There are things in life that a person hides from everyone, sometimes, even himself. It’s about time I let those out. I lost my mother to cancer in 2010. Before she passed, she gave me something which has guided me through dark times and will continue doing so. This is the story of why I am who I am today.
[WARNING: Disturbing content ahead. Viewer discretion advised.]
It all started back in the beginning of 7th grade. Mom had been experiencing some problems in her throat. She never really cared to explain exactly what, because at that time, even she had no clue. But this had been going on for a month now. All the doctors she visited gave her regular throat clearing pills, as if it was just a regular throat infection or disturbance. It was only when our family physician advised us to take her to a major hospital to get a CT scan, did we discover it.
Mom had developed Throat cancer. Dad knew it. But he never told me for another couple of weeks. When he finally did, I was scared, but not shaken out of my wits. Maybe it was because of all the sugarcoating that dad did, I did not fully understand the gravity of the situation. And then everything changed, slowly.
Mom started visiting the hospital way too often. At this point, dad asked me to vacate my room, for mom would have to rest there separately. He explained “her immune system is too weak”, and hence the entire special care. Little did I know that over the course of the next few months, that room would turn into a makeshift hospital.
It was the first week of august, when I heard my mom speak her last. She had a surgery, which had a pipe / inlet inserted into her throat, which would allow her to breathe and bypass the tumor which was blocking her throat. I never knew it could be that serious, until that day. I saw mom step out of the car with that object in her throat. I casually walked up to her and asked her about her surgery, she opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. She closed her eyes, realizing that she had to get used to not speaking. I saw a tear fall from her eye. That day onwards, she started keeping a pen and a paper with her.
Mom still used to do the house work then, cooking and cleaning stuff, even when dad asked her not to. Dad took a week’s leave and stayed about to help mom settle in to the new lifestyle (which would hardly be constant). Mom’s sister (In India, we call them maasi), and mom’s mother (referred to as nani here) moved in with us to help take care of mom, as dad had to go to work and couldn’t stay at home all the time. . Mom used to usually stay on the bed, even when she offered to cook or do the dishes, masi never let her.
As she could no longer eat, a pipe was surgically fit directly into her stomach. We would make all sorts of juices and soups and feed her a liquid diet. I once offered to make soup for mommy, and nani let me. That was the first time I learned how to operate the blender. After it was ready and nani was taking it to mom, I stopped her and screamed “arrrey nani, namak toh dala hi nahi!” (We forgot to add the salt). They both chuckled and said that mom couldn’t taste any of that, so we did not require adding salt. Mom smirked too and ran her fingers through my hair. Oh I wish someone would do that to me now!
Over the months, I could see her getting weaker. She earlier used to do the cooking. That stopped. She only used to get up and move around the house and watch over the maid do the cleaning, surf the computer and everything. Slowly, even that stopped. She hardly got out of the bed, only to go to the washroom. That too, she couldn’t do properly. I and masi had to hold her arm as she tried to get up from the bed. Even with these clearly visible signs, I still somewhere in my heart believed that she would get better. I never really considered the fact of losing her. I tried focusing on my regular work and routine to keep myself busy and distracted. That was also the time when I started playing video games to keep myself distracted (maybe that’s where my passion for it ignited, but I can’t say for sure).
While dad was a very practical person, nani did have great faith in god and higher deities. From around November onwards, she used to visit orphanages and slum areas to give away food and take me with her. She used to explain it to me “the joy of giving pleases the heart and the lord. The blessings of the underprivileged will help your mom recover”. WHAT A LIE. That monstrous lie! It was only during mom’s funeral did I realize that nani used to do this to “earn good karma for mom’s afterlife”. As if that shit even exists. Dad was all about reputed doctors, while nani was the total opposite. She even used to take mom to one of the saints that she believed in and used ayurvedic medicines from that saint’s ashram for mom.
Luckily for all of us (or unluckily?), mom did not have her voice, for if she did; we would be able to hear her constantly moan under pain from all the trouble in her throat. On 22nd march, I woke in the middle of the night at around 2am, to the sight of mom coming out of the bathroom with dad and masi holding her up. I peeked into the bathroom and saw blood all over. I asked what was wrong and dad said “kuch nahi beta, mom puked blood” (Nothing happened, son. Mom puked blood). Now that I think of it, he only mentioned KUCH NAHI only to stop me from freaking out. He is actually right, how could he tell his own child that his wife’s major artery in the neck had burst open and that she had only hours to live. Not sure if this was meant to keep me calm or keep me in the dark. Little did I know that this would be the last time I would see mom. The ambulance was called to take mom to the hospital. Dad and maasi accompanied mom there, leaving me, my brother and nani at home.
On 24th march at around 7pm, I was playing on the computer with my brother when the landline rang, I ran to pick it up, but nani got to it before and started speaking, she signaled me to go back to whatever I was doing. 15 minutes later, I got a call on my cell. It was dad. The very first question he asked me was what I was doing. I told him whatever happened throughout the day. He asked me to go into the kitchen and check on nani and report what she was doing. Nani sat in a corner, crying. It was at this moment when I realized that this was THE CALL. I knew what he was going to say. I knew what nani had heard on the landline call. I knew why she was crying. For what seemed like an eternity, dad remained silent. I closed my eyes, half expecting him to speak any moment.
“Umesh, your mother is no more.”
The burden of the words stuck like a blunt hammer. I did not know how to react. I simply said “okay” and cut the call. Went out to the balcony and just sat there for around an hour or so. I wasn’t crying. I just sat there, silently. Even though I had been warned of this, I did not see it coming. And that was the fact that made me cry. Not being able to bid a proper farewell to the lady who raised me, made me cry, not the actual loss, for somewhere deep inside me, I knew that this day would come soon too. The hope that she would be okay was probably what kept me from going into depression all this time. I had been denying the mortality of humans by keeping myself distracted. But eventually, this had to happen. Such positivity, I think, is what mom would have wanted me to have throughout my life
The rituals of the cremation and the last rites began the next morning. And then it continued for 12 days. It was during this period when I realized why everything was sugar coated. Why nani did all those donations and karma work. Why masi warned me about the “limited time”. I was too dumb, or rather I would say, too naïve to see through the facts.
It was at this point, where I lost my faith in God. Agreed that Karma does impact our lives in more ways than we can imagine, but the concept of an imaginary man sitting in the sky who can make your wishes come true, is utter bullshit. We are the masters of our own fate.
During those months, I used to see mom struggle with her pain, yet she never cried in front of us. Even in the face of certain death, the only hope she was clinging on to, was us. Her family, her kids. She wanted to live, so that she could be with us. She always used to say “you’re my strength”, it is only now that I realize what she meant.
SPIRIT (気迫–HAKI) is the force of life that exists within us. Our willpower, mental strength, fortitude, love, and all the things that make us human, form our spirit. Her spirit, is what my Mother gifted me, and has helped me through thick and thin. Of course, it is impossible for us to see the pain that the other person is having. The fact that my mother put up with this pain for so long instead of giving up when she was diagnosed is a rather strong and bold statement that love conquers pain any given day. It was her love towards her kids that inspired her to live for us. The moment you think of letting your loved ones die is the moment when you accept that there is no hope. Miracles do happen. We have all heard stories of such miracles. The force of life is much stronger than pain.
My mother did not give up. That inspires me as a person, to keep fighting regardless of how hopeless the situation is in any walk of life. HOW DID THE INCIDENT CHANGE ME AS A PERSON? IT TAUGHT ME TO NOT GO DOWN WITHOUT A FIGHT.