So Long, and Thanks for All the Books

I undoubtedly fell in love with books when my mother read them to me in those few years before I could do it for myself but my first actual memory of the happiness brought on by the presence of books is an early visit to our local library. I learned later that the place was one of refuge for my mother but even though I didn’t fully grasp it then (I had not long turned four so can hopefully be forgiven for not being attuned to the psychological nuances of the event) I must have sensed enough of her reverence for the place and its contents that I was uncharacteristically well-behaved; sitting quietly in the small children’s section of the room until it was time to leave. Whereupon I was presented with my very own book-carrying bag to carry home the two books I had been allowed to select (it is the presentation of the bag I actually remember, my good behaviour became oft-repeated family folklore due to its rarity). And so began the ritual of my mother and I walking to the library together just about every Saturday morning until that branch closed a decade or so later.  Our respective love for books continued unabated but we tended to go separately to the library after that (me on my way home from school, mum squeezing in visits between her various charitable works of the day) but those Saturday mornings remain, collectively, one of my fondest and strongest memories of childhood.

For the past two years my mum’s brain injury induced dementia has meant she was with us only in a physical sense and I think I began my grieving for her when we learned that her sudden and almost complete loss of mental acuity was irreversible. Her death last week, at the age of 87, came then as an awkward kind of relief. It allowed me, quite suddenly, to stop feeling sad and angry at the ignominious way she had to live the last years of her life and instead start remembering the good times. Like those Saturday morning trips to the library. And so much more.

In a pre-internet age my mum believed inherently that the answer to all life’s myriad questions were to be found within the pages of a book but she particularly loved the escape and possibilities offered by great written stories and it was those we used to talk about most, even after we stopped visiting the library together. There are many, many things I will be forever grateful to my mum for teaching me but here is the place to acknowledge my gratitude for her passing on her deep love of reading. Thanks for the countless hours of joy mum. I’ll remember you always, but especially during my visits to the library which have, since I moved to this house three years ago, almost always taken place on Saturday mornings.


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24 Responses to So Long, and Thanks for All the Books

  1. A beautiful tribute, Bernadette. I am sorry for your loss, but glad it has freed you up to remember the good times. I hope those memories bring comfort.


  2. Sarah says:

    A lovely post. My mother, not a great reader herself, introduced me to libraries. I’ve been forever grateful. She died suddenly in 2008. I was spared the long illness you had with your mum but lots of things were left unsaid. Dedicating my first book to her was a way of saying thank you for introducing me to libraries. I often mention her when I do my own library talks.

    I’m sure lots of more lovely memories will come back soon. Take care of yourself.


  3. amandacurtin says:

    What a beautiful gift from your mother, the love of books and the belief that they matter. Sorry for your loss, Bernadette.


  4. I’m very sorry to hear about your mother’s death, Bernadette. I share with you a love of books that was thanks to my mother’s tireless reading when I was too young to read myself and I know what a great gift it is. Richard.


  5. Marianne Wheelaghan says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Bernadette. It is awful to lose someone you love at any time but especially a parent. That it was such a long, protracted, horrible passing away, must have been especially tough for you and your family. Having experienced something similar, I empathise with your sense of relief that her particular hell on earth was over, and am glad you have such lovely memories of her to help sustain you.


  6. Margot Kinberg says:

    What a lovely tribute, Bernadette. I am sorry that you and she had to deal with her dementia, and of course, I am very sorry for your loss. But I am glad you have lovely memories. And the gift of books and reading that she gave you will always be there for you.


  7. Jennifer says:

    So sorry for your loss, Bernadette. May your memories give you joy and peace. A lovely to tribute to your Mum.


  8. Kay says:

    This was a lovely piece honoring your mother! I’m so sorry for her loss. It’s tough losing your mother. Mine has been gone for 5 years, but she was gone before that because of dementia. Like you, I will be forever grateful to her because she brought books into my life. While not being an avid reader herself, she taught me to read long before I went to school. And that opened up endless vistas. Here’s to mothers who share books with their children!


  9. I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s death. I know that awkward sense of relief though as well as the sense of loss. My mother took me to the library every Saturday morning too – she loved reading, so it’s thanks to her and my Dad who encouraged me to read and gave me such happy memories.


  10. icewineanne says:

    Such a beautiful tribute. My father passed away at 87 as well from Alzheimer’s so I understand the feeling of relief at the end. Happy memories will help you through.


  11. Patti Abbott says:

    Such lovely sentiments. And I know just what you mean when you say the sorrow of the dying process iis harder to take than the eventual death. No one want their dear mother to be what disease has made of her. Take care.


  12. suzigun says:

    Sorry for your loss, but pleased to hear that you’re able to draw on some happy memories.


  13. Rebecca says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss. Grief is a weird and surprising thing sometimes. I loved this story.All the best.


  14. Anonymous says:

    So sorry for your loss Bernadette, you have all my sympathy. This was a beautiful tribute to her.


  15. tracybham says:

    Rebecca is right, reactions to loss can be surprising. I am glad that you have these memories of your mother but sorry that both you and she had to go through all that pain.


  16. Deborah says:

    So sorry for your loss. Your piece is beautiful and a lovely tribute!


  17. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: Thoughts of my mother gone since 1981 are never far from my mind. I am glad you loved your mother and she loved you. A shared love of books is a special remembrance. You will always be able to look at a library and think fondly of your Mum. I wish I had known her. Best wishes.


  18. kathy d. says:

    Bernadette, very sorry about the loss of your mother. It i very hard to lose a parent, someone whom one has known all her/his life, and grieving is a difficult process.
    It’s so wonderful that your mother had a passion for books and transmitted this to you.
    That is a gift you can carry with you for years to come, and fondly think of her while reading.
    My mother died 3 years ago at 95 and she had dementia and was living in assisted living.
    So, I know how hard that is to deal with.
    Treasuring the good memories and carrying them forward is what we all try to do.


  19. Sue says:

    Dear Bernadette

    Thanks for posting this. How wonderful that your mum played such an important part in your love of reading: the greatest gift of all.

    To love reading is to have a treasure and solace beyond compare. I know you listen to audio books and, can I say, that if one can’t sleep audio books are just the best way of switching off.


  20. Keishon says:

    My condolences to you Bernadette. This was a wonderful, emotional tribute to your mother. May the memories of her love for you and her love for reading continue to inspire and comfort you.


  21. Norman Price says:

    Bernadette, I am so sorry for your loss. Your post was a very moving tribute to your mother and brought back memories.
    My own mother died nearly twenty years ago at the age of 88. I was a late reader and my nursery school teachers were worried. But the reason was simply because my mother read me stories so beautifully that I was a bit lazy to bother to read myself.
    She seldom bought books, her generation did not have spare funds, but always had a huge piles scattered around which she had collected from the library.

    By the way part of your excellent review of The Hummingbird is blurbed in the paperback version of The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto.


  22. Nan says:

    I’m so sorry. I understood exactly how you feel. In my head, my mother died the day the doctor said she was going to. And it wasn’t until she did die (a month later) that I could begin to remember life before her illness. When someone is sick you are completely consumed with the pain and sadness every day. I love your library memories. So wonderful.


  23. MarinaSofia says:

    So sorry to hear about your loss, Bernadette – and even sorrier for responding so late to it. This is a beautiful tribute to the things that united you.


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