It was two weeks ago yesterday that along with my sisters, I cremated my mother. As feminists who were born to two people who were way ahead of their times in how they chose to raise us, three daughters, conducting all the rituals associated with death including lighting of the funeral pyre was just part of the natural course of things.
Deep in our sorrow but stoic in our determination to do right by the values with which we were raised and in how our mother would have wanted us to live on, blessed and emboldened with the conviction our mother and father instilled in us, and strengthened by the support of our uncles, cousins, spouses, and relatives, my sisters and I said farewell to our mother, a woman who made a difference to hundreds, in ways both big and small.
Her radiant smile, her vibrant personality, her famous hospitality, her unquestioned piety, her unconditional love for her husband and partner for nearly half a century, her fierce pride in her daughters and grandkids, her immense affection for her sons-in-law, her loyal friendships, her kindness and generosity toward everyone she met, her powerful words with which she created complex characters in her pieces of fiction and poetry, her childlike enthusiasm for new experiences, her self-depracating humor, her humility, and her delicious cooking…among many, many other things, are all the things that made this woman a multifaceted force to be reckoned with, forever, in life and in death.
There are many things I have felt over the weeks that she was hospitalized and in the days that followed the eventual outcome. There are many emotions that are still raw and that can be easily provoked any second any day. There are triggers every where and in everything I do and don’t.
Two poems that helped me find some comfort during these tough days are as follows:
She Is Gone
by David Harkins
You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she would want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Feel No Guilt in Laughter
Feel no guilt in laughter, she’d know how much you care.
Feel no sorrow in a smile that she is not here to share.
You cannot grieve forever; she would not want you to.
She’d hope that you could carry on the way you always do.
So, talk about the good times and the way you showed you cared,
The days you spent together, all the happiness you shared.
Let memories surround you, a word someone may say
Will suddenly recapture a time, an hour or a day,
That brings her back as clearly as though she were still here,
And fills you with the feeling that she is always near.
For if you keep those moments, you will never be apart
And she will live forever locked safely within your heart.
In perhaps breaking new ground, yet again, my family hosted a lunch for our friends and invited them over to a rented venue to celebrate the life of our mother. Many people were unsure of the nature of this invitation and despite himself, my father had to clarify to all who called, that we had completed all death related rituals, and that this luncheon was merely a gathering of Mummy’s friends and really all our close acquaintances and friends of the family who had known us for years. We had a huge turnout…such was the reach of Mummy’s affections and relationships with everyone she met.
At this event, before at least 175-180 people, standing together with my sisters right next to my side, I presented a eulogy to my mother and invited others who may want, to share their memories of her. Many people came forward and spoke about her. Through their words, we got to see the far-reaching influence of my mother’s gregarius nature, her friendliness, and other aspects of her personality, that we knew all too well.
Many people complimented us for organizing an event of this kind that allowed them the space to express their feelings about our mother and the many ways in which they missed her. I wish such an event was more common in Hindu Indian culture. The public celebration of life and the private mourning of loss complement each other really well.
Furthermore, a celebration of life that gives others the opportunity to share their memories of your loved allows for the grieving family, as it did for me, to feel the depth of love others had for my mother. Somehow, knowing the impact she had on others’ lives consoled me, made me prouder of being my mother’s daughter, and being a reflection of her, as many people said of me and my sisters that day.
In addition to an open mic, we also passed around two books so those not comfortable sharing their thoughts in public, could do so privately, through their writing.
I miss my mother every single day. Whereas I always missed her, knowing that she was just a phone call away was comforting. Today, when I miss her, I am engulfed with an intensity of emotion, for which I have to muster all my strength to manage constructively.
There is so much more I want to write about her. There is so much I feel than I can possibly ever find words to describe. There are many lessons I have learned over the weeks that I will write about in future posts.
For now, I am, just as the rest of my family is, still trying to come to terms with the loss of this life. My mother had a lot of life to live, a lot of living to do, and was taken away much too early.
I will never hear her voice again. I will never hear her say, “I love you, dear”. I will never have someone I could just call or message to ask about a recipe. I will never…I will never…I will never…a life forever extinguished, memories forever immortalized.
During the time that I was in India following my mother’s passing, I made notes of my observations of people visiting us to offer their condolences. Here’s what I learned.
The Huffington Post promoted my post about the Lessons I Learned After My Mother’s Death as part of their Common Grief, a Healthy Living Editorial Initiative. The link can be found here.