Journey Ring

Dear Mom,

20161011_173351Remember this ring you bought me?  You bought it from that jewelry shop that used to be at Park Royal- the North side of the mall.  Boy, that mall has totally changed since you’ve been gone. Sometimes, I really hate the changes.  Too much changes and then I feel I’ve lost places I could go to to conjure up more memories or feelings from when we use to just hang out at malls or restaurants. I know the memories should just stay with me, but I feel like the changes just remind me more that you’re gone.  And that is not something I need more reminders of.

At least I have this ring. So… you actually bought me a gold ring with an amethyst jewel in the center.  You knew that amethyst was my birthstone? Or was that just coincidence?  Well, I have such slender fingers. So do you, so DID you. 😦  But maybe not as small as mine. So I think what happened was that you brought the ring home for me and it was too big?  That’s when we went out to the shop to resize the ring.  And while we were telling the sales guy what we wanted, you must have put on the ring, on your own hand.  And I really liked it on you. So did you decide you should keep it then, or did I tell you that you should?

I always had to convince you to keep anything for yourself. You were always giving and thinking of others first.  But it looked beautiful on you- that amethyst ring. And you still wanted to give me a ring. I must have mentioned somewhere in the conversation that I really liked silver. The sales guy was on it, and he pulled out this little ring, a silver one, and it had these five little gem stones in it.  It was pretty, but I wasn’t totally sure about it.  Until, he told us the story behind it and its name.

“It’s called a Journey Ring,” he said to both of us. And as he pointed to each little gem, he said that they represent different journeys in our lives. And that the pattern of going from a small gem to a bigger and bigger one was supposed to represent going from one journey to deeper and deeper ones.

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You smirked and said something like, “It’s perfect for my daughter because she is ALWAYS on some journey.”  Haha! Oh my God, Mom, that was a good one.  And then the equally funny sales guy put his hand over yours and said, “Mom, we are ALL on a journey.”

I found it hilarious that he called you “Mom”- this tall, Asian Jewelry salesman in a crisp, classy suit.  I wanted to say, “Wait, she’s MY mom,” but of course I didn’t.  I know he was trying to be flattering and connect with us to make the sale. And actually, he did a good job of it, because I was sold by the story behind the ring and I loved its name. And I think you just liked that I liked it.

Did we get it resized there? I think we must have needed to. It seems strange that it would have fit perfectly.  That rarely happens with rings on my hands.

I never knew how significant that moment would be, how it suddenly arose as one so deeply etched in my mind and heart.  I was excited about having a ring from you and one that represented this travel bug I always seemed to have, and this search for something deeper.  Excited about all the future journeys I would be going on or that were waiting for me.  What I didn’t want to face was having to continue without you.  That is not something I was consciously thinking about at that time.  Because I know that whenever the idea did creep into my mind, I couldn’t stay with it.  It frightened me so much. I had to always try to run away from it or just brush it aside.

Since then, I have come to learn that there are many types of journey rings. It is not that unique of a name.  But my ring is unique because it came from you and holds the story of that day for me.

I’ve been going on a few more journeys than normal since you’ve been gone.  This time, they were all either in search of a connection to you, or in search of answers and maybe to escape the reality of your not being here.

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I have learned over and over that it is not something I can escape.

I have tried to imagine inviting you on the journeys, to accompany me and see all these new lands and people and sites and sounds.  But no matter where I go, no matter how far, or who I meet, I cannot fill the space that is left inside of me that only you and your voice and touch and your peace can fill. I am still looking for proof of your peace.

I don’t know how to find it. And when I am away, I feel guilty for not having made more time to go on and experience these trips with you. To experience new foods, cultures, clothing, and music that exist around the world with you.  Traveling has given me new insights, taught me so much, made me come back home with fresh eyes and a rejuvenated heart.  THIS is what you needed.  And I feel awful for not having helped you have those experiences. I shared this feeling of guilt with an acquaintance I met while I was away recently.

He told me that I no longer need to feel guilty because “Your mother is going with you now to all of these places.  She is probably thanking you for going on these journeys. Because all that you experience and see and feel through them now, she is able to share with you.”

I would like to believe that he is right. I really would. I just don’t know anymore. And I still am always looking for proof. I am sorry, Mom, for not taking more journeys with you, for not seeing more of the world with you.

