The day my mother died
Rediff reader Balvinder Singh writes about one of his most painful memories.
God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers.
Mothers are not supposed to die. Mothers are supposed to live forever. Right?
Your mother is your own personal God. She is supposed to be there forever for you.
Helping you. Accepting you. Loving You, forever. This is how it is supposed to work. Right?
Even if I live far away from my mother I can always pick up the phone and talk to her -- for hours. She is always there on the other end waiting for my phone call -- eagerly.
My mother loves to talk. She always says what's on her mind. She never thinks twice. Some people do not like this. But this is who she is. Who is perfect anyway? In my eyes she is perfect. Even her imperfections are perfect.
She has her set of idiosyncrasies and I have mine. She is a hoarder. She does not throw away anything -- nothing at all. "You never know when you will need them again," She keeps reminding me. I, on the other hand, am a 'thrower' -- if you will. I can throw away things -- even brand new things -- just like that. "Will you also throw me away when I am old"? She wants to know. "May be I will make an exception but no guarantees" I reply with a smile. We often drive each other crazy. It took us some time to accept each other but eventually we did.
She sometimes scolds me but only for small things and never for big things. She can scold and love at the same time. Many times I would not know whether I should shout back at her or hug her. My forty years of age means nothing to her. In her eyes I am still her child -- her youngest child. She is my mother. The only woman I have loved the longest in my life.
She works a lot. She is always working always doing something or the other. She is never idle. I cannot imagine her sitting and doing nothing. I don't think she even understands the concept of being idle.
My mother is growing old but she is not really growing old. She is going to live forever. She is never going to die. No way. But everyone has to die. What if she dies? How will I handle her death? How will I make the long dreadful journey back to India? How will I see her dead body? How will I set her body on fire? I switch on the TV.
Death is something distant, something remote. Death is what happens to other people, to distant people. Death is what happens in the TV news. You hear about it and then you switch channels. Life is better again.
My mother wants to come and meet me immediately. She is old and she has a bad back but she has made up her mind. No one can stop her once she makes up her mind. She travels to the US. It's a long tiring journey. She is here with me. She looks very tired. She is not keeping well but still she wants to work. She likes gardening and wants to help in the garden but she is not able to. Why?
Something is not right. She is in pain but she tries to hide it. She is a mother. She always wants to give and never receive. She goes back within few days. "I will get better as soon as I am back in India," she assures me. Is she hiding something? She is good at hiding things. Things which she knows will bother me. She is a mother and that's what mothers do.
My mother is back in India. She's not getting better. She's now in the hospital. Whatever it is she is not going to die. Death has never happened to her. She has always lived and she will always live. Death happens to other people to distant people on TV. Remember?
She is going to get well. She has faced a lot of hardships in life but she survived everything life threw at her. This time too she will fight and survive.
I fly back to see her. She's in the ICU. Bed number 18. I have never seen her bed-ridden. What's going on here? I busy myself with the hospital. Going to the hospital. Coming from the hospital. Sleeping in the hospital. Waiting for the doctors. Waiting for the tests. Waiting for the reports. Buying medicines -- lots of medicines. She is going to get well. She is going to go back home and then we will have a big laugh about the whole thing. I will tease her about the scare she gave me and how ridiculous she looked in the hospital clothes.
How could she possibly eat the bland hospital food? This is just a nightmare. It will be over soon. It has to. Right?
She is not getting well. I see her dissolving in front of my own eyes. She does not recognise me anymore. She has forgotten me but I know who she is -- she is my mother. I feed her like a child. I remember the mouthwatering khichadi she used to make for me -- swimming in desi ghee.
I buy a sipper for her and a bib. I comb her hair. I clean her face. She is my mother. She is my child. I need to take care her of her like she took care of me. I need to nurse her back to health. I sing back to her the Gurbani shabads she used to sing to me when I was a child. But nothing is working. Prayers are not working. Food is not working. Medicines are not working. Even painkillers are not working. I cannot see her suffer. I am so helpless. May be she should die rather than suffer. What's wrong with me? How can I think that? She is going to get well and all her pain will disappear. This has to end. She has to get better. Maybe I should switch the doctors. Maybe I should switch the hospital. Maybe it is not the last stage of cancer. May be it is something which can be cured. I keep hoping. I keep praying. But God is not listening. Has He already made up His mind? What do I do now?
I get up early morning. It is Saturday October 12, 2013 and I am at the hospital. I go to the ICU to see her. She is still unconscious. I just look at her face. I don't feel like looking at her frail body. I don't want to look at all the ugly tubes coming out of her beautiful body. I want to remember her healthy and happy.
That's the memory I want to keep. This can't be happening. This is a nightmare which will soon end and I will erase it from my memory forever. What should I do? I go to the Gurudwara. I read the Hukumnama. It talks about acceptance, peace and surrender. What? How can I accept this? And be at peace? I am anything but peace. I refuse to surrender. I will fight for my mother. I am too agitated even to sit down. My mind is on fire.
Eventually my mind calms down -- quite mysteriously. It stops its chatter. I sit down. I bow. I accept. I surrender. I become peaceful. God is a mystery. His ways are mysterious. He is beyond our understanding. He gives. He takes away. These are His ways. There is nothing I can do about it. I shall not judge Him. I go home. I call my in-laws. I don't say much but they understand. I mechanically do my stuff. There are no thoughts only peace. I start getting calls from the hospital. I ignore them. They keep coming. I keep ignoring. I know what it is. There is nothing I can do about it. I finally answer the call. Why am I not answering the phone? I should come to the hospital immediately. Okay. I can do that. It's time to face reality.
I reach bed number 18. She is dead. I look at her face. She is so beautiful. I kiss her. She is still warm. Her cheeks are still soft. Maybe she is just sleeping. Maybe she is just teasing me. I should try once more. I kiss her again. Maybe she will wake up like they do in fairy tales. She does not. She cannot. She is dead. My mother is dead. Mothers die. I was wrong. I was so wrong. I touch her feet and go outside the ICU.
My relatives are here. My sisters are crying. My dad is silent. I do not cry. There are no more tears left in me. It is what it is. I have experienced death. It is not distant and remote. It is near and close. My mother left me forever that day but she will always be with me. My mother will not hug me anymore but her hug will never leave me.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/ Rediff.com