I have been meaning to write you this letter for some time now, but for some reason it has proved to be one of the hardest letters I’ve ever had to write because I’m still so confused about everything.
There are two vivid scenes that keep replaying in my head. The first scene casts you, my 4 year old self, a classroom door, a teacher with a puzzled look on her face and a screaming little girl clutching at her dad’s leg for dear life. It is my first day of school and I am super excited and so are you, but obviously that is not the case for the other little girl who besides refusing to let go of her father’s leg, is kicking frantically and even attempting to throw some kicks the teacher’s way. To make sure that the little girl’s tantrums don’t make me change my mind about school, you pat me gently on the back and smile, then you say something to the teacher, you wink at me for being so brave and then you leave because you have to get to work plus my brother needs to get to “his big kids school”. Before you turn round the corner though, you turn around and wave at me looking so pleased with how things had gone. The teacher is holding my hand and I let go of it so that I can wave back and with the biggest smile on my face I shout “Bye Mum!”
The other scene sees me waving goodbye to you, but this time the happy, wide smile has been replaced by a somber expression and tearful eyes hidden behind very dark sunglasses. It is in the late afternoon of 02.04.2016 and I have just laid a wreath on top of your grave and so has Pat. Pat and Eugene are crying so piteously and I can’t help but feel really sorry for them. You are no more mama, you are now six feet under. There’s no one to call “Mama Bear” anymore, or to giggle uncontrollably with, or to give me warm hugs, or to remove unidentified objects off my face in public anymore. Everything now seems so final, like the way it feels when you finish reading a really good book. The sealing of your grave is what has made it so final. First it was sealed with some wire mesh, then with some iron sheets and finally with cement. I can’t see you anymore; I can’t touch you because you’re now safe down there next to daddy. All of a sudden I can feel a chill run down my spine, but it soon goes away as randomly
as it came. It was as if it came to pick something on its way because with it goes the anxiety that had been plaguing my heart ever since the last time I saw you in that hospital bed. I take a deep breath and then I wave my hand and whisper softly “Goodbye Mum”.
Someone once wrote a touching article that said that “Your mum will break your heart”. I never thought that I would be saying this to you so soon but Mum, you broke my heart! But it is ok, I still love you and I forgive you for breaking my heart. I don’t know if you knew what or how much you meant to all of us, all six of us, and your eight grandchildren (most of who still think you will come back after a while despite a million explanations that you’re gone forever). You were everything. The last time I saw you in hospital I couldn’t believe that was you. In my previous visit you had been fine, talking, laughing, making people laugh and asking when you would leave that dreadful hospital and go to your house and sleep in your bed… I was so sure you would be going home soon but then when I saw you that last time you had pipes and tubes and machines all over to help you breathe. One look at you and my heart broke into tiny pieces. You couldn’t move, you couldn’t talk, and you couldn’t even smile or hold my hand when I asked you to. All you could do to prove that there was still some life left inside your body was move your eyes and your head but why were you avoiding eye contact with me? You looked at everyone else in the eye except me. What happened in between those few days mama? What happened after that first Dialysis session? Can you please tell me what went wrong?
There was an odd air as we left the hospital that day. There was something really heavy in my heart and I hated it. I think I knew deep down in my heart that I will never see you alive again and that night I asked my friend to ask her sister who is a doctor in that hospital to come and check on you. I’m happy that the last words you heard from me were “I love you”. When I got home that night I couldn’t function. I was so confused and the heaviness in my chest persisted. I was meant to pack for a short work trip I was to go on the next day but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. Then all of a sudden I broke down when I remembered the condition we had left you in. I cried most of that night, I couldn’t sleep, I just kept tossing and turning and at around 4am the heaviness in my chest got so intense I thought my heart would burst and so I got out of bed and prayed. I came to learn later that that was the exact time your soul left your body.
When I got the call that you were no more, I collapsed on the floor and I remember wanting to stay lying on that floor for the rest of my life. I cried so much that I got to know what dehydration really feels like. Also I got headaches that became so permanent that I almost forgot what it felt like to not have a headache. The days that followed that were somewhat a blur. I would go into the car and totally forget where I was supposed to drive to. Also, if it were not for my true friends who came and threatened to sit outside my door until the day I decide to come out, or those who offered to come and stare at the wall with me until it got awkward, I would have never left my house.
Nothing has been normal ever since you passed on. I mean, even as we all sat occupying the first and second pews in church, it seemed so odd that we were at your requiem mass. It is exactly 50 days today since you checked out. The toughest 50 days of my life if I should say so. I have dreams where we are laughing hysterically at nonsense or sitting on your bed talking about anything and everything and in my dream I’m always relieved that you are still alive and that your passing on had just been a nightmare, only to wake up in the morning and get slapped hard by reality. I’m slowly getting used to these dreams and the disappointments I get in the morning.
