In memory of Jaynine Richards
11 August 1938 to 6 February 1998
Today my mother would have been 80 years old had she lived. But she died more than 20 years ago.
I nearly lost her when I was nine. She had septic arthritis and nearly died. She ended up spending seven months in hospital and I lived with her parents while we waited to see if she’s recover. Ever since then I was terrified of losing her.
And she was terrified of losing me. I had nearly died at eight months when I contracted haemolytic uremic syndrome. I haemorrhaged internally, burst a hole in my heart, didn’t pass urine for 12 days. My liver shut down too. She saved my life by rushing me to hospital before all of this happened, when she realised my fever was something sinister. She was a nurse. So I was in hospital thanks to her quick thinking when I hemolysed the first time. I was transfused almost immediately. Because I was a baby, I didn’t need a whole bottle of blood (this was 1969 and transfusions used bottles, not bags). Everyone thought I had stabilised, but Mom hid the remaining blood in the back of the ward’s fridge. When I hemolysed again, I could get blood immediately.
I survived partly because of her. But I was left with permanent medical problems. She taught me how to manage my condition when I was a child. So when she was not able to look after me I could look after myself. From the age of seven, when I started the renal diet, she explained to me what I needed to do, what foods were good for me and how to manage the diet. When I was a little older (around eight), she started to explain the medication to me and encourage me to manage that too.
It was a good thing she did. She fell ill the year after and my grandparents had no idea about my medications. I had to explain the types and doses to them. Back in those days (the late 70s) kids like me had to take meds made for adults, which we had to cut by hand into smaller sizes. I took charge of that.
Both Mom and I survived. But not too many years later I was going into kidney failure and once again she was trying to keep me alive, taking me to endless doctor appointments, clinics, path labs. She never gave up. She had a type of relentless optimism that everything would be all right. I often didn’t, but she wouldn’t let me give up. And so I survived again, this time through years of chronic ill health, dialysis and a transplant.
This time there was more to monitor and she was more afraid that she would lose me. But she didn’t. In the end I lost her, unexpectedly one hot February night. She couldn’t breathe and had chest pains. We both thought it was her asthma, but it was her heart. She died before the ambulance could reach us.
She was a passionate, complex person whom I often felt I needed to mediate to the world. She could seem so strong and yet be so vulnerable. She was so easily misunderstood that I wanted to interpret her to others. Show them the person I knew, because I knew her better than anyone. But after she died I kept finding fragment of her life that surprised me. I never knew until after she died that she had a damaged heart from childhood rheumatic fever. Maybe that’s why she grabbed life, fought for it and wouldn’t let it go. Why she always insisted I do what makes me happy, that she wept about cruelty to animals and man’s inhumanity to man.
She knew how to love and she knew how to live. And when it came to the end, she didn’t know how to say goodbye. And nor do I. I dream about her still and in my dreams she is always alive.