Amma’s death came as a shock, even though I had known for a while that death was inevitable. One minute I could visualize her smiling benevolently at me and the very next, she was gone. Amma was the rock of our family. After Baba’s death, very early on in my life, Amma had raised me and my brother alone. The younger of two, I believed that I was her favorite although Amma had never shown any bias.
We hailed from a small town in India where as it is typical in small town fashion, everyone knew everyone. Baba had been a doctor & a respected one at that. Through sheer hard work Baba had not only built up a practice but also a small hospital which eventually Amma, also a doctor, grew into a sizable enterprise. Baba had also accumulated vast landholdings and our sprawling bungalow stood on a good ten acres of arable land. Amma, like a queen presided over this & was loved for it.
My older brother, older to me by a good ten years as I was a late baby, had continued after my parents and taken up medicine as a profession. He aided Amma in managing the hospital and he and his newly wedded wife were now settled into our family home.
It would be apt to say that I, the younger, was still trying to find my place in the world. I had been shipped off to boarding school once I hit teenage and after that had continued in the city pursuing my graduation. I had followed neither my parents nor my brother into medicine and honestly was struggling to come to terms with what to do in my life. I was like a rudderless boat floating bereft in the water. I, as yet had no aim or direction. And, I knew that Amma worried about me but would often chide anyone who criticized me by saying, “She is still a child. She has time. Let her be. When the time is right, she will find her way.”
I loved Amma all the more for defending me to the critical masses. Simply put, to me Amma was everything – my mother, my friend and my protector.
That is why her demise came as a rude shock! I did return back to my family home for the funeral but the days that passed were a blur. I felt alone for the first time in my life and escaped back to the city, soon after. It was a few months later that I managed to gather myself and at the prodding of my brother, returned back home, to heal.
As I set foot in my family home, dusk was settling. The birds that nested in the many trees that surrounded the house, had long since roosted. All seemed quiet, too quiet. The silence chilled me. The house was still the same but it felt like the soul was missing. I could not hear Amma’s welcoming laughter. No longer could I smell Amma’s aroma. Even lit, there seemed to permeate a foreboding darkness in the house that threatened to engulf me. I shivered and a sob escaped me.
Then for the first time since Amma’s death my heart contracted & the engulfing emotions overflowed & cascaded down my cheeks. My vision blurred for my heart searched for Amma still and seeking her solace I ran to her room. I threw open the door and fell face down into the softness of Amma’s bed. I cried my heart out. I cried for the loss of my mother, my friend and my anchor. I cried for the loss of my protector for now I felt the onus of my own life and the void that Amma’s death had created.
Finally, seeking some comfort, I dragged my listless body off of the bed and opened Amma’s cupboard. There among the multitudes of cotton Saris & silken yarns, I stood and inhaled Amma’s scent. As I ran my hand over Amma’s saris, I felt the ruffle of paper. Curious, I parted the folds and there pinned to Amma’s most favorite Sari, the one that I loved to see her in most, I found an envelope. It was addressed to me. “To my Sia”, it said.
Curious, I ripped open the envelope. With trembling fingers I unfolded the pages to find a letter written by Amma to me, just before her death.
My Dearest daughter,
- I write to you knowing that by the time you receive this letter, I would be gone. I would no longer be there to hold you, guide you or protect you. You are my heart and I know that my death will hurt you the most. You will feel cast adrift and may struggle to find anchor. But know this beta, that if I could I would have stayed and protected you forever for that is the depth of my love for you.
- Sia, I have known for some time that I was dying. I had cancer and it had advanced to a stage wherein treatment was impossible. By the time I found out, it was already too late and I did not want to go through the torture of medical science. Know this baby, that I chose to go the way I wanted to – peacefully, in my own bed, in our own home and surrounded by things that hold meaning for me. I went content but regret the fact that I did not have more time with you.
