My mom died a year ago today. They told me the longing would get easier. And it does. Thankfully no one told me it would get better. Because it bloody well doesn't. I miss her every day. Every single day.
Those last days in the hospital were harrowing but happy. If I think back on the last 24 hours of her life I am grateful for many things. That, as a family, we could share her last meal with her. It was melkkos, brought to the hospital by a dear friend who arrived carrying a huge pot of my mom's favorite milky sweetness and enough spoons and small bowls for the entire extended family. I am grateful that her grandson was christened at her hospital bed. That her favourite nurse was on duty to administer the last morphine. That a kind hospital volunteer came to paint her toes a pretty pale shade of pink, as requested 'for the journey'. And that my father kissed away her last breath. I am most grateful for the latter. We should all be loved to death.
Comfort Me With Butter.
My mother died a few months ago. But we had time to say goodbye. Time for her to tell me where she had put the silver cutlery that she wanted me to have. Time for me to ask her for her brandy butter recipe. We dealt in practicalities because it was too horrific to acknowledge the desperate sadness of knowing that time had finally run out, too heartbroken about the fact that we would never share a meal again, too desolate to speak of a Christmas without her. Too sad for conversation. When the end came I simply told her that I loved her, told her that I would one day name my daughter Lily and my son Sebastiaan. I promised her that I would be strong. I told her that words were unnecessary. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t want them. Because I do. I still have so much I want to tell her; so much I want her to share with me. While I still could, shortly after her death, I would dial her telephone number so that I could listen to her voice message - so that I could hear her voice. I would give anything to hear her voice again.
The other night I boiled some mielies for supper and as I was slathering them in butter, Jacques asked me where he could find my mother’s salt. I broke down in tears for I had used the last of the spicy salt my mom made for us a while ago. Thinking that she would, as always, replenish my stock as soon as she felt better. She never did. And I never did find out what it was that she put into the salt to give it that distinctive taste. A taste that will now elude me forever. The taste given to me by the mother I mourn. That night my tears salted the mielies, the mielies that I drenched in butter in honour of my mother. Because my mom believed that butter made everything better. She comforted me with butter, both as a child and as an adult. And now I need butter in the face of my relentless, all-consuming grief. I eat butter the way Marie taught me to. Cold butter thickly spread on hot toast. Buttery eggs. Marie biscuits held together by softened butter. Sweet potato with melted butter. Hot buttered popcorn. Anchovy butter. Bread and butter pudding. And as I eat the butter I remember. I recall the laughter, the travels, the late night reminiscing in foreign hotel rooms. I remember how we would always hold hands in the cinema, how every phone call ended with a love-you. How she drank cognac from a crystal goblet and tea from a mug. How soft her skin was and how loud her laughter. And as the butter sizzles in the pan, I know, In elke bietjie botter sal ek Mamma onthou. In every bit of butter, I will remember my mom.
(This column first appeared in Taste December 2013.)