By Nidhi Chopra
I’ve always wondered why we as parents don’t prepare our children for our eventual passing? It can’t be because we believe wholeheartedly in our invincibility. I think it’s more the case of the ostrich burying its head in the sand.
Death is inevitable. Death of a family member is painful. Death of a parent is excruciating.
It’s like losing the shade of a big banyan tree on a hot sunny day. It gives you a sense of being at sea without an anchor. On some days, the grief hits you so suddenly that it feels like you’re trying to walk through hip-high mud. The pain and the regret mix together into a lethal cocktail that makes it hard to draw your next breath.
It starts with anger at the unfairness of your parent being taken away and ends up being a sadness so encompassing that you can’t walk on a crowded street without breaking down.
Eventually the anger spreads to the self for not doing any better with your own children in spite of knowing that life is short, and death can come suddenly.
Festivals, birthdays, anniversaries are the hardest. When you know that others close to you deserve their celebrations and it is unfair of you to put a dampener on their days just because you don’t feel up to it. Everything takes its toll: the forceful smiling and laughing, the pretending for others, the hiding of the tears because, ultimately, it’s only your loss, and the missing…
Always the damned missing.
The death of one’s mother is tough… especially a mother you’ve had a contentious relationship with and with whom you eventually found a negotiated peace. Someone once said that seeing your robust and active parent breathe his or her last changes something inside you forever. I am inclined to agree.
My mother died suddenly. Walking and talking one day and gone 12 hours later. I remember holding her hand standing next to her while she fought for her next breath through her ventilator-ridden body. My brother and I watched her while she breathed her last.
We begged her to go peacefully because we were tired of seeing her pain.
I recall sitting next to her still body all night cleaning her bleeding nose. I recollect her asking me why she had bags under her eyes one day when she was getting all decked up for a wedding just a few months earlier. I live with regret each and every day for not paying enough attention then.
I think about her smiling and asking me excitedly to click a picture with her daughter-in law. I can still feel the warmth of her approval when I finally dressed up the way she liked. These are my last memories of my mother.
Recently, a childhood friend told me how she found me to be very annoying while growing up because she believed that my mum gave me every freedom an adolescent and young adult could want. I could wear what I wanted, go where I wanted for as long as I wanted. I agree with my friend. I was not an easy child to rear. I know I gave my mother trouble.
She expected very basic things from her kids – especially her daughter. Her expectations from me were that I find a good job and get married into a financially secure household. My career, my aspirations didn’t make sense if they involved getting my hands dirty in the slums or travelling the length and breadth of India educating women and vulnerable communities on safe sex.
She didn’t understand my need to work so hard for no financial returns. The strong Punjabi woman that she was, it didn’t make sense to her. I don’t think she ever attempted to know me; it was not the parenting norm for people of her generation.
My girlfriends and I now laugh about how our parents may have “permanently damaged” us! It is said in jest, of course, but like most good jokes it doesn’t wander too far from the truth.
My mother gave me freedom but only in exchange for my conformity. For me to be her definition of good.
She wanted me to aspire for the same things she lived for. We were always at loggerheads. We were different kinds of women who wanted very different things from our lives. There were times we were so sick of each other and I’d wonder if we would ever be able to see eye-to-eye! And now, I’m left with days when I can’t stop missing her.
I miss her disapproval of me. I miss her disappointment in me. I miss fighting with her. I miss the satisfaction I gained from convincing her of my viewpoint. I miss her delightful smile when I would finally conform, even momentarily. I miss the lifetime worth of kisses she showered on me the last time I was with her. I miss the feeling of finally being her ‘good child’ even if it was at 40!
I wanted more of that. I wanted that till my heart and soul was bursting with that love! I wanted more time to do my best at trying to fully satisfy her. More of those moments of her telling me how much she loved me and thought I was the best kid in the whole damned world!
My mother’s passing has left me with regret. Regret that I didn’t understand her enough. Regret that I didn’t love her harder. Regret that I didn’t take more time to understand her womanhood.
I’ve always wondered why our mothers don’t prepare us for their passing. Amidst all the negotiating, why don’t they take time out to remind us that we’ll miss them when they’re gone. That we should cherish them, love them, cuddle up to them, and hold them real tight.
We truly should…. while this exquisite being that has given us life is still alive, breathing and smiling, we must take that time out to smell her unique smell and simply rest in her grace before she’s taken away from us forever.
Nidhi Chopra is a Singapore-based digital entrepreneur, an in-the-closet writer, mother of two, wife of one, friend to many.