There are still so many things that remain unsaid between us; things that only a mother and a daughter can share. I always thought we had more time but time itself robbed us of our time together. There are things that I still need to teach you, guide you about and explain to you. But, alas! Now you will have to find your own way in this world and I deeply rue the fact that I shall not be there to hold your hand or aid you.
My darling daughter, you have always been the storm in my teacup; the one person who was quick to love and laugh. You always have taken life by its horns and walk to your own beat. That is an admirable quality for it will help you chart your own course in this world. But Sia, whilst you are off charting your own course and navigating your way amid torrid seas, remember those you leave behind you for they shall await your return. Never be so blinded by what you desire that you forget to honor the ones who stand by you in your time of need. Always keep the closest, close.
Our entire life is nothing but a series of outcomes. Every act of ours is going to leave a mark somewhere in this world and I hope you always find the wisdom to mark and not scar things. Always keep kindness in your heart but emotions at bay for emotions may weaken your resolve. But that does not mean that you should not feel anything. Passions surge in each heart and more often than not they do guide you to excel & achieve. So, embrace your passions but you are a sensitive and emotional person and often your emotions make you take decisions that you regret later. So, be passionate about things dear but, keep a slightly tighter lid on your emotions. At least until you understand the path forward & trust the travelers.
Sia, I know that so far I have always been there to shield you from the world. My death may leave you feeling alone. But, my child always remember, that you are my child. Look ahead darling to the life that awaits and not back at the life that is lost. Even in my death, I rejoice that you live and you must find the strength to carry on. Your place in the world awaits.
I know that you as yet have not been able to decide what you want from your life. You are still waiting for inspiration to strike. It is okay to wait and be sure before you proceed down a path but beta, don’t wait too long and let life pass you by. Life is meant for living my child. It is an opportunity that God’s gifts us once and we do not get a second chance at it. So whatever you do decide to do, reach out for it with both your hands, pluck it and make it yours. But, in doing so, do not step over someone else’s toes. Take what you earn in this world and not what someone’s earning is.
In order to succeed in life you will probably have to work harder than you ever have. I know you have the tenacity to go after something once your mind is set. So, harness your inner strength, gather your intellect and define your path. Decide what you want & then pursue it faithfully. Always remember Sia, loyalty begets loyalty, be it in life or career. I know that there is deceit & betrayal also but I will still leave you with my personal belief that you should do all the good that you can, all the while that you can and life shall reward you.
I believe in you Sia. I have always placed my faith in your inherent goodness. You embody a compassionate spirit. You may come across instances in your life when your values may be shaken to the core. You may be put in situations that back you into a corner. You may have to face great adversity in the pursuit of your dream but beta, never lose hope. Where there is hope, there is a sense of purpose and we all need purpose in our life.
I may not be there in body but I shall always be there in spirit for you. You only have to close your eyes and think of me. I promise to always answer to the call of your heart by pervading the thought in your mind.
I love you. With you I experienced motherhood again. I hope that someday you too get to experience what it is like to be a mother. I pray that you find the right man who shall respect you for what you stand for and shall love you for yourself and not for what he wants you to be. I hope that he always sees the goodness in you and stands by you. But, till then, take care, my baby.
All my love & blessings,
I stood immobile with a throb in my heart and a catch in my throat. Amma had just spoken to me from beyond the grave. She was gone and yet she was still, in her own way taking care of me, making sure that I survived this.
In a daze, I held the letter and moved to sit on Amma’s bed. You would think that the letter would have awakened newer emotions in me and unleashed a fresh flood of tears. But No! Amma knew me too well. Amma knew that reaching out to me from beyond the grave was just what I would need to take the first step alone. It was just what I would want to take along in my journey in this world.
As I sat there and thought back on all my years that I had with Amma, I could not think on any one instance wherein Amma had shown as much confidence in me. Somehow Amma had known that her death needed to come as a shock to me, in order to shock me into taking a step which would translate into an actionable future.
With a smile on my lips & a resolve in my heart, I got up and walked out of Amma’s room. I was ready to take my place in the world. I was ready to make Amma’s belief in me come true.