Gone too soon: A legacy of love.
Did you know that you can cry so much that your eyes physically hurt from the strain? I didn’t. I always thought that was a poetic metaphor. I learned the hard way that it isn’t.
On the 11th of October, my mom passed away after a long battle with cancer, a particular brutal and rare one called angiosarcoma. She was 62 years young. Exactly 62. She celebrated her 62nd birthday the night before. She went to bed happy; full of hope, with plans for the future and a deep yearning for life. We slept oblivious to the fact that the next day would be the worst day of our lives.
Side note: As you may have understood by now, this article is unlike the rest you will find on this site. I generally try to write about things I find humorous in some way or the other. Sadder, quieter moments are usually left off. However, this was such a momentous milestone in my life that I felt it warranted a mention. If you’re looking for a funny, cheerful article, maybe you can check this out.
Mom had only recently started a new phase of life: After over three decades of dedicated hard work, she had signed up for the joy of retired life. Mom and dad had a string of activities lined up for their time – music, travel, exploration, books, movies, and the like – a list that would easily have eaten a couple of decades into their time. However, merely one year into retirement, she got the tragic diagnosis, and the year after was spent in treatments.
After an early surgery, we hoped things got under control. However, the cancer metastasized, and the oncologists gave up on her. We scrambled through a host of alternative treatments, see small signs of improvement now and then, and kept hope alive.
I’m proud of my mom – she persevered through what most people, including me, would have given up. I’m struck by her patience and optimism, and humbled by the deep impact she left on everybody who knew her.
But that doesn’t stop the hurt.
For dad, my brother and me, mom had been such a core part of our lives; she laid the foundation for everything. Everything good in us owes her a tribute. She was a source of inspiration, direction, and joy. She was our friend, our teacher, our muse, our moral compass, our historian, our event organizer, our story teller, our chef, our financial adviser, our problem solver, our fashion designer, our life coach, our sounding board, our psychologist, our business consultant…; she was an entire village of amazing personalities dedicated to loving and supporting us.
When one of us had an interest in something out of her zone, she would learn about that just enough to extend her support. At the age of 55, with limited experience with computers, she learned how to operate a professional audio editing suite just to help dad record his songs. In a household with three guys, she cultivated an interest in electronics, action movies, gadgets, boys’ games, and other guy stuff just to carve in more time with us. She held back on ‘girly’ stuff; she waited for us to marry and bring her daughters home for that.
She was unbelievably fast in everything – from writing to cooking to even shopping; whether she was shopping for clothes, shoes or groceries, she was blazingly efficient. Also, in a household crammed with men, she was always the first to get ready.
She had so much to share; she was a treasure trove of knowledge; she was a high performing career woman, who also was an avid fashion designer who frequently stitched her own clothes, had a penchant for floral arrangements, had amazing language skills, wrote poetry, had beautiful penmanship, and was passionate about gardening. On top of that, she was a master chef with her own unique set of dishes that were famous in their own right. Once, we had an in-home party with around 80 guests, and mom single-handedly cooked up a rich buffet for the entire crowd. I am still clueless about where she found the energy to be herself.
For all her talents and interests, the activity she considered most important was to just be with us – being part of us, loving us. We were in her thoughts every moment of every day. Even through her illness, she was less afraid of death, and more afraid about leaving us alone. She realized how devastated we would be, and that was more upsetting for her than anything else. That was probably why she forced herself to stay upbeat.
Her enthusiasm and energy kept us all full of hope. If anyone could have conquered cancer by sheer force of will, she would have. And for a long time, I believed she was doing exactly that. She radiated a powerful glow of hope through everybody, and that’s partly what made her ultimate demise such a surprising shock for us.
We found out later – that despite the hope she kept alive in all of us, she was also preparing for the worst. She confided in some of her closest friends that from time to time, fear did break through into that iron will; a fear that she kept hidden from us. Fear – not of death, but of leaving us sad and inconsolable. The physical pain from her cancer never fazed her. The mental anguish of death didn’t break her. But the thought of how we would get through her passing; that kept her awake at night. She had handed over some documents, passwords, and other details through others, so that she could keep us in the dark about her occasional wavering of hope.
It’s difficult to see silver linings in a veritable thunderstorm, but there are a few points that console us slightly. Mom did manage to travel a bit – she toured Europe, explored Dubai and Singapore, visited the holy land, and holidayed in select localities within India. She saw her sons graduate from college, secure jobs and get happily married. She was finally getting her girly time with her new daughters (she would get upset if anyone ever called them her daughters-in-law); she would buy them dresses, groom them and smile at them the way only a mother could. She only got to spend a short time with her daughters, but enough for them love her and miss her. We all felt her love, and she knew it.
She had that magical quality that made everything better – soft, pleasant and ever-smiling. Her geniality was infectious; her radiant personality was apparent to even casual acquaintances who met her just once. She had a natural flair for seeing the good side of everyone and everything. If she had one flaw, she used to forgive people for just about anything a bit too easily. It was entrenched in her nature to be the better person; she couldn’t help it if she wanted to.
She really loved kids. Even in her younger years, children used to bond with her almost immediately. When she got kids of her own, she spent every minute she could spare with us. Even after we got older, she would always have a stash of chocolates in her handbag just to dispense to random kids she would encounter during the day. When her friends and peers became grandparents, she would jump at the opportunity of playing with their grandkids.
Finally, when she finally became a grandma in her own right, she was too sick to play with her grandson. But she still fought through her pain and fatigue and held him in her arms. She spoke to him as much as she could. She gave him his name. She gave him all her love. It saddens me beyond words when I think of all the things she’ll miss – his first words, his walk, his school, his growing up… I feel even sadder for my son, who will only know her through our retold memories. He will get a brief inkling of what he’s missing, but would never really know the magnitude of his loss.
Because she was involved in every part of our lives, absolutely everything reminds us of her. Everything we have now is connected to a memory of her, and everything we will have later is a reminder of what could have been. As much as we’re all reeling from the shock, dad is impacted even more. Mom was part of every aspect of our lives, but for dad, she WAS his life; half his life was about taking care of and supporting mom, and the other half was shaped up by her.
My parents shared a life so entangled and in-sync with each other that it’s difficult for us to see them as individuals with different thought streams. The cancer cut short their love story to a paltry 37 years. However, within that 37 years, they have stayed apart for less than 30 days altogether; and roughly less than 5 days at one go. Ever since my dad retired, he had been counting the days till mom’s retirement so he could whisk mom off to finally explore the world. During this period, he would drop mom off to her work, and pick her up after; not because it was difficult for mom to come home on her own, but because he was determined to minimize the minutes apart from her, as far as possible.
She was his rock; his pride and energy. They would sometimes drive aimlessly – with him behind the wheel, and her voice helping him navigate. He has often said that with her by his side, he always had a sense of calm, a confidence to face whatever came their way. She was the foundation for every ounce of strength he’s had. She was his salvation, his reason, his life support.
For any happy moment in our lives going forward, there’s going to be a heartache alongside it; a brief reminder of how much better it would have been if we could have shared that with mom.
It still doesn’t register that mom is not with us. I don’t think we will ever really move on from this. Furthermore, I don’t think we really want to, either. Every now and then, there’s a strong instinctive drive to call her… talk to her… ask her for help. The hurt is very real, and ironically, she was the only one who could have helped us through this hurt.
The hole she left will forever be a painful void. She left behind a host of unfinished dreams and plans. We will miss you forever, mom. And we love you with all our hearts.