On death

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.’

20 thoughts on “On death

  1. clare says:

    Looks like I’m finally going to have to make out a will. All this talk of wills and assets. Your mom might just be right. Although considering how much I still owe them I think the bank might get the house.

  2. petridish says:

    I’ve always been of the opinion that the last party you get to plan is your funeral.
    I want fairy lights and champagne, and I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being buried at night. Who has a party during the day anyway? I like your mom, my friends get all weird and laugh it off when I start talking about death and funerals and wills and last wishes. But dammit, I want to have a cocktail funeral.
    Besides, if people get plastered on your funeral they’d get twice as soppy and thrice as nostalgic as they would on some sunny afternoon with cups of tea and soggy sandwiches.
    Do not go quiet

  3. medusajane says:

    As I pack to leave, I came across a letter I wrote to my son when he was little, just in case I should die before he was old enough to remember me. Fairly sentimental, but quite sweet.

  4. flutter says:

    Hahaha….but still don’t the bunny cushion???

    And if you ask her for her name she’ll say its Mayaaaaaaaaaa
    the one and only little bee call Mayaaaaaaaaa
    Mayaaaa, everyone likes Mayaaaaaaa
    Maya! Maya!!!

    I still remember all the words…. and yet can not always remember my ATM pin code !????

  5. petridish says:

    too true.(the eternal yearning for childhood bliss)

  6. dolce says:

    so you’re a Maya fan too – and I loved Willie and Flip and the ants…happy days man! Maya and Willie Wallie!

    A bunny cushion is a cushion of sorts (smallish) that you sleep with. And take everywhere; planes, holidays, train trips etc….I always used to cringe when mom whipped hers out…but now I have one…and it’s here, in London, with me! *sigh*

  7. dolce says:

    Do not go quite – I love this idea! A cocktail funeral. With feather boas and stuff. I suspect mum has rubbed off on me (as they do)….I do find myself thinking “oooh, that would make a nice funeral song”

  8. flutter says:

    You’re like the cushion family!!!

    Mine are like the tea tankers! We have to ensure there is a good ceylon wherever we go…if not we just carry some with us! Odd but true!

    Happy days indeed!!! Had dinner with some friends last week and were talking about Bennie Bookworm. And we all knew that Afrikaans song too. We all thought Bennie was a girl but is actually a guy! I think the bowtie should have been a clue!

  9. dolce says:

    there’s a family member!

    Hey, apparently you can pick up a will in CNA!

  10. dolce says:

    I hope you kept it.

    Did you hear of that mother in the states who ws dying of cancer so filmed hours and hours and hours of tape for her daughter, including one for every birthday which covered things like boys, her prom, hair and makeup. I cried and cried and cried. It was so beautiful.

    PS good luck with the packing….sheeesh!

  11. petridish says:

    Def Leppard perhaps?
    Love bites?

  12. dolce says:

    My mother takes her own washing up gloves with her when she travels. And her own supply of Rooibos. And enough medical supplies to counter any casualty.

    But the washing up gloves win, hands down!

  13. dolce says:

    Although….not a bad suggestion!

    Nah, more like the Mardi Gras stuff they play at the Haitian funerals….remember that James Bond film which was set in Haiti…fantastic, all that voodoo magic!

  14. flutter says:

    Not you too!!! My Mom was a nurse so there was always a pair of latex or washing up gloves on hand !!! heheheeee

    That reminds me of the obsessive ex who packed his own pillows, bedding, ‘special’ sea salt and “washing up box” with washing up gloves D!!! I often asked him why we bothered going away! On the up side – he packed way more stuff than I did. How many girls can say that!

  15. medusajane says:

    Does anyone remember this? Zoot was this cartoon figure with long skinny legs and a very deep voice.

  16. falcon says:

    I remember that hahahaha… showing our ages?

  17. bluepeter says:

    the cartoon theme tune that sprang to mind: rupert the (nerdy) bear. Anything’e better than that. Gummy bears for example ..

    And D, you’ve been in London for 2 weeks now and already getting morbid? I mean, cool blog, but the death stuff? Where did that come from? (and now I’ve got that stupid FNB ad in my head). But not for long …. the Simp-sons (dah da da da dah da da da dadada daaaah, dadada dah dah dadada dah).

  18. dolce says:

    Strangely enough, Mr. B_P, I was singing that on the train the other night, after a small incident with a couple of pints of the old amber liquid! Those bears were on drugs, man! What was in that gummy berry juice?

    And not morbid really…death in my house is a bit of a laugh. You know, coping mechanisms and all that!

    Nice dah’s, btw….all correct and accounted for! Are you work avoiding by any chance?

  19. shaunbrian says:

    I was touched reading this. It has a lot of truths and small details that I can idebtify with. It reminded me of how my simple actions shape my kids future. And how a wooden spoon can be both good and evil. And how divorce is a battle to the end!

    Poignant describes it, in my opinion.

    As a light aside:

    “Then dad left.
    No Bollocks.”

    And why is everyone planning on dying? I will live for ever, or die trying! (Rather be tie dying)

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