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Places are changing around me, even people and areas around home are transforming into newer buildings and businesses.  But I will hold on to the little things, like my journey ring from you, to remind me of the journey that I was blessed to have with you.  Even if it didn’t involve flying to another continent, or enough shopping trips in other countries, I know that my best and most meaningful journey was the one spent with you.  All the moments, all the conversations, all the silences, all the laughs and even the tears.  The best journey of my life was you. Thank you, Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Water Bottles and Other Stuff

hot-water-bottleDear Mom,

I am at home but I feel really cold. Maybe it’s my low iron again, or just that the temperatures have dropped a lot outside over the past few days. Or probably I just take after you. We both tended to get cold quickly.  I even have your plaid shawl around me- the heavy one I bought for you years ago, and a blanket on my lap.  But… .I still can’t seem to warm up.

So… I finally made use of your hot water bottle. Well, actually, if I remember correctly, maybe you bought it for me many years ago? And then I kept it in my kitchen or closet and didn’t make use of it. Remember the one with the tartan kind of fleecy cover on it?  I think that I ended up giving it back to you a couple of years ago? I don’t know. I’ve lost track of time and memories.

Either way, I know that you bought it for either you or me.  And you LOVED hot water bottles. They definitely make me think of you.  That should be all the more reason for me to make use of this one, right?  I am sorry to say that it’s actually  exactly what made it really hard for me to pull it out of my kitchen cabinet.

It’s just not the same without you.  Hot water bottles, Vix Vapo Rub, Dimatap, they are all full of memories of you.  Or they fill me with feelings about you.  All the best, most nurturing kind.   Same with cold compresses on foreheads, or just your hand on a forehead, or you massaging any legs that were near you- whether they were mine, your son’s or your granddaughters’.  Your soft and warm touch would always make us feel better without even us realizing it right away.   So calming and soothing and full of love.  Everything you did was out of love.

That’s why it has taken me over a year to pull out that hot water bottle, and just as I should have suspected, it doesn’t really seem to work. Sure, there is some warmth coming from it but it’s short lived and not at all the same.  Something is missing.  It wasn’t actually the hot water bottle that was warming me, was it?  It was you.

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They say that it takes time, but I think they are wrong.  Still nothing is the same without you.  And it feels words each day instead of better because at the same time I find it hard to face the memories, I am equally afraid to forget them.

I went to Save On Foods today- the one in North Vancouver we always went to.  It feels like every aisle conjures up another memory of you for me.  The pharmacy where we’d get your prescriptions filled, the wall shelf that housed the high in calcium (but low in sugar) energy drinks we’d get you, the cosmetics area where you’d buy the same shampoo in the thin green bottles.  Or and new bottle of hairspray.  God, I miss watching you spurt some hairspray over your head to add some body to the top.

And of course, the one percent milk and ,multi grain bread you’d know exactly where to find. Oh, and bananas, and sometimes mangoes.  We could never leave the grocery store without bananas. You loved bananas.  And I think you loved buying mangoes for me, and to remind you of Mama.

As I write these memories down now, a part of me smiles for a few seconds. I genuinely feel some of those moments so deeply embedded in my heart and mind, that they seem impossible to forget. But the thought that I will never have them again, the actual experiences with you, overwhelms this same heart with more sadness than I ever thought I could feel.  There is a searching that I go through every time I am somewhere that you and I frequented often together.  Like when I am in some of those favorite places of yours.

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It’s like I am looking through the aisles for you.  Searching for you.  But then I remember that you’re gone.  Maybe I find bits and pieces to hold onto, because of the sweet smells as I walk by the fruit section, or when I pass by the white basmati rice, but there are also holes and emptiness that must make me appear so lost.

For a moment, as I am walking back to your car in the parking lot, I remember that I will never have your rice or see you get excited about cooking samosas again. And I know that nothing can ever replace that.

So as I hug this hot water bottle tighter to my chest, to try to feel you closer to me,  I realize I cannot magically squeeze my mother’s warmth and love out of it, or through it.  And I just watch as my tears fall down onto its tartan cover. It is the same hot water bottle, but nothing feels the same as it used to be.

Storytelling

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“Maybe mom planned that one.”

That’s what I texted your son when he messaged me to tell me that he and his family were on the same flight to LA as your sister’s family.  Neither of them knew that they were going to LA the same weekend. I knew, but I never really thought about them possibly being on the same flight or even leaving anywhere near the same day or same time.  So… it seemed like a pretty big coincidence. Then again, maybe there were only a select few flights that day so it was not that big of a deal.  Either way, I wanted it to be true.

