember the things she said, and to hear her voice echoing in my head when I admonish my own children. She was a teacher by training, and she took no nonsense from anyone. She was small and feisty, and always saw the brighter side of things, despite a disability that made her tired from time to time. She taught me to love music and words, to sew, to enjoy the outdoors, to laugh in the face of adversity. Most of all, she was always there for us, and prepared to sacrifice anything so that we could have the opportunities she felt we should have.

And all she ever expected in return from her children was that we did our best at everything we turned our hand to. That was all. Just do your best – always. Be honest and hard-working, and always do your very best.

I realise that ethos has shaped me in all kinds of ways. I only knew her for sixteen years, but she made a huge impression on me.

So this is just my way – my small way – of saying, “I still miss you, Mom.” And thanks. Both your life and your death have made me who I am today. I hope you would have been proud.


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§ 9 Responses to A small tribute

  • charliesbird says:

    With a sob threatening to escape, I hope, I really hope that my daughter one day will have a similar memory of me, that all I ever wanted was for her to be the best Thandi she can be. Because, yes, our mothers have such a huge influence in our lives, both in their presence and their absences – she would be proud, I have little doubt, of her charming, funny, level-headed daughter, who cooks and bakes and spar’s verbally with the best of them.


  • randomthoughtso says:

    I keep reading this, over and over again, and I realise more and more…

    That the things I’ve been feeling since I lost my mom, and wondering if I’m over-analysing them, or “over-reacting” (someone told me that, the day after mine passed…it’s haunted me always)…

    you validated those feelings for me. Thank you.

    Above all, though, my heart goes out to you. I feel you in this weird space, and I realise that we don’t ever leave it. We just do our best to decorate it in whatever we can find.

    I do know this though, with a resounding yell…that your mum is, overwhelmingly proud.

    Thank you for writing this. X


  • Ann Rundle says:

    Thank you for this Mandy. My mom died 33 years ago on 30 March and I still miss her at times. I had such a yearning to phone her over Christmas. I chuckle at times as I find myself doing the things my mom did,things that drove me mad and now make absolute sense! A wonderful tribute to your mother. It would delight her I’m sure.


  • Adale Brown says:

    Your mom was a very special lady!


  • Tania says:

    Sjoe, blinking away tears here at my desk, that Eisteddfod judge could only have been someone that had never experienced a loss like that.
    My Mom is still alive, but she got cancer when she was 42 and was sick for a long time. I sometimes find myself morbidly wondering if that will happen to me when I am 42 and I just turned 40.
    I so love the way you write.


  • This is a beautiful post, Mandy. I think you definitely have the words now, even if you didn’t when you wrote the poem (or maybe the judge was just a… – no, I won’t go there!). The loss and the pain really came across, and I cried while reading it. I loved the part about suddenly thinking of her and getting a pang, and wondering what she’d think of you and your life. You made me appreciate my own mother and want to spend more time with her.


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