On Losing One’s Mother

When your Mother is still around, she is a separate individual. But when She has gone, then She becomes as One with you, part of your Being

‘Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.’

— From a headstone in Ireland

Nearly 63 years ago, on September 1954, I lost my Mother. She was 29 years old, and I had turned 10 a couple of months earlier. That’s why I believe, as I wrote in an article about Mother’s Day some time back, that everyday should be Mother’s Day. There is no harm in having a big bash on the official Mother’s Day – but what happens after that, on the other days?

Over my lifetime so far, both from a personal and a professional perspective, I have come across many aspects of the mother-child relationship that range from the most exalting and beautiful to the sad, unbelievable and even unimaginable – especially to one who has been orphaned of his mother at such a young age. Each example was a lesson about our humanity – or inhumanity. An illustration of the latter is about a foreign lady (from Poland) who passed away when she was visiting here as she used to do quite regularly, alone. On her demise, she was kept in the hospital morgue and attempts were made to contact her children. Imagine my utter surprise – and disbelief — when their reply came back about the arrangements for disposal of their mother’s body: it had been long since they had been alienated from her and so they had no interest whatsoever; the authorities could dispose of her body in whatever way was deemed fit!

At the other end of the spectrum was the tearful pleading of a fortyish-year old man, who kept asking me how soon I was going to allow his mother home after I had operated upon her for a fracture of the hip. After his father had passed, he decided to remain a bachelor so that he could look after his mother. And so he did indeed, showering TLC – Tender Loving Care – upon her, and that’s what, so he told me, he was missing doing as was his daily routine. His concern was that in the hospital setting she would not be getting as much attention as he would have given her at home because of the number of patients that the nurses had to look after. Which was true, no doubt.

Lucky mother, isn’t it? But the reverse also can happen: lucky son. As I found when a few days ago I made a domiciliary visit to a patient, recently retired, who was also a bachelor and had sustained a fracture of the hip in an accident. He was convalescing, and what better place to be in than at mother’s house? His mum is all of 87 years old, and as fit as a fiddle as the saying goes, still doing the cooking and washing and so on. And as everybody knows, there’s nothing like Mama’s food, laced as it is with love. I know, because I enjoyed the suji she had made as also the hot cup of tea.

I know that ‘modern’ circumstances lead many to leave their parents in old age homes. Oftentimes I think to myself whether I would have done that if my Mother was still around, and the thought makes me quiver – perish the thought, though. I don’t think I would have had the heart to do so.

I read recently about a woman who had lost her child in a terrorist attack saying that burying her child was the most painful thing that a mother could ever do. I recall telling myself at some point during my reflections that the greatest tragedy for a child is to lose one’s mother. And the younger one is when this happens the harder it is of course. It’s a different matter if this takes place when you are a grown-up, particularly when you have your own family. But at the crucial period of life when you are wholly dependent upon your mother for absolutely everything — and the most important of all, Mother’s Love – your Mother’s leaving you for good is like a stab in the heart whose pain never ever leaves you. It may diminish into a ‘heartache’, as the saying above goes, but the ache is permanent, even if with age you become philosophical and have long since learnt to accept the reality.

We were four children, with my sister being the eldest. Those were the days of joint family, and we lived in the house of our paternal grandparents, Dada and Dadi, along with our father’s younger brother (chacha) and his wife (chachi) and their son who for all purposes was just another brother to us. In the same yard lived my Dada’s nephew, whom we used to call Barka-papa and his family comprising Barka-mama and our six cousins. There was also my Dada’s widowed sister who lived with us, and whom we used to call Dadi-betel because she used to chew paan or betel leaf.

We were still learning to adjust when almost exactly to the date, four months later on 25 January 1955 Dadi too left us. In all families when Mum is no more, the refuge of children is grandparents, especially Dadi for obvious reasons: at least in those days she was a stay-at-home, and was there to do everything that Mother used to do: feed, wash, clothe, give school money, protect and shower love.

The extended joint family helped us to cope with this double tragedy that struck at such a short interval. But things change. A couple of years later my father remarried, and afterwards my chacha and his family moved to their newly-built house not far away from Dada’s house. As boys, we depended on our sister to look after some of our basic needs: preparing our dipain l’ecole in the morning, ironing our clothes, stitching loose or lost buttons in our shirts or pants and doing the repair when they were torn, as was the custom in those days of penury. In due course she got married, and our main succour was then Dadi-betel, Barka-mama and chachi.

But to me on a day-to-day basis fell the task of preparing the dipain l’ecole and doing the ironing, stitching and repairing for myself and my brothers – including of socks stretched on a brown coquille, a fist-size sea-shell. And cooking some snacks too for when they would return from school. Luckily I had joined the Boy Scouts a few years earlier, and this gave me an opportunity to expand my range of household and housekeeping skills which we had to learn and apply when we went camping. Very good training and discipline indeed was the Boy Scouts movement. If we want to make our youth responsible, keep them away from social ills such as drugs, and give them an orientation for the future, there’s nothing better that the government could do than to give maximum support to the Boy Scouts movement and encourage our youth to join it.

And so, as those with Mothers prepare to ‘celebrate’ them this Sunday, I would appeal to them to make sure it is not a one-off, commercial type, euphoric one. Instead, let it be but a reaffirmation of what should be a daily commitment to honour one’s mother, even if that be a simple call to find out how she is, and do not make her pine for that visit which she impatiently awaits. And think twice on the day a decision is made to confine her to a home…The same reasoning also applies for the father also, why not?

A Mother is Everything. She gives birth to you, and she prepares for your future too, even if she is no longer around. As Thomas Edison found out years after his Mother had passed, in the following account:

One day, as a small child, Thomas Edison came home from school and gave a paper to his mother. He said to her, ‘Mum, my teacher gave this paper to me and told me only you are to read it. What does it say?’ Her eyes welled with tears as she read the letter out loud to her child. ‘Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have good enough teachers to train him. Please teach him yourself.’ His mother did just that, until she fell ill and passed away. Many years after Edison’s mother died, he became one of the greatest inventors of the century. One day he was going through some of her things and found the folded letter that his old teacher wrote his mother that day. He opened it. The message written on the letter was: ‘Your son is mentally deficient. He cannot attend our school anymore. He is expelled.’ Edison became emotional reading it and then wrote in his diary: ‘Thomas Edison was a mentally deficient child whose mother turned him into the genius of the century.’

When your Mother is still around, she is a separate individual. But when She has gone, then She becomes as One with you, part of your Being. That is my personal experience, and my deep understanding after all these years. Only my Mother’s body left, but She – She is ever present in me. Mother’s Day or no Mother’s Day…

RN Gopee

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