Grief has weird ways of manifesting. It was the Mother’s Day weekend. Weeks before it starts with slights from retailers and advertisers asking me to call my mom, to say I love you. Xoom asked me to send her the best gift of all – money transfer. Well she would have liked that. She used to periodically remind me about the money I needed to send Baba. For their rent and utilities. She would say, “Baba bokbe amake”. That is Baba would scold her for asking. He’d say, she will send it when she can. It wasn’t about ability. It was mostly because I would forget. I forget these things. I forgot to pay the gas bill for 6 months. I wanted to tell them sorry but my mom died 6 months ago. But that was an excuse. I just simply forgot. But there are other things I don’t forget. Like going to the consulate to attest the power of attorney documents that Baba needs to sell the flat. That I’ve been avoiding. Not just because it’s a demand on my limited time. Because it is. But more perhaps because somewhere deep inside that’s the space I have left of her. Where I lived with them and was happy. But that too I have to let go.
6 months on the pain is less acute and less debilitating. And more cognizance of the fact that my mother is departing from me in the space of time. That the deafening of the pain is muting my remembrance of her. I am in fear of forgetting who she was. What she did.
I feel afraid and unmothered. That I’m entirely on my own. Nobody anymore is losing their sleep over me like she did. It’s my loss and mine alone. Everyone else is either lost in their own misery or have moved on. Nothing remains except for reminders like these advertising gimmicks or painful days like their anniversary or birthdays. I feel lost and less lost at the same time. How could it be? How can I feel stable and desolate at the same time?
I came home after dinner with my son and husband for Mother’s Day. We had a lovely time. I then opened my phone to read the New Yorker. And I found my grief voice again in this piece. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-unmothered. I sat to read it and unbeknownst to me I began wailing. Grief has weird ways of manifesting.
Ma loved birthdays and anniversaries. There was always a celebration of these occasions. Usually with dinner parties that she would cook for and make enormous amounts of food from scratch. Fish, mutton, vegetables and her world famous flaky soft pulao. Hand-rolled chops and cutlets. She never cut herself any slack. She did everything from scratch, meticulously planning for weeks ahead with Baba. He would do the shopping. From serving the snacks, dinner to conversing with guests, she did it all relentlessly. When she got older she would sometimes fall ill after these large parties. But she loved and thrived on entertaining with Baba. In more recent times, they would celebrate with a small set of close friends. And sometimes they would go out to dinner with Didi and her family. I would call to wish sometimes late by a day. Today all I can think about is how I don’t have the reason to call and send happy wishes anymore. But nevertheless, here’s wishing my wonderful parents, a very happy anniversary. The importance of this day to my life and to those around me is not lost.
It’s been a recurring theme. I feel the loss of many things past – my baby son, the husband I first met, my mother when she was in her 50s, when she was my close friend. I know somehow I won’t get those people back. My son will never be a chubby toddler again. And how much ever I hold onto his pre school wonderment and loquaciousness I know even this too shall pass. The children grow and we age and we change. Why then does the death feel so harsh when every minute we are living through and not even realizing how the minute that has passed will never return. Why mourn when we can do nothing to stop it?
Without realizing I unwittingly mourned for her even when she was alive. But through the fog of her illness, I would glimpse the sharp mother I grew up with – not the child-like person that had emerged from her liver disease ravaged brain and loss of hearing. Her cognitive skills had probably been declining over the last ten years. After she passed I read up about hepatitis C and cirrhosis and the impact it had on cognitive abilities. I recalled how impatient I would get with her. And secretly I lamented with my sister about how she was so focused on inane things. And over emphasized comforts and luxuries. I mean why not? She had her share of constrained living. Why did I grudge her the comforts she asked us for? Of course she would never ever admit we did. In her mind we did so much for her – took her abroad, bought her fancy things and afforded her the things her friends received from well-retired spousal benefits. She always praised us and acknowledged what we afforded her. But i remember feeling inconvenienced at times and even annoyed when she would ask for something. And I also remember her embarrassment now that makes me feel so ashamed. Because I never imagined I’d have her for such little time. That it would be a few months before none of it even mattered to her. If she was still here there I would be still grumbling about how she had turned from a spartan housekeeper to a luxury seeking retiree. I failed to see how much of that may have been the decline in her cognition. And I failed to see that it was a process that had begun years after I’d left home so I wasn’t seeing it happen slowly. I rued my mother’s decline in sharpness every trip but not explicitly. It was implicit in my irritation and lack of patience with her.
That’s what makes the death so harsh. It’s like a slap in the face. A punishment for the way I unknowingly reacted to her decline that it was once and for all taken out of my hands. That I didn’t comprehend well enough and harsh judgement was meted out to me for that. I never got a chance to make amends. To retreat back and correct my errors in judgement. To see through the fog and try to recognize the mother i had in the 90s. Because while that mom wouldn’t ever return, like my baby boy i sometimes would glimpse in his eyes an expression he would make as a toddler, I may have seen her again. But now i won’t. And some days even my memories of her seem hazy as time passes. I’m taking great painstaking care that I never repeat this with my dad. That I Accord to him everything he rightfully deserves.
Today marks 6 months to the day when my mother last spoke to me. In the last few weeks leading up to her death, I never once expressed irritation or annoyance at her. She got the best of me. I gave her all of my time and patience, set aside everything else to just be with her. While it will never be enough for me what I gave her then or what I received in return – as I searched earnestly for my mother through the depths of the hospital gowns and her vacant eyes – it’s all I have of her.