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Today is Shirley Denise Kilpatrick’s 69th birthday.
It should have been anyway. Just two weeks and two days after her 67th birthday, a happy event surrounded by family, she died. It was melanoma, which went undiscovered until it had reached Stage 4. Reached her brain. We couldn’t be there when she died. We didn’t know the end was so close when we flew to Guadeloupe. Dad only called to say when we had arrived that the doctors didn’t think she’d hang on until I got home. She asked us to stay, and tell her everything.
The last thing she managed to say to me was that she just wanted to listen to me tell her about my day and that she loved me.
We’re so glad that we got that birthday with her at least, and we saw her a few days later. She was tired but always smiling. We were hopeful about a new treatment path…
I so wanted to write properly about her, who she was, what our relationship was, to share today. Between settling into a new job and learning to dive, I just haven’t had time.
Instead, I’ll share the words I read at her graveside when we buried her in Hundy Mundy.
It’s a natural burial ground not far from our beloved Eildon Hills, a landscape that is unequivocally home for me. I have those same hills tattoed in a chain around my wrist in her memory. I had chosen silk clothes for her in her favourite natural shades and tied a bouquet of lavender from the garden with her sewing thread. She had told me songs that she wanted. As her husband and children lowered her to her rest and the sun found its way through the cloud, Leonard Cohen’s Anthem played.
There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
These are the words I chose to say goodbye.
The last present you gave me was travel, and the sea. I had just arrived at the other side of an ocean when you found out you wouldn’t be with us for long, but you urged me to stay put, to tell you all about my adventures, enjoy myself. You knew that if it hadn’t been for you I probably wouldn’t have been travelling in a part of the world you introduced me to.
I am so grateful for technology, because it allowed me to travel but still to be with you, to help you visit in your mind a place you had wanted to see, to speak to you or see you every day, and to talk to dad when he needed to talk. To tell you the things I needed to say. For me to clearly see you tell me you loved me for the last time.
Two days after you died I set sail for a week. You never did much sailing, and I wish we had sailed together. It allows so much time to sit and think, with no distraction other than the swell and the flying fish.
It made me realise that to me, you were so much like the sea, ebbing and flowing. You were mysterious, and had secrets that you will always keep. You were sometimes calming, peaceful, a welcome home. You were sometimes a tempest – wild, dark, unpredictable.
Your tides changed at different times in your life. I wasn’t there for all of it, but I have 37 years of your depths to draw on.
In my early childhood you were a beautiful mystery. Glamorous. Sparkling. All eyes were on you and, quite often, me with you, because you dressed me up so prettily. You were always making beautiful clothes for us to wear. We built habits and connections when I was young that persisted, like our love of treats and conspiring to buy special things. On long car journeys you would always reach your arm backwards behind the front passenger of the seat to take my hand, and you never stopped doing it on longer drives.
For a time, your tide turned and you were washed away from me, and from all of us really. And then we moved to Scotland.
What followed was a phase of industriousness. You were brimming with a sense of abundance, like rich waters. Although you always made and did much, this time stands out to me as a particularly productive time. You were distant from me but that was because you were always so busy – making things – clothes, knitting, jewellery, making dolls house furniture, spinning, gardening, doing cross stitch, baking, or painting; doing jigsaws, reading or playing games; studying for your MSC, or working for the business.
Then we voyaged together. Travelling as a pair, exploring, learning. You made packed itineraries so no treasure of our destination would be missed, even in Detroit. This was no small achievement in the early days of the Internet. I didn’t know it then, but you were nurturing in me a love of travel (and realistically, of shopping too).
We drifted apart as I got towards my later teens. You were focused on your fitness by this point, and I was focused on being a teenager, and then on Colin. You weren’t a stereotypical mum and I struggled with that – both with following in your beautiful, creative footsteps when I was so awkward by comparison, and partly because we were learning about the parts of our personalities that didn’t work together. I wanted more attention from you, and less at the same time, and my temper and patience was an issue. I put some distance in place, and that stayed well into my 20s.
We came back together in your later years, especially the last few months. The wild tempest had become a peaceful lagoon. We still travelled together on trips to Spain and to Jersey, and to Marrakech with Colin and Dad. Your kindness and charitable nature became your defining qualities. You were still driven, but often towards doing things for others. That and making sure you had every flavour of bath salt and that they were used in a perfectly ordered manner, and sticking rigidly to your colouring routine.
You have left me with little of your magical creativity, but much of your organised brain. You taught me not only to plan amazing travel experiences meticulously, but also to enjoy them and record them. You introduced me to yoga, which is so important to me now. We shared a love of little treats and pampering – do you remember how we used to sit on the floor in the living room carefully brushing each other’s hair? My love of fashion and makeup came entirely from having your amazing self-made wardrobe as an influence. I must have tried every hobby you had, but mostly I was happy to help you – sorting through new bags of beads, preparing wool for you to spin, pouring hot water on jiffy pellets to plant seeds in, or hunting down Beanie Babies (which you meticulously catalogued). You loved animals so much, especially cats, which is a love I share, though I note with relief that I don’t share your collecting tendencies so have not also ended up with goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs, chinchillas, hamsters and fish to take care of! I will never, ever, be able to eat avocado, prawns or baklava without thinking of you. I have been told that my feet are a carbon copy of yours.
However our relationship changed over the years, you never ever ended a visit or chat without telling me you loved me. I grew to so treasure your bright smile and giggle, given so willingly as we got to know each other better, alongside your eyes, which were quite rightly the blue grey of a stormy sea.
I said this to you already, over that sea, and I’ll say it now again. Thank you for being my mummy. I love you.