These are photographs of my Mum and I, taken around 5 years before she died.
Cancer, if you're wondering.
Mum was a teacher, a chaplain, a gifted writer, and a bibliophile. Though she died when I was very young, her influence on me is evidenced in my appreciation for literature and all of my less-feeble-than-usual attempts at writing.
It's funny. Whenever I think I have discovered some new literary interest (like I did in 1999 with poetry) I inevitably find that what I have actually discovered are flowers born of seeds that were planted by her in my younger years.
One of my favourite poems, On Receipt Of My Mother's Picture, was penned by William Cowper in 1798. Like me, Cowper's mother died when he was young, and like me, he had trouble coming to terms with the fact.
He was particularly moved upon receiving a portrait of his mother some time after her death. Beholding her face, he wrote the poem as if addressing her.
"Oh that those lips had language! Life has pass'd
With me but roughly since I heard thee last."
I read it quite often, and each time I do I find the child-like yearning of his voice akin to my own.
In the wake of my Mum's death, I remember going to sleep each night and waking each morning, for what seemed like years, expecting to find that it all (disease, decline, death, burial) was really some kind of ruse. I imagined that everyone, my Dad, our family, our pastor, our church, were all in on it, and now that the joke had played-out, all would return to normal.
I reasoned it out...
"Yes, it's not like them to do something like this, and yes, it is an unusually cruel thing to do to an eight year old, but, honestly, I won't mind, everyone! I won't be mad! All will be forgiven. Forgiven at once!"
I knew from experience that any measure of cruelty that could be dished out by those around me could be cured, almost instantly, by my Mum's embrace. That's all it would take. One long-searched-for hug.
She had this way of rubbing my back.
It never came to be. But the memory of those imaginings is fresh.
Thus I find these lines of Cowper's poem particularly moving:
"Thy maidens griev'd themselves at my concern,
Oft gave me promise of a quick return.
What ardently I wish'd, I long believ'd,
And, disappointed still, was still deceiv'd;
By disappointment every day beguil'd,
Dupe of to-morrow even from a child."
If you're the Mummy or Daddy of little ones, here's the advice of a broken-hearted eight year old boy, now thirty-five:
Today, at the very next opportunity, give your child a hug, rub their back, speak words of lovingkindness, and do it all with such genuine affection that, like me, thirty years hence their filial joy will ignite with every remembrance of it, however vague.
If you're interested, you can read On Receipt Of My Mother's Picture in full.