As gifts go, I would have done anything to return it. To turn the clock back and not have received it. To have lived my life without it. But fate would have it otherwise. So on a balmy day in Edinburgh in late May 1988, as I shuttled between the university library and anti-apartheid meetings, came the news that my mother, who had raised me on her own, had died. At 44, her death was both sudden and unexpected. She was supposed to be coming up to see me the next day. At 19 I was both bereft and bereaved. Naturally, the “gift” in this loss was not immediately apparent. I spent the next few years going through the motions, turning days into weeks and weeks into terms. Time may be a great healer, but those palliative qualities are rarely evident in real time. However, as I emerged from the numbing sense of isolation I realised that my mother’s life had taught me three valuable lessons I would probably never have learned without her untimely death.