I’ll tell you what mama; your death has taught me a lot! The lessons started streaming in when you were in hospital. Your bed was always surrounded by people who loved you; neighbors, tenants, friends, relatives and us guys. George was with you everyday, in fact it’s like he lived in that hospital. You were so loved and cherished by many. I learnt that if you are a nice, kind, selfless and a non-judgmental person like you were, people will be there for you until the very end. Your former students from as far back as 1993 came to pay their last respects. A couple of them mentioned how you changed their lives and how it was because of you that they turned out to be who they are now. How you helped changed their attitudes towards Math and Science and life in general. How you were the best teacher ever! I couldn’t help but beam with pride and say ‘That’s my mama!’
You should’ve seen how people came through for us, volunteering to do this and that or to pay for this and that service…it was because of the person you were mama. You played mum to so many people and I loved that they saw love and kindness in you and they appreciated you. My friends who are not in the country sent their parents to come and condole with me. Wasn’t that sweet? They said that you were like a mother to them as well. Such amazing things were said of you and I realized that I need to tweak a few things about myself so that I can have a heart that fully matches yours. I’m working on it because I want such beautiful, genuine things said about me when I’m gone.
PS: You looked so peaceful in your beautiful casket.
I’m not only grateful for the lessons but also for the traits and skills I got from you, like hoarding skills, love for watches and a very feminine sense of fashion accompanied by very ladylike mannerisms. I also loved that we sounded very much alike, almost like twins. I am grateful for the 31 years that you were in my life. I am grateful that yours was the first face I ever recognized and that yours is the only heart I ever heard beat from the inside. I am grateful for the laughs and the hugs. I am grateful for your unconditional love and your enormous heart that showed love to everyone.
I remember the first time I called you “Mama Bear” you weren’t too sure about it because you hadn’t been too keen on bears (something about them being huge and fat). It was not until I explained to you that mother bears are emblematic of grounding forces and strength, are affectionate, protective, devoted, sensitive and attentive with their young ones that you said “Yay! I’m Maureen’s Mama Bear”.
I miss you so much mama. I miss how you’d pronounce every syllable on the word “Cho-co-late” and whenever I would correct you and tell you that the second “o” is silent you would look at me and say “Whatever!” and then repeat “cho-co-late” the only way you knew it. I will also miss how you were obsessed with jewelry and sometimes overdoing it by almost wearing every piece of jewelry that you owned and me dissing you about it. Oh I will miss your cooking! I will miss making fun of you and you taking it all as humor and laughing with me.
I know you had big plans and we promise that we will keep everything working just as you had envisioned. We hope to make you proud of us up there. We owe you that for doing such a great job with us. We know it was not easy to be mum and dad for 24 long years. I can’t imagine what your life was like after being widowed at only 38 and left with six young kids who needed you. You were a superstar!
PS: On several occasions I have had random women being kind to me out of nowhere. Like the other day there was a woman who was so determined to hold the elevator doors open for me despite me being too far away from it. I did make it to the elevator and when it was time to get off, the lady smiled at me and wished me a good day.
There was also this woman I sat next to in church who reminded me so much of you. She had on a pair of shoes similar to ones you had once owned, her hair was coiffed just like yours and she sang with all her heart just like you used to. She was so kind to share her hymn book with me and at the end of the church service she smiled and said to me “Have a lovely afternoon my child”. Mum, are you the one sending these wonderful women my way to brighten up my days?
I still cry. A lot! Everyone thinks I’m strong for handling things the way I am, but what they don’t know is that when I get into my house I let it all out-which helps by the way. I have a new hobby of taking pictures of the sky, hoping that one day I will see you and dad peeping. Those clouds have a way of sending powerful messages sometimes.
Someone once asked me about the one thing I wish I did with dad and my answer was simple, I said I wished we had a couple of photos of us together. If the same question was posed about you, I would wish that you left a manual behind that will guide us on how to live without you. I also wish you stuck around longer to meet my future husband (whom I’m yet to meet) and tell me whether you approve of him or not and for you to hold my future daughter (whom I shall name after you) like you did your other grandchildren. By the way thank you so much for not pressuring me to get married or to have children. Thank you for understanding where I came from with my views on marriage and parenting. You were such a darling!
I know it is human nature to appreciate someone when they are no longer there but that is not the case for us. We all loved and appreciated you so much when you were still alive. You were my person because you believed in me. Because you cared, you were kind and super sweet, because you were the definition of unconditional LOVE and because you were my best friend.
An invite landed on my desk the other day, inviting me and you to spend today brunching and getting pampered at some spa. I don’t know what to do with that invite. See, today is Mother’s day. You’re not here physically but it is ok. I choose to spend it remembering everything about you as I repeat “Mothers and Daughters” a movie that reminded me that there are people who don’t appreciate their mothers and that I am so lucky to have had such a beautiful and special relationship with mine. I hope those with mums will treat them to some special surprises today or just spend time with them. I know you concur on that.
Rest in Peace my Mama Bear, I will mourn you till I join you and dad (Say hello for me).
Your Bestfriend and Daughter Maureen