In memory of my mother

It was my mom’s funeral yesterday. It was a good day, and I enjoyed meeting some of her friends I hadn’t seen for years, especially from her days before I was born, and learning a little more about her.

Here’s a written adaptation of what I said, especially for those who couldn’t be there.

When someone dies, they take an entire universe with them. Everyone at the funeral, and even those reading this have in some way interacted with that universe, so these are some memories of the forty-one years I was lucky enough to interact with hers.

When I was born, she stopped working to take care of me. It was a sacrifice for her, and she looked back nostalgically at times to her days in the band – she played in Max Adler’s accordion band, which is where she met my dad – and to her time in the United Party youth, where I think she once won secretary of the year.

My dad’s 83rd birthday in 2011

With me at school and needing to get around for sports and the like, she learned to drive. She was in her early fifties by then, and even though the roads of Pinelands were much quieter then, it must have been tough to do, but soon she had my grandfather’s old silver Anglia and could take me around.

I played soccer at school, and, which is probably a surprise to those who knew her in later life, she was always the most vocal and expressive fan, the loudest supporter cheering and shouting from the touchlines. Luckily I was too young to be embarassed, and I always appreciated the support.

I remember scoring a goal once – I was a defender, and it didn’t happen often! I was the complete opposite of her, not at all expressive, so I didn’t do a Ronaldo, whipping my shirt off and sliding across the turf on my knees. Instead, I just turned around and casually walked back to my position while she went crazy on the sideline.

My mom loved research. Some of you may remember the Sunday Times competition from a few years ago where each week clues would be printed, and to find the answer you’d need to go and research in the library. She loved it, and used to spend hours looking up details. My cousin Jenni told me yesterday that she got the final answer right – but not the million rand prize!

But she didn’t only like researching for herself, she did for me as well. I was extremely lazy at school, and would realise the night before that a project was due the next day. However, she’d have everything ready, and would have written the entire project out. All I had to do was write it in my own writing to receive an instant A. Although I can’t remember much about Julius Caesar or Alexander Graham Bell from those projects. But she had a lot more fun doing them than I would have.

I never got any hidings at home, but did come close one day. She had told me I mustn’t run around in the lounge. One day she was out, and, of course, I ran around, and knocked over a glass rooster. It’s still in the lounge today with its patched up tail feathers. When she got back, she was extremely angry, and I remember it vividly, because I never ever saw her that angry. She chased me round the room with a stokie, but never managed to catch me. I’d never thought until a few days ago to ask what significance it had, but Jenni told me today that it probably came from her parents, and this would have been shortly after my grandmother died, so would have had strong sentimental value.

She had a friend, Lorna who lived across the road, and used to come visit most days after work. I used to eavesdrop on their conversations, which were especially interesting when my dad was away – he used to work night shift. Lorna was a strong, loud woman and even when she was whispering I could easily hear from my room. Lorna and my mom are probably responsible for me learning Afrikaans, because whenever they were really trying to keep something from me, they would switch to Afrikaans, but I quickly figured out what they were saying.

When I told Lorna’s son Craig about my mom, he wrote back saying that he remembered her generosity and how she always used to treat him as if he was one of her own. It’s not easy to realise at the time, but his words made me understand how widely her generosity spread – not just to me, or family – many of whom she helped look after, and in turn looked after their children, but to everyone she came into contact with. Even now, people regularly come to the door and she always gave food to anyone who asked.

Her dad, my grandfather, came to stay with us for a while, and he passed away at the house. He was in a lot of pain when he died, and I remember not getting much sleep for a quite a few nights. The night he died I was awake, and heard him die, and my only thought was “thank goodness, now I can go back to sleep”. The next morning my mom came in to tell me that he’d died, which I already knew, and also, trying to comfort me, said that he was in heaven now. I started crying. My mom thought I was crying because he’d died, but I used to have some strange beliefs about heaven and hell and I remember thinking that “no, he wasn’t the kind of person who goes to heaven” and I was crying about that.

A few days ago someone was remembering my mom’s kindness, and jokingly said that she was definitely in heaven. Even my judgemental twelve-year old self would have agreed!

She always supported me unconditionally, even when she didn’t agree with what I was doing. I remember when I wanted to study again – I’d studied IT, and then I wanted to go study English and Philosophy. My father was very against it, and thought I should go out and get a job, and I’m sure she did too, but she supported me. The Gilfillan’s are famously stubborn, but the Dawes’ (my mother’s maiden name) stubborness is even greater. She eventually got her way and I went to UCT to study again.

When I came back from overseas, I proudly brought back a coat. It was a bright, multi-coloured coat/poncho that I loved, and everybody else hated. I remember wanting to go somewhere with my cousin Janet, and she refused to be seen with me in the coat, insisting I leave it at home. Jenni told me recently how much my mother hated it, but she never said as much to me. She did however start to give me clothes vouchers for birthdays and Christmases. She was always good at getting her way in a non-confrontational, indirect way.

She hardly ever drank alcohol, but Christmas’s were an exception, and I remember one Christmas at the house, John and Lindsay suggested Fuzzy Duck as a game. If you don’t know the game, it involves saying “Fuzzy Duck” and “Ducky Fuzz” around in a circle, and changing direction unexpectedly. The main point of the game is that it’s easy to mix up the beginnings and the ends of the words, instead of saying f-u-z-z, you would say f-u-c-k, for example, and one time my mother got it wrong. I think she was the first to do so, so didn’t realise the point of the game, but she burst out laughing hysterically at her uncharacteristic language. I remember being happy that she was enjoying herself so much.

My mom’s 80th birthday in 2011

Everybody always comes back to her kindness. In my rebellious teenage years I remember having the thought once that if I ever had a child I would never let my mother look after them, but, when her grandson Dorje was born, I was very happy to have her helping look after him. They both loved their time together, and it was only a short while before she died that she cancelled his weekly visit. It must have been extremely hard for her to do, and then I think everybody realised how serious it was.

It’s only as I’ve got older have I understood what a rare blessing it is to have had a mother and been close to one so loving, so supportive, and so kind. She’s left me, and so many others, with a host of wonderful gifts for which I can never express enough gratitude.

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