I mean, I wanted you, Mom, to be able to ‘arrange’ those kind of cool coincidences in our lives.  That way, I could feel like you are okay, MORE than okay. I mean, if you are able to make big arrangements in our lives from way up wherever you are, then you have to be pretty comfortable and happy yourself, right?  I don’t know if I believe it is even possible. But I want to believe it. I want to believe that my mom can still sprinkle her magic touch over us even if she is not physically here. stories5

Maybe you know that our family hasn’t come together much since you have passed away. Maybe you wanted to create some opportunities for your son and his family and your sister and her family to catch up or at least just see each other to make sure they are okay. Maybe you thought your son need some Sunderji time, or that the Sunderjis needed a little Rajwani time, no matter how brief it might have been.

I try to pass this idea indirectly to your grand kids too.  “Guess what I have for you?” I messaged your eldest grandchild.  “Oreo cookies! But wait, they are not just any Oreos. They are Special Edition Mint Oreos!!!”

“Omg!!!” she messaged me back. “Where did you find them??!!!”

See, mom, I don’t know if you realize this but those mint Oreos you used to give your granddaughter- they are really really hard to find! I mean, sometimes Shoppers has them, but usually only in the colder seasons, and even then, they are really rare and you have to just be looking or you just miss them.  And your granddaughter remembers when you brought a WHOLE package of Oreos to Khane one day.  You told her you had something for her, and you opened your purse. And she still cannot figure out how you fit the whole package in that purse of yours. But she remembers that day clearly.  And has often told the story of how you pulled out the unopened package and made very apparent that you brought all those cookies just for her. We can’t seem to forget that now.  Oreos, especially the mint kind, are ingrained in us as a special present from mint-oreosyou. Funny how I could never have imagined how much something so ‘small’ like a packet of Oreos has now become so significant in our lives.

So I messaged your granddaughter back and told her that it was the strangest thing- because it was- how I came across that recent package of mint Oreos. See, it wasn’t even winter yet. In fact, it was later this summer.  And I was at Shoppers, looking for some snacks, and I saw regular packets of Oreos and then the green filling on one of the packages caught my eye.  And I realized that those were the mint Oreos that your granddaughter was talking about.  I couldn’t believe that they were right in front of me.  So of course, I wanted to grab at least once package. They were even on sale.  But then I noticed that it was the only package left.  It seemed a little strange.  But I didn’t ask any questions, and just figured one package was better than no packages.  Because actually, no packages of mint Oreos was what I was and still am usually faced with.  I almost thought your granddaughter was making them up until I saw this one package.

I bought it and still have it kept at home, waiting to give it to both of your granddaughters to share.  But I explained to the eldest that the next day, when I went to Shoppers to see if I could pick up some more packages, there were no new ones that came in.  And even the sales person told me that they usually don’t come in at that time of year. And I have never seen any more mint oreos every since.  Is this not strange to you, Mom? How did you find them so easily, way back when and…  maybe… this summer? Uh hem.

“I think maybe stories-6Laila Mama planted them there on the shelf for me to see, so that I would buy them for you,” I told your granddaughter.  It was like they were a present from you, through me, to give to her.  But it was also like a sign that you are okay, Mom, that you are doing great, working your magic from far away to let us know that you are actually not that far.  I try to convince myself that they are signs that you are still with us and this time, you can be with all of us at the same time, now that you have “special powers”.

Again, it’s storytelling. I know that. I know that not only am I telling these stories to others whom you loved, but I’m telling THEM the stories to try to convince MYSELF that they could be true.  That maybe, just maybe, there could be an ounce of reality in them.

I know it sounds crazy to many people.  Hey, it all sounds crazy to me too.  And I often become suddenly sad after I hear myself tell another story because it hits me how highly unlikely the story probably is.  It’s just a coincidence, my rational mind tells me.  It’s just what you want to believe but you have no proof, I hear myself tell myself.

But it’s all I seem to have right now, Mom. And if another little story gets me through another day or another hour or another moment without you, then I’m going to have to keep telling these stories because the alternative- not

believing at all- just makes living without you unbearable.

