My mother passed away this January.
But I am not writing to say I am sad…she suffered towards the end and was in great pain. I want to write about the dignity I saw in her pain. Some people suffer a lot throughout their life and then when the end comes it is in all probability sudden and peaceful.
But Amma lived a peaceful life, troubled by small things I am sure, managing a joint family, 3 children and an ambitious husband. She sacrificed her aspirations in the initial years to pave way for a life filled with achievements in the later stage of her life, as an accomplished writer and social worker.
When her end came, she was but 61 years old, is that too young, or is that old enough? I know a friend who lost his mother when she was but 51 years and another who lost her father when he was but 48 years. However old, the loss is amplified by the amount and extent to which they suffer or the extent to which we see their suffering.
Sudden, incomprehensible loss leads to great pain for those who are left behind, while those who suffer the indignity of pain leave behind those who mingle feelings of relief with sadness at seeing their loved ones free of pain.
But Amma showed immense courage in the face of such excruciating pain.
She was diagnosed in June and by august, the disease had spread considerably. My father was trying every conceivable treatment suggested to him. Ayurvedic, naturopathy, and of course chemo, but the stress was beginning to show….yet I had no clue, staying in Bangalore as I was, I would call every day and get a cheerful voice from the other side. “No problem, managing; we are fine” and then some details of the diet and medicine regime and a cheerful tata, and then I would make the call only the next morning.
It was mid-November and my usual call home. I had visited in between once, but both of them were pretty cheerful and confident the disease was in control. In fact Appa was taking Amma to as many places as she could visit, within her physical capabilities. Since so much rested on positivity and a sense of “we can beat it with our thinking”, we all went along with it.
So when I called mid-November, Amma picked the phone. Her voice started quite normally, but I could soon hear her struggling, there was a silence, a pause and then she resumed her responses. They were minimal, a “Huh” and a “yes” and “I’m Ok” from the other side. I kept rambling….and suddenly realised there was no one on the other side. Amma had dropped the phone and gone. I was perplexed and bemused, waiting for someone to pick up the phone, when Appa came on line, to tell me everything is ok, that Amma was just feeling a little breatheless. I could feel my heart sinking…as I realised the full import of what was happening there. It was an act. Amma was not ok, Appa was watching her suffer every day and they were putting up a brave front.
I left the next day to be with them. I stayed on for a month.
Not once did she complain or worry or wonder why this should happen to her. She would look at me through her pain glazed eyes at times to tell me, “I have had a good life, I have no regrets”; Your father has taken very good care of me and now you are there”.
Morphine was her solace towards the end; we watched the dependency slowly increase as she waited for the next dose so that the pain would recede…Yet she smiled at the visitors, cuddled her grand-niece and insisted on giving vethalai–paaku to her sambhandis; enjoying her evening wheelchair ride through her garden, smiling at her beloved plants.
I cannot forget the dignity she showed even in all that pain. The only promise she extracted from us was that we should not neglect her plants and nurture them like she did. She left behind a huge collection of more than 200 varieties of plants, which I am sure pine for her till date.
For me when she was alive she influenced almost every act of mine, consciously and many times unconsciously as well. I value her traditional upbringing which is also within me; at the same time what I cherish the most is watching her face death with such dignity. Will I emulate her in that? Time will tell…but I do miss her, her no-nonsense take on life and her ability to jump in and take charge whatever be the situation. I know that is something I have not been able to learn from her…