My mother is a bit odd. Sharp enough to run a small multinational or the UN (if she wanted to), but in keeping with her times, she spent her life dreaming of white wedding, a lovely husband and happily ever after.
Then dad left.
Not one to admit defeat, she set about raising me alone, the best way she new how. With honesty. Mutual respect. Pick ‘n Pay box wine and a carton of B&H special mild. And a large wooden spoon.
The result of this particular mother daughter saga will, one day, be the inspiration for a bestselling trashy novel – no doubt . At the very least it’ll pay for the retirement of a psychoanalyst. But Flutter’s comment about writing a will made me think about one of the strangest aspects of my mother’s struggle to parent the subject of death.
Mum and I were all alone. Dad had buggered off. Her parents were far too horrified at the thought of a divorcee daughter to be of much help. And Dad’s mum was too squiffy on scotch to do much more than cry into her silk hankie and say ‘oh, Darling’. So mum stressed about dying.
What would I think if she just disappeared one day? Who would take care of me? How would I get to school? Would I have enough clean knickers?
So she took it upon herself to prepare me for her demise. She still does.
When I was very little, she sat me down. Told me about death. Said that if she died, she still loved me and that I should know she would always be looking out for me. Always watching me. Which freaked me out, even then. She warned me that there might be a day when she didn’t pick me up from school. That if she didn’t come, that I should find a teacher and ask them to call someone. In retrospect, it’s quite heart warming. Quite sad. But then, apparently, I asked her not to die on Thursdays. Maia the Bee was on TV on Thursdays, so her dying would be quite inconvenient.
Incidentally, I can still sing the whole theme tune to Maia the Bee. But that’s another blog.
Anyway, a couple of years later, me in my early teens, and mum recruited other mothers in the ‘prepare your children for death’ brigade. They would get drunk, sit down at the piano, and plan their funerals. Mostly the hymns. I’m not joking. Mum would be responsible for the note taking (she still has these lists, in a file on her PC). The mates were responsible for piano playing and back up singing. ‘Bread of Heaven’, ‘Breathe on me, breath of God’, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’; these are the hymns that I think of, when I think of death. Of course, these weren’t sombre occasions. These women got pissed. And danced on the dining room table. And laughed until they cried. Generally, apart from missing Maia, death didn’t seem too bad.
Then, my grandfather died. Mum was left with the job of scattering his ashes. This she did from the NSRI boat off the point at Plett, where my grandfather had spent many happy hours fishing for Elf and Leervis. And getting pissed with the gillies, let’s be honest. A gust of wind blew most of grandpa back on to mum, so she’s added ‘cannibalism’ to her list of ‘things to avoid when I die’.
And as I got older, mum got odder. I moved away. Lived in other countries. And frequently, mum would send me her will.
‘Just popping down to KZN, darling. Attached the will. Love you.’
‘Got Aunty S’s 40th this weekend, poppet. Attached the will. Love you.’
‘Going to see my mother for a weekend, little chicklet. Attached the will. Love you.’
Invariably, after I’d wondered about the message, I’d read the will. The hymn list was there. A careful division of knickknacks amongst her eight godchildren and my various friends. A request that I empty her drawers before her mother gets there (which makes me laugh. We’re more alike than we think). Another to be burnt with her bunny cushion. Seriously. And a very stern caveat that while she’s happy to be donated for organs, she doesn’t want to be donated to medical science; ‘I know what those medical students do to cadavers!’
Well, I suppose, at least I know. Even though, secretly, I get panicky, sick at the thought of her going, I know in true Virgo style, she will have organised the details of her death, down to the last thundering, baroque note of the church organ.
But the kicker came recently, when I bought a house; with her help. Over a celebatory glass of wine she whipped out a piece of paper. My very own will. Written and ready for signature.
‘Don’t look at me like that, Darling. If something happens to you, I don’t want your father to get the house.’