The Myosotis genus of the family Boraginaceae is commonly called the forget-me-not and contains several very common species. It’s a simple plant with small clusters of flowers on long leaved stalks, most famously blue with yellow centres but they also come in white and pink petalled blooms. They’ve been used as decorative plants in various parts of the world for untold years and feature in many stories and tales.
I’m not sure which is the most common variety, probably the true forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides (named for the scorpioid stems) or the wood forget-me-not, M. sylvatica. They’re delicate little flowers on surprisingly hardy perennial plants and are very dear and close to my heart.
The basic premise behind the forget-me-not’s traditional meaning is very simple – memories. Its name speaks for itself and that’s one of the things I adore about this darling little plant. I truly believe that if I had a propensity for gardening (as my father does) I’d have forget-me-nots growing in just about every corner and every garden bed that I could squeeze them into.
Memories are hard things for me to hold onto. I have a form of generalised epilepsy that makes my memory quite disrupted and often unreliable; many people have suggested things such as diaries to me but that requires, I always say back with a smile, for one to remember to use it – or even where one put it. The closest thing I have to a diary is my iPhone.
Nonetheless memories have a nasty way of twisting like snakes. I forget names, birthdays, appointments and no end of other things, but I can recall in great detail many of the less-than-pleasant experiences I’ve had during my life. I remember intricately both the setting, topic of conversation and my mood when my team leader came to tell me that my brother was dead. I can recall a time in primary school when a friend tried to help me get a girl’s attention (without success I might add). I remember embarrassments, regrets and shame with incredible clarity, yet I don’t recall what my grandmother’s hands felt like the last time I touched them.
And that’s what this page is about. It’s not about me, it’s not about epilepsy and it’s not about Myosotis scorpioides. It’s about memories.
Jennifer Mavis Thornby
Jennifer Thornby, my mother and the most kind-hearted person I have ever known (and, in all likelihood, will ever know), passed away at the South Gippsland Hospital in Foster on the 18th of September, 2016. She left behind myself, my brother David and our father Richard. It was a death which touched countless lives. Her burial was private and the memorial service held a couple of days later was attended by, I have no doubt, more people than she would have expected.
She died after a long battle with smoking-related lung cancer which took hold and refused to let go despite many rounds of treatment and the attention of her doctors and specialists both locally and in Melbourne. It was long known that her days were numbered and she spent the last of them surrounded by friends, family and hospital staff who loved and cared for her fiercely; many of those same staff had worked with her for years.
My own experiences with grief have been varied. On the subject of my mother there is little that I can say which seems to do her justice. It was a privilege to have known her and more so to be related to her.
You will not be forgotten, Mum.
Colin John Thornby
My oldest brother, Colin John Thornby, passed away on the 1st of July, 2013. He’d struggled long and hard over several years with mantle cell lymphoma and underwent a bone marrow transplant. After a bone marrow transplant there’s a 100-day healing and recuperation period in which the patient is cared for (in Australia, at least) by a tremendously competent and hard-working team. Past the 100 day point it’s a milestone and things begin to look hopeful; these transplants are dangerous, risky procedures.
Colin was nearing the end of his 100-day period when he got a chest infection that spread to his lungs. He was taken to the intensive care unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and tended to day and night. My greatest admiration, thanks and respect to those people. They tried their hardest and when nothing more could be done they made him comfortable. Colin died peacefully.
Ave atque vale, big brother.
If you wish to read it, I’ve posted my personal eulogy for Colin here.
Brian Richard Thornby
I am the youngest of four boys. Brian was the second-youngest. In a state of extreme depression he committed suicide on the 10th of June, 2005, in his office in Deniliquen, New South Wales, Australia. He left no suicide note that we know of.
My relationship with my brother was a hard and varied one. I respected him, and hated him at times, though I always deeply loved him. Of our brothers I think my relationship with him was the one most fraught with conflict, and at the end of his life I am sad to say I didn’t know him as well as I’d have liked to.
Sleep well, brother.
Irene Ruby Lisle
Irene Ruby Lisle was my maternal grandmother, and the only grandparent I have living memories of. She passed away peacefully in her sleep after a severe stroke several days earlier from which she never regained consciousness.
She was a remarkable woman with an Old World sense of morality and was deeply, humbly religious. My last conversation with her was on the matter of faith and despite her firmly Christian values I will never forget what she said to me.
“Scott, all people who believe in goodness and have faith believe in the same thing, the same God. Nobody knows who He is, really, everybody just has ideas. Nobody’s faith is any better than anyone else’s.”
As someone who does have religious faith, in my own small way, it was startling and an unspeakable, immense relief to hear my own thoughts being spoken by this woman I respected and loved so very much. She respected us all, all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as individuals with our own worth and value; we in turn loved her. She was a rock, a pinnacle, and she’d always, always been there – so when she wasn’t, even though we all knew that would happen one day…
My grandmother died on the 25th of March, 2009.
My life changed (again) on that day. A shining light in the world, a truly good soul, has left us. Her legacy is heritage and memory, and I feel deep gratitude for her strength – and great sorrow that the children to come will never know her.
