Tonight, my little baby boy (who is actually a rambunctious toddler, but still my baby!) Rhys is struggling to go to sleep. He is engaged in the extremely challenging task of pushing a rather large molar through his tender little gums. Trying to get him to settle in his cot, I am tired from an emotionally draining day in the office, an hour each way of cycling to work and home again, and not quite enough sleep last night. I just want him to go to sleep, so I can steep my aching muscles in a deliciously hot bath, and switch off the world for a while. But I push my selfish impatience aside and tap into my mother’s endless empathy with those more vulnerable than herself – the young, and the marginalised. I pick him up, cuddle him close, and feel him snuggle into my neck. I know I am his greatest comfort, and this is not a burden – it is a privilege. I sing ‘Hush Little Baby’ to calm him down, then slip into a song my mother sang me many, many a time: Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’. Dirk told me while we were in Scotland that he and Tessa used to substitute the final words of the line ‘Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm’ with ‘a grey ocean storm’ – very appropriate both due to my mother’s silver grey hair, and her love of the ocean.
This song now holds many aspects of my mother for me – my very early memories of being sung to sleep by her comfort; my teenage years, when I grew so close to her again, and she patiently re-taught me the words; my twenties, when she (the best grandmother in the world) would sing to my own children; and now, finally, her death: when I listened to this song with Dirk in Scotland and we held each other and wept; and then with my siblings in South Africa, and wept again. There are countless things holding memories of my mother for me, and I am glad that so many of them are as beautiful as she was.