Gender People

An Open Letter to My Grieving Mother

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Motherhood is no doubt a blessing, when one feels a life moving within her and becomes the ultimate messenger to bring it to this world or when she raises a child not born out of her womb but nurtured with her love and care. It’s surely a feeling that only mothers know. But how does a mother feel when she loses her child to the fangs of an untimely death. Does our predominantly in-compassionate society and extended family stand by her in those hours of grief and fill in the void created by the ultimate loss? Or is she further pushed into believing she is missing on something that others have and hence is a loser in life? A letter to such a mother who had to face not just death of her son but also the apathy of a society. Incidentally she happens to be the author’s mother. As part of Vagina Diary, Saheli speaks from her own personal experience, the tale of a vagina that fought and won, in her column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Dear Mom,

The meandering storms of fate had struck you hard, they tore through your world that you cared to fill with love and fun for years. You were then at the helm of the setting sun, I mean per age. You still did not attain menopause and you still looked so pretty and sensuous. Yes, sensuous is the word I would use. For every time you sat before the mirror to add a touch of colour to your dark cheeks, I stared at you mesmerised. I was past my teens, into the age when a young college girl would herself try and deck up to draw attention. I could never do it. I was forever overshadowed by you. Thus, left my looks to the natural tinge. You were admired by men, loved by my handsome dashing father, you were playmates to your students in school and to us – all called you Big Aunty lovingly. You had always shared with me your secret. You wanted only one child and was happy to have a daughter. I felt blessed. But when he came, you never knew. You were still bleeding three months down the line, you said it was an accident. Yet, you were pregnant and against your wishes and that of dad, you went ahead to become a mother again. It was a stormy night, rain splashing against my window panes when you sat up in the darkness and said you need to be taken to the hospital as your water broke. Little did I know what that meant but dad took you, leaving me behind, alone, with our maid for the first time. I had never stayed alone before. You took care to be always with me. I was frightened. Little did I know the meandering storm of fate had already written its cruel story of reward and punishment! Little did I realise the waves of unpredictability had already set in, and that such a storm would again rage twelve years later. I wasn’t prepared for the second one though, the frightening lightning and thunder claps that banged on my window that night were enough to keep me occupied.

But the dawn was beautiful. Rain-washed. It was spring, season of a new beginning. And the sudden unpredictable rain was like the harbinger of life, cleaning off the dirt and dust, sending ripples of charm around. Yes, you promised a new beginning too. Dad called up to say you had a son at the stroke of midnight when the storm was raging outside, a new life amid us, a new dimension to the family. I was confused, didn’t know how to react; didn’t want the safe world of mine where I dominated alone for ten long years to be taken over by someone else. Yet, when you returned after a long absence for health reasons, your warm smile assured me. I knew your love would never be shared.

And then there was a lull. No storm ever for twelve long years. Only waves of laughter and fun, of tours and travels, of sharing and caring, of triumphs, of birthday parties, of friends and family. We had all forgotten about the storm that had struck at my window pane years back bringing in the news of a birth. But this time again it came, with the ferocity of a tornado. Even a strong person like you couldn’t salvage what was left behind after it ravaged through our sweet home and left an everlasting streak of destruction. I looked up to you with pleading eyes, asking for advise, I didn’t know how to react, but you wouldn’t help. You returned my yearning with a vacant look, at times tears streaking down. You turned into the frozen maiden, you were no more ‘hot’ as they used to say, you went numb. And when one day you held my hands and asked: “Why did he need to come, I never wanted him, and why when he came did he have to leave me?” I had no answer.

Painting: Christa Rosier
Painting: Christa Rosier

Many others had answers though. Doctors misdiagnosed and then came up with statistics of how unknown fever, malaria, etc. could kill people easily, how it’s difficult to treat, how science has done miracles but still we are helpless. Yes, your love of life, your son, had turned by then into a statistical figure, just ten days before his 12 th birthday. How he no more would smile at you other than from the photo frames that stood on your side table, how he would never call you mommy again, how he would never hold your hands and caress you to sleep, how you would never again play hide and seek with him, admire his paintings or read his poetry.

