Growing up, I cannot remember being aware of there being a Mother’s day until the late 90s when Archies Gallery shops started selling greeting cards for this particular day. Americana had arrived in urban India.
It is probably an invented holiday and has now ended up as a day – my email, SMS and push notifications, all get inundated with various discounts offers.
But today is different. It is the first one I am observing without my mother being around.
Coping with loss has been incredibly hard. The last six months remain the most difficult months in my life.
She was discharged from the hospital – and on the way back home I was with her in the ambulance. I held her hand and we joked about something I cannot recollect now. She was in great spirits looking forward to get back home and we were talking about random things. There was nothing to be alarmed about. She only had a leg infection that needed treatment.
She suddenly complained about feeling a bit giddy on the way home.
And she passed out in the next few seconds. We frantically took her to a nearby hospital within the next few minutes. She was gone by then. Decades of memories, her voice, humour, laughter all coming to a halt suddenly in those 10-odd minutes in an ambulance. All ended by an embolism.
I was consoled by being told that she had me right next to her in her last moments. My face was what she saw last. It really did not matter to me. It did not feel like a consolation at all. It still does not.
Several weeks passed before I would actually manage to get any reasonable sleep. Most times I would sleep out of sheer fatigue. I cried to myself a lot, but it took a good three months before I felt any better after a good cry.
I still drift off, lose sleep, feel a sense of horror, desperation, fear, anger and so much more when I think of her last moments.
I have hardly spoken much about this, I write today because it important for me to be okay with. I want to remember ‘Aai’ better and not through the prism of my grief or her last moments.
That started happening when I was walking in a nearby mall and the speakers were blaring out a popular song from the 80s “Wake me up, before you go go”.
I remember her playing that particular song, on her red cassette player. I broke down in the middle of strangers hearing that song. But this time it felt good. It felt liked she was around. I was remembering her differently. I had for a few months stopped watching movies, listening to music she enjoyed because it was just too difficult.
Through songs she enjoyed and introduced me to, through movies we watched together, through books we exchanged notes about, through documentaries we watched, through discussing some creative writing done by one of her students, I started thinking about her life more from her perspective, her actions and choices rather than my grief.
Grief is difficult, it is also selfish and it takes time.
Today, on Mother’s Day – I wanted to think about how she shaped me as a person.
There are many stories but this one stands out from my childhood.
I was six years old. I had a fight with my childhood friend (we are still good friends). We had a major falling out, as major a falling out 6 years olds can have. But words were exchanged. Even though he said something nasty, I remember I was not exactly the innocent party.
I don’t remember what we fought over. What I do remember is going home and telling my mom sheepishly about it. I was feeling a bit guilty about my behaviour.
She told me to go over to my friend and apologise to him. I refused. It was a bit shocking, I expected my mother to support me. She always encouraged me to speak up, to fight for something you felt strongly about. She was always in my corner.
But she insisted I apologise. We lived on the fourth floor and my friend on the ground floor of the apartment building. The apartment building had no elevator. I told her I will do it the next day, his dad was home that day and I did not want his parents to laugh at me. That I was not willing to climb down 4 stories and back up home.
She opened the door and literally showed me out and stood at the door. Told me to get moving downstairs and come back home only after I had said “Sorry” to my friend.
I went down and rang the bell. The worst thing happened – my friend’s dad opened the door. I asked for my friend and he called out for him.
There father and son stood in front of me. I gathered some courage and said “Sorry” to my friend. I saw my friend’s eyes showed confusion, his father thought looked on with a smile I can still remember vividly. My friend barely said its okay and I ran up back home. I felt incredibly light hearted.
Sure enough mom was still at the door. She asked what happened and as I told her how I apologised, she conjured up magically some treat for me to eat. It was reward for learning to say “Sorry” she told me.
Yes, I did. I learned it feels good to admit mistakes and correct them. It taught me to think with empathy, even though I doubt I could have spelled that word correctly at that point of time.
My mother taught me and my sister loads through such words, actions and her own example.
A week after she was gone, a student of hers contacted me. This fifteen or sixteen year old was telling me he was thankful that she was his teacher. He learned a lot about from her about life and character apart from his studies. His words now give me some perspective of how others remember her.
It wouldn’t be fair to remember her through only the prism of my grief or through those last moments I was with her. I have to remember her as a person, with her imperfections, with her incredible laughter and joy. I have to remember her well. It will take some more time, but I will get there.
Happy mother’s day to all of you.