Life and Death: A Tribute to My Mother

Death brings into question all of your life. My dreams, my goals, my aspirations, seem so small when I remember what my mother was whispering about on her death bed. 

I've always felt that my task on this earth is to try to do good; to try to be kind; to try to make the world a better place.

God knows I've failed,  spectacularly at times. I have a temper, and I "shoot from the hip", and I have a devil-may-care attitude that upsets people. I seem stand-offish and arrogant to those who don't know how deeply shy I am. But, yes, I must admit, my ability to dance to the beat of a different drum has kept me alive, literally, in the past, and probably will continue to offend people in the future.

I first met my mother after I stubbornly refused to turn from breech and the obstetrician recognized that because of a short cord, a normal delivery would be dangerous for me. My mother had a cesarean, which back in those days meant a serious incision - no pretending that cesarean section wasn't major surgery back in the fifties. It gave you a scar to remember! 

Two years later, she gave birth to my sister, and then another sister after that. Back in Uganda at that time repeat cesareans were NOT the order of the day, so my two sisters were born naturally.

My mother was a very sociable person. She was intensely creative and loved to see the world. She loved a party. She loved to talk to people. Her deafness was a real challenge to her, as she was a great and witty conversationalist. Two days before she died, my sisters both happened to be wearing pyjamas with polka dots on them. We were at her side constantly for the last five days of her life. That morning, she brightened up, looked at my sisters (both in their fifties and a little tired after having been up for three days) and said: "I could spot you girls a mile off!".

She wins the end-of-life, in deep pain, absolute pun prize.

She was always excited about my projects, no matter how zany they were. 

She was brave. She left England in 1952 with my father to go to Uganda where she taught mathematics at Makerere University. In 1959 they decided to move to Calgary where she lived a very different life and was appalled by the backwardness and provincialism of the people there.

In her late thirties, with three daughters, one of whom was spinning out of control (yours truly), she decided to move from mathematics into art and she decided to take art classes. She worked very hard and created some absolutely beautiful works. She became an artist during this time, and continued to paint, draw and create up until very recently.

These are some works she did during and just after my father died. 

Never to stay still for longer than a few years, my parents moved to Botswana in the late seventies where my mother created a silkscreen workshop that is still thriving, at a village museum:

My mother loved the desert. They would get in the truck and drive on to the pans and sleep under the stars. She loved the light.

My mother loved dressing up. She would mix colors magnificently, and she always made sure her hair was done. She loved jewelry, and perfume, and high-heeled shoes. She loved going out with me to buy a pretty dress.

She loved a party. She was always ready to celebrate! On her 80th birthday, she was with us in Italy and we drove to our favorite picnic spot: 

It is a spot by the side of the road where we stop and eat supper and watch the sun go down into the sea. We didn't have a fancy picnic basket - just the usual - home made bread, tins of tuna, mozzarella, capers, beer, ... and then we stuck a lighter into a plastic plate of cookies and sang Happy Birthday.
After the sun went down we drove to the nearby town, walked on the boardwalk, and had a coffee. A perfect party!

She loved to knit and sew. With three daughters, she always had us dressed in matching dresses, at least until her oldest decided to wear only jeans, hiking boots and a small T-shirt.

She was a very skilled textile artist: This is the front of a sweater she knitted for me from a silk/cotton mix.

She loved music. She loved art. She was always enthusiastic about going to the Musee des Beaux Arts when she visited Montreal.

She loved to get presents. 

She loved Italy. I moved there in 1985 and she visited whenever she could, which wasn't often in the beginning as she was living in Botswana. But a few years later, my parents bought a medieval tower in the middle of Umbria. It was, simply, a tower. No electricity, bathroom, kitchen, or much of anything. It had water. And it was in the middle of an Italian village.

They didn't live there, because they were still enjoying the Kalahari. So we moved in: two adults, two young children and pretty soon two more babies on the way. I don't know many kids who lived in a medieval tower for some of their childhood, but mine did - I suppose I must have inherited some of my mother's sense of adventure! 

Just over a year ago, after my father died, my mother found out she was ill. She decided to forgo exploration and treatment and instead booked herself on an art tour to Italy: 

This year, my mother spent the winter vacation with us, and she partied with her six grandsons well into the night on New Year's, 2014.


In loving memory of my mother who died on March 17, 2014. 


  1. What a beautiful post for your mother. I'm sorry for your loss, Rivka.

  2. Lovely to read more about Marian, and fill in some of the gaps. Even though we haven't seen her for 12 years, we still miss that she has gone. Thank you for your memories.

  3. Tears and cheers! What a wonderful life and legacy Rivka. May her memory always be a source of strength to you and your sisters. So lucky to have had such an adventure surrounded by love.


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