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My most recent story is one I tell myself every day actually.  It helps me get up in the morning, each time I am faced with the reality that this was not just all a nightmare, that you really are not here physically.  I try to remind myself that you can still help influence my day.  I actually tell myself that I would like you to relate to me how you want me to spend my day.  I take that picture of you and me from years ago- I take it from my window ledge near my bed and put it on the burgundy shelf near the kitchen- every morning as soon as I get up.  I move the picture away from the sunlight so it doesn’t start fading more than it already has.

Then I ask you, “What are we going to do today, Mom? Who are we going to talk to? What are we going to say?   And where are we going to go?” And then I try to feel throughout the day for any guidance on these answers.  Yeah, I pretty much pretend that I can feel you leading me throughout the day.  You become my intuition and instincts.  I try to listen for it. Sometimes, it seems to work. Other times, I break down wondering who I’m trying to fool.  Like the other day, I just cried as I asked the questions, and hugged our picture to my chest as I moved it away from the window.

But I still do it the next day, and the next day and the next, even if I am fully in tears while asking and totally in doubt about whether you could ever hear me.  I still ask the questions. I still imagine that we can plan the day together.  And I will continue to ask every day.

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Maybe one day, I will feel a more clear and definite answer, one that really seems to be coming from your voice and your heart.  Until then, the stories are going to keep coming, or I will keep creating them.  It’s kind of what gets me through right now- storytelling.  It’s my way of not allowing our story to come to an end.  I refuse to believe it is the end.

 

Canada Day- a piece of cake…

Dear Mom,

Canada Day just officially ended.  And I had it in the back of my head all day and probably even last night, that I should make sure I get out to Save On Foods to get a piece of that cake you loved.  It was the infamous Canada Day cake they served to all their customers at the North Vancouver location.

canada-day-fireworksI did go out there last year, and make sure to get a piece for you.  It was “for” you, or at least the gesture was, but even then, it was kind of anticlimactic.  I mean, it was the excitement and pleasure you showed on your face and in your voice that made those cake eating moments the most fun. But now, I don’t have you to share it with. So… maybe, deep down inside, I wasn’t making a huge effort to go and get a piece.  At the same time that it seemed like a ritual type thing I could stick to, it also felt really sad.  And I just didn’t know how much more sadness I could take today.

So, I didn’t make it.  What I did was once I was up and had gotten some energy to head out and face A Save On Foods alone, I decided to go to the nearest one I knew- which was near Cambie.  When I got there, I was happy to hear that they also serve the same kind of cake. However, I got there too late. And the woman at the customer service desk was kind enough to call the North Vancouver location for me.  They also said that they were just packing up the last of the cake, so I wouldn’t have made it.

How can such a small thing, something that almost seems ‘meaningless’ like a piece of cake, now have so much significance to me?  I think the thing is that you never asked for much from anyone. But if you ever did hint at wanting something, it was always a simple, little thing.  Something I could so easily do.  Like taking you to get a piece of

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Canada Day Cake at Save On, but, what really weighs heavy on me is that I didn’t always do it. I didn’t realize how big of a thing it was for you. How it would have just made your day.  And how now, my NOT having done it for you, especially the last Canada Day that you had, really just makes me feel so stupid.  You loved to see the parades and to have the cake.  You mentioned that you wanted to have some that day.  And I don’t remember what happened, or what I said. But I know I didn’t take you that year.  And I don’t ever remember taking you to the parade.

So now, Canada Day is tinged with a lot of regret for me.  On the one hand, I think of your most adorable face, smiling with cake in your mouth, so obviously enjoying each bite.  But on the otherhand, I think of how many years I could have helped to put that smile on your face over and over again. But sometimes, I chose not to take you.  And I am really sorry.  So so sorry.  You have no idea.

But I do want you to know that all those years I didn’t take you to the parade, it’s not like I was taking myself to the parade and leaving you out or not wanting to spend that time with you.  I just wasn’t out or up at that time. I wasn’t in the parade area and I didn’t make an effort for myself either.  I never got a chance to explain that to you.  But really, it’s not a good excuse. I should have been celebrating our lives in Vancouver, in Canada with you.

I should have been thank you every Canada Day, at least, if not every day, for coming out to Canada, and making a life for us here. You had to do so much to come here. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been. What a change in lifestyle. And how traumatic and sad it must have been to have been kicked out of the country you grew up in, in Uganda. To be kicked out of your home.

