A book that shows how unique and irreplaceable mothers are

Diagnosed with terminal cancer, young mother Lisa Wells wrote a book that is funny, tender – and entirely without sentimentality

I ended a previous blog discussing The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es, by quoting a letter written in 1942 by the mother of the young Dutch Jewish girl, Lien de Jong, as she was forced to surrender her only child into the hands of strangers in order to save her life from the Nazis during the Occupation of Holland. It struck me as soulful and self-giving, written while her heart must have been breaking. Neither she nor her daughter knew then that they would never see each other again, though Lien’s mother would have had grave intimations of the impending tragedy of the Dutch Jews.

Another book on the theme of maternal generosity and love, though written under very different circumstances, has recently come to my attention: Only One of Me: A Love Letter from Mum, by Lisa Wells in collaboration with the children’s author, Michelle Robinson (Graffeg £12.99). Diagnosed with terminal bowel and liver cancer in December 2017, Wells has written this simple rhyming book/poem to her two young daughters.

With its truthful yet haunting refrain, “There’s only one mum quite like me”, it is funny, tender, robust and entirely without sentimentality. Wells describes to her daughters all the good experiences she hopes they will have in the future when she is no longer with them, and asks her husband, wider family and friends to support them with her simple request: “Help my children learn to live if one day I should die.”

The book, with its humorous and sensitive illustrations by Catalina Echeverri, does not indicate religious belief. But Wells understands the healing, nurturing power of good memories, writing that her loving spirit will remain with her daughters: “They say that time will help you heal/ I say, I’ll help you too./ It’s me who’ll be behind the crowd/ of people helping you.”

Having been granted the immeasurable blessing of watching my own children grow up, I could not read this book without tears. I thought of a late and dear friend who died of breast cancer when her three sons were nine, twelve and fifteen; how she carefully prepared them and her husband for when she would no longer be with them, being truthful about her diagnosis, building a visual library of happy memories and family photographs; and by making an extraordinary situation seem normal, by letting her boys kick her wig around the room like a football after her hair fell out.

This book and the earlier one which prompted my thoughts, remind us how unique and irreplaceable mothers are. We need to be reminded of this today when the concept of motherhood has often been devalued by destructive forces, such as radical feminism and Third World surrogacy.

And as a Christian I am also reminded of the delightful old French proverb about Our Lady: “God loved mothers so much that He wanted one too…”