[Personal]: A different kind of anniversary

8 June 2017: Today would have been my mother’s forty-seventh birthday.

In recent years, I’ve thought a lot about what my life would be like if she were still alive. How would my matric year have been: would I have picked a different matric dance dress, made different choices with university applications, or had better experiences with boys?

When I got to university, what advice would she have given me about surviving first year? When I turned 21, would she have shared stories with me about her own 21st birthday? About how she came to be married with a child at that young age?

When I was struggling to get through 2012, what would she have said and done to encourage me to keep going? (Would I have slipped into that depression in the first place?)

When I finally graduated, how proud would she have been? (All mothers are proud, but I would have like to bask in her special kind of I’m-so-proud-of-you.)

I was 15 when she died. It was a car accident. I still don’t know what exactly happened, or the extent of her injuries, except for one thing that was accidentally divulged by the daughter of a family friend: “brain dead”. I thought that was something that only happened in the movies.

In the years immediately after my mother died, I kept replaying the last things we had said to each other. She had been trying on outfits, getting ready for the trip. She walked into the sitting room, smiling, showing off the clothes. It was a fun moment. There was happiness there. 

After replaying that scene until the details faded, I began to worry about what else I was forgetting about her. I didn’t want to forget what she looked like or sounded like. I didn’t want to forget the things she did for us, the things she used to say to us. I didn’t want to forget her.
(It occurs to me that no one can forget her as long as they know me. I am of her; if she hadn’t been here, I wouldn’t be either.)

I wish I had got to know my mother better. At 15, I was just beginning to walk that path that would lead me to knowing myself better, and also coming to know my parents as full human beings. There’s so much I could have looked forward to learning from and about her. Now, all I can do is speculate. I can try to extrapolate about our relationship at this stage of my life based on the 15 years we had together (my memories of which are really only clear from the age of about six).

Would we laugh about all the naughty things I did, the ones that forced her to play strict disciplinarian and actually give me a hiding? Would we talk about her hopes, dreams and ambitions? Would we have reached that idealised staged of being “best friends”?
This has been how I have tried to process my feelings about my mother over these past ten years: through questions that will find no real answers.

It is so strange that I can still be alive when the person who gave birth to me is not. That connection that a mother and a child share seems so fragile and essential that it’s as if it should break if one of them were to do die. (Maybe it works the other way around: parents are devastated when their children die. My grandmother must have gone through the rest of her life with a broken heart after losing her eldest daughter.)

I only feel like I have lost something vitally important when I am alone with my thoughts, or on significant dates. At every other time, I haven’t had the opportunity to feel deprived of a mom, because her sister, uMamncane wami, came into our lives to make sure we (my father included) were okay. She has been the one who has been there for us, who has taken care of us, who has comforted us. She has brought us through this, and continues to do so. (I think it’s safe to say that in this situation, she needs us as much as we need her.) I am deeply grateful for uMamncane. Our lives would be dramatically different without her.
So I am not without a mother in the absolute sense. But I have had to expand my notion of being mothered, and modify my definition of a mother. That has been quite interesting: learning who can be a mother, and finding out what I need from a mother and what I can find within myself. (Still working on that last one.)

I will never stop thinking about my mother. I will always miss her. But I’m glad we had each other for a short while.
Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.