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You were so courageous to come here and have to leave everything behind. And just start over.  I know you did it for us.  I know it was so much harder and scarier and exhausting than you made it seem.  And I am so regretful that I never got a chance to tell you how grateful I am for what you did.  Mostly, I am regretful that I didn’t make more of an effort to SHOW you how grateful I am and how much you deserved to be treated with the most respect and generosity and caring.  I know it wasn’t easy what you went through. I know there are things that I will never have to go through- hardships that you went through- only because you made a better life for us coming here.  I am so grateful for my Indian background, for my mom’s East African roots, but also for her giving birth to me in Canada. I am grateful for being Canadian. I am grateful that you were able to come to Canada and have a safer, freer life here.  I am grateful forever grateful for you, Mom, the most extraordinary woman I will ever know.

Thanks for teaching me to enjoy and savor the little things, like a piece of Canada Day Celebration Cake.  It is hard to want to have it without you.  Sorry I missed it today.  Just as well, because it’s you I miss the most. And I’m not ready to enjoy the cake without the person that made it so meaningful.  Maybe next time.

Love you Mom. Happy Canada Day! Thank you for making me Canadian born and giving me so many opportunities to learn and grow and be safe and free as a citizen of this beautiful country. I wish you had had those same freedoms growing up.

My friend posted this article and video today.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-day-syrian-refugees-1.3661635

It made me cry along with the girl who was expressing her appreciation for being in Canada now.  She is a refugee and her and her family fled Syria during a time of war. How can I be so sensitive to a stranger’s  story of enduring very harsh conditions that I’m sure were devastating while she was back in her own home country, but not have realized that my mom and her family also fled really dangerous situation in their hometown.

It made me wonder what kinds of things you saw or heard or witnessed or feared while you were in East Africa. And that is a painful thought. You made it so easy for us to forget all that you went through back there. But that doesn’t mean you forgot.  And now I realize that just made you an even more loving Mom.  You tried not to burden us with any of what you went through. Maybe you blocked it out of your memory somewhat as well. But you still went through it.  And you deserved to be taken cared of especially after that.  I just wanted you to get all the love that you gave out back.  That’s my biggest regret. I could have given more, but I didn’t. I should have given more, but I didn’t realize it until it was too late.

All I can do now is show you how grateful I am now by living this life in Canada- of freedom and opportunities- in a way that will make you proud.  In a way that will make all you did for us worth it. And I promise I will keep remembering how lucky I am to be born and brought up here.  How lucky I am to be born from you.

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And guess what else Canada has to celebrate? Probably the finest Prime Minister we’ve had. And how fitting that he is warming hearts and celebrating Canada and helping more people like that Syrian family in the video being welcomed into our country.  Because if my understanding is correct, it was his father who helped you guys and other Ismailis come into Canada so smoothly.  Another reason I like Justin Trudeau. I know you would have REALLY liked him.

It’s still  shocks me that you’re not here to witness all of this.  I still can’t believe you’re gone.  But I’m trying to make you proud, Mom. It’s just hard without you by my side.  But I’m just going to keep believing that you are somewhere around me, …just in a different form now.

And I hope you’re allowed to have all the cake and chai you want, where you are, so that the Save On Cake is nothing compared to what you get to indulge in :-).

 

Mom’s the WORLD

I wrote this many years ago for a contest in a newspaper.  I remember that the story was one of the winning ones, and the prize was something to do with a spa treatment or pampering package. I don’t remember if my mom and I used it together. I donmom5‘t even remember if my mom read through this whole piece. Or if she did, I wonder if she understood all of it. Maybe I just briefly told her about it out loud.

But now that I found this,  in my mother’s storage locker with some other course work and writing I had shoved away in a box there, I feel I owe my mom an apology.  For any of the times that I might have seemed embarrassed about something you did or said, or any of the times I might not have stood up for you or seemed as proud of you as I was, I am so deeply sorry. It was me who was actually the embarrassment in those moments.  I had the greatest mother in the world. And I wish I had told you, and showed you, every moment, every day when I had the chance.  Mom your really were and still are THE WORLD to me.

