This was the sunrise on the day after my mother died. She died on the 23rd April 2018, two days before her birthday and the day before the anniversary of my father’s death.
All who knew her were struck by the courage she showed in her last two years, after her diagnosis with advanced cancer, and by the fact that she never complained, not even during the two six-month courses of chemotherapy that she underwent.
She lived alone and independently in a detached unit at a retirement centre until the last three weeks of her life, when my husband and I went to stay with her to take care for her. We were so privileged to be able to do this. A friend kindly looked after our home and animals while we were away.
Even during the last weeks of her life, unable to eat without vomiting because of pressure from the build-up of abdominal fluid, and frustrated as her energy was sapped, she remained defiant. On Palm Sunday, only four weeks before her death, she participated in a recital given by the choir she had retired from leading in October last year, and gave three short readings in a voice as strong and clear as ever. Her determination was incredible. She showed more concern for others than for herself, for example, expressing more anxiety about my husband’s recent shoulder surgery than her own illness.
At the memorial celebrating her life, many paid tribute to her vibrant personality, feisty yes, but full of fun. After retiring, when my parents moved to the south coast, my mother started a choir at a retirement centre, devising entertaining shows over a period of 25 years that were popular with a wide audience, and she encouraged members to have fun, be professional, and realise their full potential.
She was reluctant to let go of life. She was the first to say, even in the face of her illness, that compared to many she was very fortunate and she had been lucky to lead such an interesting life. She had trained at drama school in England in her youth, and after moving to South Africa, taught speech and drama for many years as well as performing in or directing many amateur theatre productions until her retirement. She also worked for the SPCA, where she had begun by working in the kennels for strays and also as inspector, and then became chairperson of the management committee. Thereafter she worked as a volunteer fundraiser for a non-profit organisation for people with physical disabilities, later chairing its management committee. In addition to the theatre, she loved animals and nature, and she and my late father, an entomologist, were never happier than when off camping in the bush.
Another sunrise, photographed by my father back in the winter of 1974, when he and my mother went on an adventurous camping trip with a group of friends through parts of Botswana. In this photo taken at Shakawe on the banks of the Okavango River, my mother is waiting for the sun to rise enough to thaw the gas that has frozen in the gas cylinder so they can boil the kettle to make tea.
In the end my mother had to let go of life. My sister, my husband and I were with her when she looked directly at us and waved her hand in farewell as she mouthed ‘bye’ just before her consciousness started receding. It was hard to watch her go. We miss her now.
But she has been released from the cancer that she endured so resolutely. She had a long and rewarding life. She valued the kindness of friends and of strangers in her last years, including the care and compassion from the people at the local hospice who supported us all immeasurably.
Below is the text of a handwritten note that we found in my mother’s notebook that she kept next to her chair. It truly is something she lived by.
You are not responsible for everything that happens to you, but you are in charge of how you react to what life brings.
In ill health you can become a constant complainer, or you can endure with courage, and concentrate on what strength you still have and not on what you have lost.
I was not able to participate in the blogosphere in the last weeks of my mother’s life and in the fortnight following her death. I hope to resume posting regularly and reconnecting with other bloggers in the coming days.
Posted by Carol