On Mother's Day, I have a habit of checking on friends who have recently lost their mom. Until this year, I never fully comprehended their feeling of loss and I struggled with what to say.
Decades ago, I called Ma to wish her on the first sunday of May and she said, "What on earth is Mother's Day?" I thought, hoo-boy this is an alien concept to her. Celebrating her for one day was borderline absurd. I stopped wishing her but we continued talking at least once a day, frequently twice.
Several years later she indignantly said, "Today is Mother's Day, you didn't want to wish me?" As I recovered from the whiplash, I had an aha moment: Hallmark had arrived in India!
After that, I made sure to wish her before my brother did.
On this first celebration without her, I miss her smile, her incessant prodding, her creativity, her arguments, her affection, her temper, her generosity, her wicked culinary talent, her wanderlust, and her spirituality.
Nobody calls daily to check on me or to ask about Tarun and the kids. Nobody gives unsolicited advice, nobody for me to berate for hyper-emotional thinking, nobody to argue with and nobody who hangs up on me because I hit that button clearly marked "DO NOT PUSH".
Ma was a brilliant bundle of contradictions: 100 parts volatile, 1000 parts affectionate. The line between acceptable and egregious was demarcated in stone and it wrapped tightly around her. It was easy to cross and like a puppy with an electric collar, I had a sixth sense for it.
My brother often pulled me back by my neck on the rare occasion when I missed the cue. Sometimes he purposefully let me cross the threshold and get shocked. Forgiveness required a genuine apology. Sorry from me followed by a lecture on how I fail to understand her and then she'd bounce back as if nothing had happened. In case you are wondering, of course I told my kids they don't understand me in exactly the same tone.
Ma talked to me about difficult topics with ease to prepare me for the world. Not performing well was never an option but she never helicoptered. When I had Neil, she gave me this advice which stuck to my brain with superglue: you get only one chance to raise your kids and there is no do-over.
When I was eight, Ma had complicated spine surgery performed by a surgeon from England. When they wheeled her to the OR, I isolated in the bathroom attached to her room. I held her nightgown to my face and cried. The thought that I may never see her again stayed with me till the day she passed.
She made our birthdays the biggest deal in the entire universe. On the eve of the big day, she organized our gifts on a tray and kept it hidden until we turned in. When we woke up, the tray would be waiting on her dresser.
She dropped me off at school every day except when she was very unwell. This was a 45 minute round trip on most days, longer on some. It wasn't the coolest thing when I reached a certain age. I didn't realize the full extent of her dedication until my kids went to school.
Tarun and Ma started out rather tentatively. They ended their journey with utmost affection and admiration for each other. Even on her worst day, when Tarun came on the phone she perked up and told him she was feeling absolutely fine. Towards the end, I made sure to have him with me when I called her. The gift the two of them gave me with their friendship is priceless.
When I was 17, I threw a months-long tantrum about a commitment that I wanted to back out of. The resolution involved spending time in a distant city where I could recommit. Ma came with me and we stayed there for three weeks while I sorted my life. She accompanied me not because she was obligated or I needed policing. She came because she respected what I needed and wanted me to succeed. She came despite her own mother nearing the end of her life.
Whenever I think I am focused or reliable or loving or patient, I instantly pale in comparison to this powerhouse who designed, built, deployed, and debugged every single building block of the being I am today.
Ma I know you will have a wonderful Mother's Day in heaven. I know this because your first-born, the apple of your eyes, the one who constantly protected you is by your side. This second-born is cheering from below, sending enormous love and endless gratitude, praying you will pick her again.
To all the beautiful mothers and aunts in my life: Happy Mother's Day! May we continue to adore generously and annoy sparingly because that is what our mothers have taught us so well.
To the ones who are missing their mother, I now understand that there are no words. Kindness is all we need. Many hugs and all my love.