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My mother sat at the window seat of my narrow dorm room, her small feet dangling just inches off the speckled carpet.  Her curly brown hair, and the thick, burgundy shawl draped over her shoulders blocked my view of the other students milling about on the college grounds.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said, patting the cushion underneath her, “I’ll just sleep here.”mom3

I was supposed to spend my first week at Lancaster University participating in orientation activities, meeting my flat mates, and taking in the gorgeous greenery that blanketed the English county.  Instead, I rolled my eyes as my mother unpacked one of her bags.  What looked like a pharmacy rolled out of it- packets of tylenol, multi-vitamins, cough syrup and hurder (tumeric)- a chalky, mustard yellow Indian spice which my mom swore was the ultimate cure for any illness. I am sure I argued about how it was just going to weigh me down.

I tried to remind myself that she was only staying for a couple of days.  And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  We had never really traveled together, so we could get up early and tour around town.  But all I can recall seeing of Lancashire during those few days were endless grocery store aisles.  My mother dragged me out to buy fruits, vegetables, and cleaning supplies so that she could sanitize my room.  She even set up the kitchen for me- a kitchen that was shared between fifteen other college students, none of which were being followed by their frantic mothers.

I collapsed on my bed, looking up at the ceiling.  When my mother asked me, for the third time, if she could make me a cup of tea, I threw my arms up in the air and stomped out of my room.  I don’t remember what it was that I said to her at that moment, but her watery eyes stuck with me for a long time afterwards.

mom6For the next couple of days, my mom sat in the kitchen alone, warming her hands with a cup of tea, while I was out spending time with strangers who I never really ended up keeping in touch later.

One afternoon, one of my flatmates Lydia, knocked on my door.  While licking her chocolate covered fingers, she said, “Your mom came over to my room this morning.”

Panic struck my face as I wondered what my mom had done this time.

“She’s so sweet,” said Lydia, “She gave me these delicious chocolates, and then asked if I would take care of you.  You’re really luck to have such a thoughtful mother.”

A sudden knot gripped my stomach.  It was different this time. Not embarrassment towards her, but complete shame at my own behavior towards her.

I don’t even remember saying goodbye to mother, but I won’t forget what it felt like to sit in my room alone, once she was gone.mom1

I looked around me- the bed my my mom had made, the sink she always waited so patiently to use after me, and that bench where she slept. How did she even squeeze herself onto it, and how could I have allowed her to? Though I could now see clearly out the window, I didn’t feel any desire to.  Instead, I sat down at the bench, hugging my knees to my chest.

Over the next few months, Lydia became one of my closest friends.  Even though we didn’t have much in common, we had a connection between us- the promise she had made to my mother.  My mom and I kept in touch while I was away, and one day, she sent me a package.  I gagged as I opened the box- the pungent stench of more Indian concoctions, combined with Vicks Vapo Rub and Tetley Tea -wafted through the air.  “You sent me TEA in England, mom?  What were you thinking?” I remember asking her.

But shortly after, many of us in the dorm fell sick, and I ended up using all of the contents of that package.  My flatmates were impressed at how quickly the cold remedies kicked in.  And somehow, none of the British teas compared to the tea bags that my mom had sent.

Since then, I have traveled, moved out on my own, and have become a teacher.  Nevertheless, it is my mother who has been the most important teacher in my life.  She has been a mom, a dad, a friend, and an inspiration to  me.

She came to Canada, after being kicked out of her home in Uganda, with nothing more than her baby boy, her family and her traditional Indian values.  My mom had never ridden an escalator, was unfamiliar with the city of Vancouver, and had only worked at her father’s shop in East Africa.

mom2How my mother managed to get a job, find her way around a new city, with new customs and new cultures, raise two kids, and completely readjust the lifestyle and patterns of thinking that she had grown up with, astounds me.  But most of all, her strength to still enjoy each day and keep smiling, even after the loss of her own mother, reminds me that my mother is the strongest woman I know.

My mom possesses a particularly motherly magic.  She can sense what I’m feeling and protects me from any distance.  Even the cheesy Hindi movies she brings me, despite their Bollywood bombast, are carefully chosen with messages of guidance and comfort.  It amazes me that my mother knows the exact story lines in the movies I need at various times in my life, without either one of us having to say a single word.

Last fall, my mother and I finally went on our very first trip together- to Harrison Hot Springs.  During the car drive there, my mom revealed some childho

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od secrets, and we laughed at memories of my brother and I fighting for her attention.  At the resort, my mother and I pampered ourselves with massaged and pedicures, a

nd relaxed in the steamy whirlpools.  We also slipped on sequined tops and high heels for the dinners in the elegant dining hall.  And at the end of every night, we made sure to sit near the window and share a warm pot of tea in soothing silence.

