Thursday, July 23, 2009

Turning over a new leaf - Part 1

Death.Birth. Rebirth. A New Beginning.

They all happened. Right here. In my life.

I have written of
my mother in this blog. As much as that post was a celebration of the amazing person she was, it also spoke of a sense of void that has been left behind in my life with her passing.
Only people close to me know the cause. Or rather I choose not to talk about it to everyone who wants to know "what happened" due to reasons, some obvious and some not so much.
Some years ago, when my husband G and I were on the brink of starting our wedded life together, I'd sometimes open up to him about how my life changed forever after she was diagnosed with a Stage 4 case of the kidney. He, who had never met Amma, would patiently listen to my heart wrenching account of her suffering and offer that much needed shoulder of support ,all the while sympathizing but never truly perceiving the magnitude of impact on the entire family when a member, more so, the mother falls prey to this deadly monster. I was thankful enough I'd found my sounding board in him that I never cared or even wished that he be able to empathize.

Little did I know then that the monster would return. Yet again.

A couple of years after our wedding, when G and I were in the middle of our respective professional assignments in the US , we learnt about his mother being diagnosed with a Stage 3 malignancy of the stomach. When we returned to India immediately thereafter, the doctors assured us that all hope wasn't lost and there were realistic chances of a recovery.
Usually, just a malignancy diagnosis is enough to devastate you . I half-expected to see a totally bogged down person weakened both physically and mentally, but a surprise is what I was in for. She did look a little emaciated from the surgery but I'd never forget that smile lighting up that rather paled down face as soon as she saw her son and her daughter in law at the doorstep. The surgery and the diagnosis was probably all forgotten that one moment as she melted into her son's arms.
Later that day in the kitchen, as she poured coffee into cups, she said "Its your father in law I am worried about..I can totally handle this, but I am not sure how he's going to. I don't want to hassle anybody in my family". As she looked at me, I could see half a tear at the corner of her eye. Eyes of a beautiful middle aged woman that I'd seen teary only when she bade goodbye to us on our onward journey to America. Those tears weren't the "heavy" kind. They had a rather flimsy purpose, lament about someone you're going to miss for a year or two. You vented and you were done. You would even forget you were teary eyed a while ago.
But this tear was heavy...With fear. With uncertainty. With sadness. With guilt.
The last I saw it was in my own Amma's eye when she had to undergo a major brain surgery at a time when both her student daughters were in the middle of their grad level exams.
I had hardly lived with my mother in law to know her well. It was just about three months after our wedding that we traveled to America. But that day, I knew this. If there was anyone going to be her tower of strength through this entire ordeal, it was herself.

Dozens of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions ensued thereafter. She amazed the docs themselves with her never-say-die attitude and resolve. She made the hair loss issue seem like a minor cosmetic change that she was going through, making no qualms about hiding it under a wig. She avoided discussions about the disease with anyone who brought it up even by accident. She was cooking, traveling, attending family functions, gardening..doing just about everything that had made her the energetic and enthusiastic person she was.

She so wanted to treat this whole episode as a nightmare that she will one day wake up from and heave a sigh of relief realising it was all just not real.
That never happened.

Our relationship though only went from strength to strength through the entire ordeal. We were talking more. We were sharing more. We were learning from each other more. We were being grateful for each other more. I am not sure if we would have bonded any better otherwise. I sometimes wish we hadn't.
One particular day, when most days had turned miserable, she lay there on the hospital bed looking at me rather wistfully as I massaged her feet. It was a time when she no longer had the strength to talk much or be mobile. Those days, my eyes had become weary of making contact with hers to avoid becoming teary . I felt a nudge on my elbow and I moved closer.
"Did you need something? A blanket? Something to drink, maybe?"

As she nodded, I felt her frail, almost shivering palm stroking my cheek. I managed a slight smile clutching her palm in return, but somehow they rolled down, the damn tears. And right there in that hospital ward, in absolutely no words at all, she conveyed to me something so clearly that words couldn't. I had become to her, the daughter she never had.

And then her battle was over. Cancer proved itself invincible yet again.

Another loss. To me, of a mother, yet again.

It has been well over a year and a half now. Her spirit lives on though. In the warm, wonderful home that she built for her family...

...And, in the smile of one certain person she never could meet. A newcomer.A debutante.

(To be continued...)