When my mom died of cancer this year, my world stopped. It didn't stop for just a moment, it didn't stop for just a few months, it paused like a broken record, playing the same tune over and over again. Refusing to go forward, stubborn, a heart not wanting to beat anymore, feel anymore, be anymore. I lost a part of me, the part where I'm supposed to feel alive and well and motivated and excited and just plain happy. Suddenly, there was no one to wallow in my tales of sorrow or share the joy or just laugh out loud for no reason at all. Yeah, that's it. Something we take so much for granted, the ability to just laugh, smile for no reason at all. Or, maybe there is a reason after all. Just knowing that you have a mother, the epitome of a Goddess who will love you unconditionally for the rest of your life.
Yeah, that's it.
Unconditional love—I know now that only mothers are capable of that. God gave mothers the ability to give love no matter what without asking for anything in return. Because that's how my mom was like. She exemplified a living Goddess, a smiling heart, a soft lullaby, a welcome escape, a cashmere mitten in the dead of winter, an umbrella in the hard, blazing rain, a soul mate, dark chocolate, candle-lit dinner, a long-awaited embrace, a much-needed kiss, two hands folded in prayer, a lover's gaze, a teacher who never gave up, a secret whisper, a good book, cold water in a hot summer, a friend, a true friend.
She was here, then she was gone. Life.
Fourteen months ago, mom was preparing for the upcoming Dashain, teaching me the ropes of the trade. "You have to give thanks to God," she said, as she put the tika on Shiva's statue, "Look carefully, this is how you do it." Mom was not too keen on traditions but keen enough to be labeled religious. On Tihar, she would get up in the wee hours of the night to sweep the lobby and door step to welcome Goddess Laxmi into our house. Last year, I made up my mind to experience Tihar, mom's way, and struggled to wake up when the alarm went off at 4am. Sleepy and lethargic, I managed to sweep with her. She was silent, almost mute, as she did her chores so diligently like an obedient child. I knew that this was passed on to her by her mother who was also big on god worship, but I also knew that she was born with it. Mom just knew...what most people take lifetimes to grasp, that whatever is put before us is our duty.
When mom was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, we were shocked. But no, not mom. She took it with a grain of salt. She spent time on the hospital bed reading or scribbling something on a notebook that I had bought for her. She was doing so well, going on her morning walks, eating, smiling, worried, of course, of what the future will bring, but hopeful that God will take care of her. She had faith and that was written all over her, in her ability to face adversities with "what is meant to be will be."
She didn't stop there, no, not mom. She didn't waste a minute scribbling on the notebook. The doctor had told us that she had 3-6 months to live, a prognosis common for one of the worst forms of cancer. But we never told mom. We didn't want her to lose hope or to succumb to the disease without a fight. And fight she did. Facing death eye-to-eye must do that; suffering allows that. I know because I saw mom at her best in the few months that I got to spend with her. Not a single day did she wallow in her sorrow and cry over her woes, even when she had every right to. Anyone who has cared for a cancer patient knows that this disease takes you for the worst ride of your life; it's a selfish disease with no concern for the pain inflicted on the victim. And, trust me, mom suffered, she was in agony, but she never gave up.
A week before she died, mom lay on the bed gasping for air, her lips dry and chapped, her eyes small and weak, her frail fingers unable to even grasp a pen. "Give me the mirror," she mumbled as she lifted her heavy arms, pointing to the mirror. "Here, mom." Mom looked at the reflection on the mirror, "Oh, lala thik chha (ok, ok, that's fine)," she said, signaling me to put the mirror back where I found them, her face blank. She must have known at that moment. She must have seen death then. She must have realized her days were nearing. She must have known.
That day, I wept for the stylish woman who loved to dress up. I wept for the strong spirit who never took no for an answer. I wept for the talented cook who wanted to eat but couldn't. I wept for the mother who wanted to care for her young. I wept for the soul that had already left her, waiting for her arrival. I wept for the hope that never came. I wept for the zillions of mothers who left before their time. I wept for the children left alone to cry. I wept for the lost prayer. I wept for the devil that had won. I wept for the life that was gone. I wept for what was left of her. I wept for the soul trapped in a failing body. I wept for the what-ifs. I wept, I wept and I wept some more.
When she didn't wake up that morning, I tried fervently to jolt her back to life. "Mammy, mammy, it's me, wake up, wake up!" Her tired eyes struggled to open, quivering, listening, but unable to. "Mammy, mammy, wake up!" A desperate cry, hopeless. Shaking her, hoping, wishing, just one more day, mom, just one more day. Her eyes trying, she can hear me, a far distant cry from where she was traveling, a thousand miles up the milky way where elves with wings guide her to a big, white gate, where goblins sing to the tunes of trumpet, where fairies grant a thousand wishes, where the maker awaits with arms wide open.
And, then I let her go.
I just stopped. In that moment, I just knew what I had to do. "Mammy, you can go, you can go. Don't worry about us. You can go." In that moment, I was my mother's child. Strong, unwavering, determined to let her fly, a welcome rest after a weary path, 65 years of nurturing, loving, obligations, money-making, mothering, schooling, giving, worrying, laughing, eating, sleeping, painting, singing, playing, joking, wandering. And I understood unconditional love, something mom gave so naturally. That when you love someone, you just let them go. You let them fly. You let them be. You just let them be.
Moments after, a big, bellowing silence. An eerie pause. Floating on air. Slow motion of disbelief, denial, deadly reprieve.
Goddess back in the arms of the universe, smiling, end of her struggles, the family she birthed, the legacy she left, the character played so well.
I found out only later that mom had written her own obituary. She knew. Like a director staging a play, she wrote down all the family members worth mentioning, knowing very well that we would not know how to do that. A compassionate spirit till the end, her frantic scribblings on the notebook were all about her wishes postmortem, regarding every detail. She refused to leave any stones unturned. Until her last breathe, she cared, even after her body refused to listen, she was relentless, making sure everyone was taken care of. Even in her last moments, she loved unconditionally without fail.
Anyone who has lost a mom knows that losing a mother is one of the hardest things to endure, especially when she dies young on short notice. And, anyone who has or had a mother knows that she is the closest you can ever get to God. Maybe that's what moms are. Goddesses in embryo manifested as unconditional love. A sacrifice to give us a glimpse of what heaven feels like.
A mother embraces, caressing ever so softly, her womb incubates, ready to house an offspring, waiting patiently, rocking ever so gently, humming with eyes half closed, birthing endless actors in the chapters of life, till the page reads...The End.
Sumitra Maskay May 5, 1945 ~ June 5, 2010
P.S. Rest in peace, mammy. Death will never do us part.