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparents’ Day

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Dear Mom,

A little voice called me up last week and said, “So, since Laila Mama can’t make it this year, would you like to come to Grandparents’ Day?”

It was your oldest granddaughter of course.

I must have paused for a moment, to catch my breath and hold back the tears, or the lump in my throat.  Maybe it was the sweetness of that voice, that I didn’t expect to hear when I picked up the phone. I didn’t recognize the number.  Or maybe  it was just in her asking me to attend an event at her school, in your honour.  But it was definitely not because I was unsure whether I could go.  I knew it was the right thing to be there, for her and for you. And I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that.

I think I was just touched, for you mainly, because she started the whole question with you as the basis of it.  And I hope you can feel how much she loves and thinks about you.

The funny thing is that there was no hi, no greeting of any kind on the phone. She just got straight to the question. And she kind of made it feel like it was a conversation carried on from another day, or another moment, even though we hadn’t actually talked for a couple of weeks. And we definitely didn’t talk about any of this kind of stuff.

Without realizing it myself, I think I needed that kind of familiarity, that kind of lightness about the whole topic.   There was this definite sense that she wasn’t just asking me to be there, but that your granddaughter was acknowledging you.  Yet, she didn’t say that you were gone, or passed away.  It was just a simple, “since she can’t be here”.

Kids make things so easy sometimes.

And I have decided that on some days, that’s how I need to look at it.  That I need to focus a little less on the heaviness of your passing away, and think of it more like you just can’t be here for some things physically. But that you might very well be here through it all with us in spirit.  Maybe you were there with us at the school on Grandparents’ Day, even though we couldn’t see you.

I hope you could see or feel us.  Were you the one who helped me beat the traffic even though I was so stuck before the bridge and didn’t think I would make it on time?  I thought I left early enough, but then no cars were moving for the longest time and I panicked thinking that A. would think I forgot or something. I even called the school, asking them to pass on a message to her, letting her know I was on my way.

There was really no way that I should have made it there on time, but somehow, I did- even after parking and getting up all those stairs to the third floor of the school, somehow, I made it to the classroom just before A. did.  Maybe you heard my prayer about it and helped.

Did you see A’s classroom, and her write up about Emily Carr? Did you see her teaching me her fraction puzzles, and reading me her art presentation?

And wasn’t she great in P.E.? Remember how I used to just do whatever I could to avoid those games in P.E. or just avoid P.E. in general? And you used to help me with sick notes? Haha! Well, A. luckily, did not get my lack of coordination and skill and courage in sport. She just gets out there and gets involved and runs around and participates fully with her peers.  She has so many friends, and gets along with everyone.  You would be so proud of her.  Actually, I know you already are.

But the funniest was when one of her classmates asked me if I was A’s grandmother. Did you hear that when the boy asked, as he sat at his seat with his grandparents sitting on either side of him?  I hope you laughed, Mom.  My response was, “I look pretty good for a grandma, don’t I?”

A. tried to explain that she was allowed to ask anyone to come.  I think she might have thought I was offended by the boy’s comment. But actually, it was such a great few hours.  I was so grateful to be a part of it.

Your older brother was there too.  I was so surprised to see him sitting in the cafeteria, eating cookies and tea with the other grandparents.  Chai and biscuits. That was your thing, Mom.  The more I write about the events of that day, the more I wonder if maybe you really were there, somehow.

Later, when A and her friend came back down to the cafeteria with me (I think they were doing whatever they could to miss math class-haha!), the head master of the school was speaking to all the grandparents.

I don’t think A. and her friend heard this part, because they were chatting and trying to negotiate how many doritos were a fair trade for a stick of kit kat.  I had given A. a Kit Kat bar which she couldn’t wait to break open.   I chose it because I know it was your favorite. Actually, every once in awhile I keep one in my purse, especially when I know I’m going to see her. Plus, I wanted to give her a little gift to say thank you for think about me and you on this day. Her friend saw it and A. saw her friend’s Doritos, so they tried to make a deal on how they could each get a little bit of each other’s treats.

The headmaster was reminding all the visitors what an impact grandparents have on their grandchildren.  He said he was reading recently about how grandparents can really shape the values that their grandkids can have, sometimes just as much as the parents of those same kids.

