Elsibe Loubser McGuffog’s mother, Suzanne, first became ill in the 1980s, when Elsibe was in high school. The diagnosis was breast cancer. The cancer spread to her bones. When Elsibe was 23, her mother died at home, after spending long periods at Groote Schuur Hospital and at the Hospice. She was just 63.
Because Elsibe was away from home, studying at Stellenbosch, her mother would write to her often.
As Elsibe says: “Her letters always had studying or career advice, along with news, and then a few lines in which she would share her emotions or ask for a visit. It’s very painful to read those letters because it’s clear how much she had to carry and how bravely she did that.”
This is Elsibe’s tribute:
After your death, I looked for other women to replace you. And because you had suffered so, I chose women who were strong, women who refused to suffer, ambitious women who could not say the word ‘sorry’. Unrepentant women.
But loving them did not bring you back, mommy.
It did bring back this memory: jealousy is never the cure.
Even though jealousy is survival and has its place.
Even though jealousy is territorial.
What else is it? Please tell me mommy. I need to run from it.
You were never territorial, never jealous, not of my time or my skills or my company or my possessions. You tried in your last weeks to enter my heart playfully; you must have seen the pain.
In the letter you wrote to me, you wrote about the beautiful young doctor. And between the lines I wondered whether you were asking me how one should flirt, not with the doctor but with life. The other doctor was called Doctor Dracula, because he took your blood.
One would think it misplaced, at a time like that, a time of death. But in your way you were saying – life is fleeting. Don’t expect anyone to stick around though.
Somewhere in a ward you thought of sending me a letter and a newspaper clipping so that I could secure a job. And between the lines there was beauty. There was beauty and a plea.
And then you came home and lay in that cool crying bed and slipped away like a gecko around the corner of the house and over a rock and into the shrubbery. Geckos have no homes except in the inner sanctuary of other people.
You were always full of the vigour of life, so fine almost fragile, at home everywhere and nowhere, so sensitive you could have lost your tail at the slightest criticism, sticking to the roof of my memory, as words slip off my tongue and down the walls of our shared genetic pool. Oh mommy, how do I make words stick?