On 1 November 2009 my mother, aged 88, died after a miserable 6 months following radiation to her face and neck. The treatment had caused her face to be badly distorted making eating and drinking well nigh impossible. Up until January 2009 she had been fit in both mind and body except for the skin cancer which had internally invaded her neck. She did not want to have the radiation as she felt she had enjoyed a very good life and but the doctor put so much pressure on her that she finally agreed to do so. “You will be a different person after the radiation” said the doctor. After 10 daily treatments in March and April she certainly was a “different person”. She had to move into the frail care section and refused to be in company because she felt so ugly and made a mess of her meals. Her mind was still perfect and remained so until about a week before she died. She had even been a great source of information and ideas for my book, which is dedicated to both her and my father. Unfortunately she never got to see the finished product.
Like us all she was not perfect but she was an extremely clever woman who, due to a number of circumstances, was unable to achieve her dream of being a doctor. What she did succeed in doing was, with the help of our father of course, to raise 6 children, all girls, and encouraged us all to achieve our dreams and ti use our abilities. I don’t believe that we disappointed her in this. What I do remember is her answers to certain questions which we frequently asked. For some reason these have recently caused me to think about what effect they had had on my life and beliefs so I wrote this letter to her. Maybe it might inspire some of you who read this to look back on your mothers (or another person who affected your development) and even express it in a similar manner. Sharing it with others as I am may not be necessary but the reflection can be most interesting for yourself.
Maybe because you happen to be on my mind at this particular time, the 5th anniversary of your death 2 weeks ago, but I have been mulling over the answers you would give when we asked certain questions or made particular comments. As is often said, hindsight is always 20/20 and that we often only appreciate something when it is no longer there. I am not talking about only you yourself, Mum, but what I learnt from these answers, so here goes:
- Question: Can I go out and play with Ann, Laura etc. Answer: You can but you may not. What I learnt is good grammar and it has stayed with me. I love to proof-read and get quite irritated when I see and hear bad grammar. This also taught me to appreciate English spoken well.
- Question: How old are you? Answer: 95. What I learnt was that a person’s age is their decision to share and it really does not matter as long as we have respect for those who are older than ourselves. (You were 95 for many years! Yet never got the chance to actually reach that great age)
- Question: How do you spell …… (whatever the word). Answer: Look it up in the Dictionary. Oh how I hated that answer because I thought to myself ‘How can I look it up if I do not know how to spell it?’ What I learnt was to make an effort and find things out on my own; to use a Dictionary well and this obviously showed up in my adult life because my precious daughter gave me a wonderful Dictionary as a Christmas gift some years ago.
- Question: What can I do? I am bored. Answer: Read a book. I learnt a deep love for reading, gaining knowledge and being able to occupy myself even when there seemed nothing else to do.
- Question (well not quite): I don’t want to eat any more of this food. Answer: Finish it up, don’t waste food, there are many starving people in the world. I would think to myself, how will finishing my food help the starving? I learnt, compassion and understanding for the poor and hungry. Today, my real passion is for social justice.
- On the other hand there was one question you would ask when I arrived home from school – How was school today? This really irked me as I became a teenager but, when I had the wonderful opportunity to be an exchange student living with an American family for a year, I really missed that question. School and home were 2 separate things. I learnt that you just wanted to have conversation and help me to settle back home before starting my homework. On reflection I truly appreciate it.
So Mum through seemingly unimportant or unrelated questions & answers I learnt a lot about life from you and I shall always be grateful for such enrichment.
Your daughter, Vicky