My cousin, Chris, died at age sixteen. I think he was two years older than me, maybe three, which would have made the year of his death around 1990. Brian comforted me when I was told. Life is strange.
Chris was struck by an aneurysm of the brain and while I don’t know many details, and thus can’t retell the matter without considerable chance of error, I was told he had recovered from his first aneurysm and was offering to take his doctors fishing (his passion; I still recall watching him tie fishing flies) the day before his death. Then, overnight, he suffered a second aneurysm, from which he did not recover.
Just before his death his sister begged him not to leave and though he was not conscious, that we know of, I was told that he shed tears at (presumably) hearing her plea before passing away.
My cousin was a good man. He was funny, friendly and open. At his funeral one of the people speaking said that ‘he could walk up to a puddle on a rainy day and pull out a fish’ – I regret never having the chance to see him fish, and that I saw him only seldom. I wish I could have known him better.
Not long after a particularly harrowing break-up I came into possession of a pure-bred Siamese kitten. He was such a small thing, all ears and feet, when I saw him at the breeder’s place. His father was yowling at me like a thing from the Underworld as I perused the little balls of fluff.
I chose the quietest. He seemed a lot like me in many ways – reclusive, shy, awkward. I had my ex with me – the one I’d had the harrowing break-up with – and she cuddled him on the way home. She suggested the name ‘Shinji’ because he’d found his voice and had started complaining not long after we left the breeder’s place and it reminded her of an anime character with a propensity to whine about how unfair life was. ‘Shinji’ it was.
My little Shnigga stayed with me through the years that followed. When he was a kitten he had the most tremendous voice and he used it all the time; one of my friends once mentioned that whenever he rang my home he heard Shinji meow three times before I’d even said ‘Hello?’ When my fiancee moved in with me she brought her pet cat, Mordred, and Shinji hated him on sight. The third – and much later – addition to our family, Bella, was a far more smooth transition.
Plagued by health problems more or less from birth, Shinji has been afflicted by an unusual malady called mushy paw disease which made his pads swell up. The vet suspected he’d had cat flu before I bought him (which might explain why the breeders sold the whole litter at half price). He has gunky eyes and, eventually, very bad teeth.
He was cranky but loyal, loud but quirky, opinionated but cunning. He loved cheese and sunshine and chicken, and he suffered liver failure late in life. After he had a seizure in my fiancee’s arms we took him to the vet at 10:30 at night on the 21st of March, 2012, and I watched as he put his head down for the last time.
I buried my beloved cat on my parents’ farm. He rests in the company of dogs. I miss him terribly.
It took a while for him to warm to me and considerably longer for Shinji to accept him but eventually both of those things happened. He became a fixed part of the household, an adorable grey-blue lump that always had purrs to spare, hated being picked up and could hear a can being opened from across the other end of the house. He always found the best spots for sunbathing but never became jealous over them, sharing with his Siamese brother Shinji and his tortoiseshell sister Bella when they came near.
Everyone loved Mordred. Nobody had a bad word to say about him and he won over the hearts of everyone who visited our house. He was huge, solid, shortish-tailed, manly – and had the tiniest high-pitched meow that has ever come out of a fully grown male cat. I’ve never known a cat quite so adept at putting a question mark after every meow. You could hear the punctuation curling.
He didn’t like being picked up but loved laps. His favourite thing was to be brushed with a tiny orange brush that my fiancee brought with her. He loved to be outside and when we’d no longer let him out due to a neighbour’s irresponsible use of snail bait he’d sit by the door and look out the security screen every chance he got. Once, when he managed to actually get out, he was so surprised that he just stood in the yard meowing until I picked him up and brought him inside again.
He was ever-forgiving and ever-loving. He rests in peace, now, buried near his brother.
She came into our lives as a tiny and untidy street kitten, possibly a stray or an abandoned cat. One night I was walking with a friend of mine well after dark when we saw a little tortoiseshell following us. She would occasionally run ahead or keep pace with us, always well out of arms’ reach.
Eventually I stopped and spent a bit of time coaxing her into my arms. I took her home and she was the queen of the household from that moment. Never again did she want to go outside; she’d done her time on the streets and was quite content just to watch from behind the safety of a window.
Much smaller but also more defiant than either of her brothers, she quickly established that she was going to take no guff. When her brothers died, she had only us – myself and my partner – as housemates. And that suited her fine, for the most part. She put on weight and eventually went deaf, but that didn’t stop her enjoying life as she saw fit to enjoy it, a lesson that perhaps I could afford to learn. She could go from an unvoiced, soundless meow to an outright loud proclamation of her wishes. She loved to sit on bags and she would scrabble her paws on cupboard doors when she wanted our attention.
Shortly after the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 social distancing measures in our state, Bella became very sick. In a mere two days she went from bright-eyed to lax and almost unmoving, a gland in her neck swollen to golfball-sized. The vet agreed there was nothing we could do for her, and she was put to sleep on Tuesday the 24th of March, 2020. She is no longer suffering, but she left a cat-shaped hole in our hearts and our lives.
She is buried on my father’s new property, sadly away from her brothers, but still in the serenity of the countryside.