Ten years ago at this time I was on the phone with a very close friend and at that moment I had no idea I would end up marrying him. I could hear my mother’s groans over the din of the TV and our “low-tone” midnight conversation. I ignored the nurse when she told me there was no pulse. She seemed like an amateur. I walked up to bed around 4 a.m. I could still hear my mom’s groans. I couldn’t sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to mask out the sounds of everything nocturnal and then there was my mom. I tried to imagine what she was going through and I drifted off into a fitful sleep. Every night had been an almost-sleepless night since the first week of January.
My door was flung open by my boisterous father. He was always strangely vociferous in the morning or it could have been me thinking “morning” people had far too much energy the minute they sensed the break of dawn.
“Get out!” he commanded, tactlessly.
“What? No!” I muttered and turned the other side. “Go away! I need to sleep.”
“Sleep? You need to get out of bed and call the doctor. That bloody nurse can’t find a pulse!” my father had raised his voice a few decibels.
“She didn’t find a pulse last night either,” I blurted, making no attempt to wake up completely or get out of bed. Definitely not before eight in the morning.
“Are you or are you not getting out of bed?” my father demanded.
“Fine,” I muttered. “I’m awake already, though if you must know, I barely slept. Thank you for asking.”
Not bothering to change out of my ridiculously short shorts and faded tee shirt I stumbled out of bed.
“You’re not getting out of your room like that!” my father pointed out. “There are people downstairs.”
There goes my morning mug of coffee and I’m supposed to live through the day! I finally go down. My brother had left for work. He had resumed work after a month’s break. A few family friends had already gathered around my mother’s bed. The nurse had left. A neighbour had checked mom’s pulse and found nothing. It was evident we needed a doctor. I called her doctor and a few minutes after I put the receiver down the bell rang. The doctor had gotten to our place in record time. No, but it wasn’t him. It was a family friend who was also a doctor. She asked me if everything was alright and I told her that there was no pulse. She rushed in and checked mom’s pulse and shook her head. She asked me where my brother was and told me to call him back.
“Any moment now,” she said in a low voice.
I nodded not knowing what to reply. I called my brother and told him to come home. We sat by mom’s side, my parents’ closest friends had gathered around. My dad walked out of the room, my mom called out his name and that was the last thing she said. My brother fell silent, my dad broke down and there were all those arrangements to make, family to be informed, friends and neighbours. There was no time to think but to do. I sat there making phone call after phone call, funeral arrangements. When I called my best friend’s father he just knew. Together we sorted out what had to be done. I had kept everything ready weeks before not knowing what my mental state would be when the time finally came.
Fortunately for me, a couple of my neighbours (who are also good friends) did the night vigil with me. We sat together til almost 5 a.m. and then they left. I had one hour before dawn. My eyes were heavy with sleep. I was exhausted. I finally went to bed at 6 only to be woken up in an hour. Remembering my mom forcing us to promise we wouldn’t wear black at all and definitely not throughout the year, I chose white. My mom had left a string of instructions for this day.
“Do not cry. Make sure no one cries. I want them to celebrate my life and not cry because I’m dead.”
“Do not wear black. Do not mourn. Do not do the one year of wearing black. People don’t need to see you in black. You mourn in your heart.”
“Make sure no one cries at my funeral. I don’t want to see sad faces there. Tell them to smile for me.”
“Comfort my family and friends especially my best friends. You have to be strong. Your dad and brother will need you to be strong. You were always the strong one in the family. Always feisty. No tears today, only laughter.” If you knew my mom you will actually picture her saying these things to me and you’ll be smiling thinking of how jovial she was. How she spun a party into action. How she and my dad would always be the first people on the dance floor and they danced like no one else existed. My mom always had a wicked-in-a-mischievous-way glint in her eye that made me feel there was always a joke or prank waiting to pop up at odd times. There were times when she was emotional and there were times when she would lose her temper. There were even moments when she walked away from certain friends. That side of mom was always a shock because she would tolerate a lot. Mom took a long time to get angry but when she lost her temper there was no turning back.
The entire day passed with people crying on my shoulder and telling me to be brave. I snuck a few moments alone in my favourite place in the garden where I knew no one would come looking for me. I sat in solitude, feeling numb inside. I had not eaten since breakfast the previous day or perhaps lunch before that. Life was about to change forever.
It was then time for the funeral. My mother’s words playing and replaying in my mind. “Don’t cry. You are the strong one. Don’t wear black. Don’t mourn. Laugh and be happy. Celebrate my life.” It was tough not to cry. I did break down at one point and almost hysterically. One of my best friends pulled me away from everyone and took me towards the cemetery where we were supposed to be heading. I started dreading the sound of the coffin as it hit the ground. That always made my skin crawl. I gritted my teeth and forced a friend to give me a drag from his cigarette. It was at this point that I broke a promise to a very dear friend. The look on his face but I just needed that drag “to calm my nerves”.
The burial was finally over. People had queued to wish us. I was standing in between my father and brother. People decided to chat with my father, my brother and I were waiting our turn. We discreetly cracked a few jokes among ourselves to keep the tension at bay so we could maintain the calm exterior. I could picture my mom giggling and nudging us. She had a knack of defusing serious situations, sending the involved people into splits of laughter. Nothing was done in disrespect. Nothing was said in disrespect. People who knew my mom well, knew I kept my promise and made sure there were no tears from my side. I looked around for familiar faces and I was happy to see my close friends and family.
We were home. A few people came over. We were all a little relaxed but I knew the journey henceforth would be long and tough but what I didn’t know was just how tough. Mom never told me maintaining a home and keeping house was one of the toughest things I’d have to do. She never said cooking was harder than it looks (baking still remains the fun thing). She never said how difficult it would be to get my wedding dress, shoes and accessories together without her by my side. She never said the family would fall apart. There were so many things she never said and yet there were so many things she did say and a lot of it has come true over the past ten years.
I remember every word of my last conversation with my mom. It was about my husband. My mom pointed out that I was in love with him and told me that if he was the man I choose to spend my life with then we already have her blessings. That’s ten years for us too with mom’s blessings. She adored him. He was perfect in her eyes. She’d have replaced her daughter with him if she had a choice. My mom never got fed up telling me how perfect a man like my husband would be in my life and how “in shape” I would get and how all my “princess” ways would be forced to disappear.
It has not been an easy decade but then it could have been far worse than it was. I’m grateful to be alive, healthy and happy. My riches may not be monetary but I look at my husband, his family, my friends, my pets, my life, my job, my writing, my music and I feel like a millionaire!!! As my mom used to say “Life is what we make of it!”