Visitors thronged, relatives and friends. They always do. Don’t they? To review the situation. But your grief was yours. There were some who left with a consoling word or two, there were some who even commented on the paints on the walls of the room (some were peeling off as you had not painted the rooms for three years, I was getting allergic asthma from the smell of paints), there were others who admired each-other’s sarees. And then there were the so-called intelligent ones who repeatedly asked the cause of death, little knowing how relating the story of the hours before a death is almost like relating the story of rape by a rape victim twice in court. They shook their heads in superior knowledge and even recommended names of good doctors, almost accusing you and dad of not taking your son to the right one. But it was a matter of two days only, wasn’t it? And three doctors within the family and even the best known senior physician of the city assured you it was just a case of simple flu. You were satisfied with their advice and got involved in the Saraswati Puja celebrations at home with your school students and teachers. Little did you know this would be the last time that any idol would visit your house ever!

But my eyes were on those, whose painted false faces rejoiced at your fall, at last you will lose your spirit, your zest, your love and your sensuality. They were all waiting to see you broken, so that they could sympathise. But I know what you needed that day was empathy. And I also knew you can never be broken, you were like me; not even God can defeat you. I remember how you came back one day from a salon and just cried in my arms. Someone who had come to deck herself up asked you, ‘How come you are here!’ Five months after your son’s death you were visiting a salon? You must have done a great mistake. Places of pleasure were no more for you. You were a grieving mother who lost her only son. Like the widows of yesteryears, you should have confined yourself to home brooding and encouraging those who had so long been jealous of your happiness.

Yes, the society had suddenly turned you an alien. As a grieving mother, you were no longer allowed to earn the same respect as you did when you had a son, after all you wouldn’t ever be able to participate in conversations of mothers who boasted of their son’s achievements. You were truly an outcast. There were those who pointed at you and whispered among themselves like they do when they point at a murderer. Yet, you raised your head and stamped your feet, you still applied colours to your cheeks, went for a haircut that made you look more sensuous than before.

And I started loving you more. Because, you survived the pain gracefully. None who didn’t know you would ever know of your void. You taught through your life that the show must go on, come what may. Just like a wild buffalo caught by its predator fights for life, and at times sets itself free from the clutches of death, you too fought your memories. There were many to give you advice, asking you to be consoled that you still have a daughter left, citing examples of those who had lost their only child. I know those examples were futile for you were a grieving mother. Loss of any child is unique. How could you fill in one gap with the other? It’s not like getting divorced and finding another partner in bed. It’s like pushing the emptiness of a void in one’s life without filling it up and going ahead towards a new beginning, where memories never get erased, where a small piece of handwriting suddenly discovered from within a long-forgotten drawer brings tears again, when a plant nurtured and cared by your son’s hands caresses you again, when the bed where we all slept together stands in stoic silence years later, when the nature around goes on, when spring comes, your garden blooms but the sheen of your eyes, your son has hid himself somewhere that’s beyond your reach.

Painting:Carye VDPMahoney
Painting:Carye V D P Mahoney

And yes, grieving mom, I was touched this time not by your sensuality but by your grit and courage. That made you more beautiful than ever. I refuse to call you a grieving mom. You have won the test of life. I thus call you a winning mom. You don’t have a son who went to IIT or IIM, you don’t have tales to tell of how you married him off to the daughter of a rich man at some lavish wedding ceremony, you don’t have grandchildren to continue your direct family line as they say, and use them as trophies. But still, you have won. For you know what life is all about, you have experienced it, loved it and still continue loving it. You have learnt it’s about fulfilment and loss, about tears and smiles, about light and darkness and about all the opposites ever possible.

You have withstood the storm. That meandering storm that came to wreck you but left with a silent whistle, conquered by you and defeated in the game. I thus salute you grieving mom.

Yours loving daughter

©Saheli Mitra

Pix from Net.

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