And I want you to know that you have definitely shaped A’s values. She has your loving, giving heart.  She is so full of smiles, is caring and sweet and she remembers you, and so much of what you said and did with her.  She will always remember you Mom. I can feel it.  You may have only had 8 years with her, but your impact will last with her forever. I can see it already. She smiles at every memory of you, and she says  your name with such warmth and happiness.

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And I know you felt sadness at not being able to build more of a bond with your youngest granddaughter. Not getting to know her, and her not getting to know you enough.  But she will know you, Mom. It’s impossible for her not to because she has all of us around her who will carry your lessons and love and memory with us forever.  Even in the less than three years you were around her, I believe that was enough to connect with her.  She got a sense of you which she will carry with her always.  And besides, your son, your eldest granddaughter and I, and the rest of your family will be sure to continue to teach little M. about you.  Your eldest granddaughter has adopted values from you,  and knew your love. You have shaped who she is and how she sees the world. You have influenced who she will become.  And she will carry this with her and pass it on and impact her little sister with it. So that in itself means that your light will shine on both of them, always, regardless of how much time you had with them while you were physically here with us.

Maybe you are already finding your own ways to shine on both of your granddaughters anyway. Knowing you, this can’t be far from the truth.  Those girls are everything to you.  And I know how much happiness being a grandmother gave you.

I am also personally aware what an impact a loving grandmother can make in a very short amount of time.  Say hi to mine for me. Tell her that I always think of her. I hope she knows that you both deserve a best grandmother award. There was no one like you two.  And there never will be.

I am so lucky to have two such beautiful angels watching over me now.

Please Mama, continue to take care of my Mom. And Mom, we promise to watch over your granddaughters.

Happy Grandparents Day!  I heard there is an actual Grandparents’ Day- an official day set out to celebrate grandparents, but it is actually sometime in autumn. But I am going to wish you one now since we had a mini one at A’s school.

Every day should be grandparents day anyway.

Love you Mom.

Tonight, I’m blowing you kisses from me, your son, and his daughters- your granddaughters.

 

It tolls for all of us…

“…Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.”

– John Donne

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Dear Mom,

As I left my place this morning, a man asked me if the elevator was taking awhile.  I thought about it and said, “Yes, I guess I have been waiting a little.”

I noticed he had a few garbage bags on a cart, as well as a box in his hand. I asked him if he was cleaning out his storage locker and he said he was cleaning out his brother in law’s place. His brother in law had just passed away last week.

I stumbled with every word I said after that.  I’m sure “I’m sorry” came out somewhere in my words, but it didn’t seem like enough.  And then I realized I started talking about the box in his hand- a box for a hand held vacuum cleaner. I think I said I need one for my car, and he responded that unfortunately, the box is empty.

God, what was I thinking? But I know what I was thinking. I was thinking, God, what’s with all this someone just up and dies again business all about?  I don’t get it. And because I don’t get it, and this stab in my stomach had formed that suddenly climbed up towards my throat into this uncomfortable ball, I just rambled, about stupid, meaningless things.

I must have seemed so insensitive to this man and what he was going through. But when I apologized, and told him that I actually just didn’t know what to say as the subject was so dear to me- a loved one passing away,  because my mom passed away, he complained about trivial things that then made me wonder how he could be so insensitive.  He said he had to deal with lawyers and funeral arrangements and where to put his brother in law’s closet full of suits.  He said he just wants to be done with it and go back home, to Prince George.

“He was a concierge for a hotel here,” said the man about the brother in law, as I was stepping out of the elevator.

I immediately turned towards him and held the elevator door to stop it from closing. “Did you say he was a concierge?” I asked,  now realizing my own sadness was coming through.  “Yes.  Did you know him?” the man asked.

I used to see this man all the time in the elevator.  He was so friendly and always smiling. He didn’t look like he had any medical issue going on.  And I couldn’t believe that just like that, he was gone.

And we just go on with our lives, either because we are in a rush to catch an elevator, or because he wasn’t related to me, or because his relatives want to get back to their daily lives in Prince George.  But I wanted to then know what happened to him.  Was he sick? Was he in an accident? Why are there no signs out in our apartment to honour this man, who lived on the same floor as me? This man who always greeted me with kindness.  Why am I back in my apartment continuing my day as if nothing happened?

It’s so sad, Mom.  I wonder how your neighbours must have felt when they found out you passed away.  That they would never see your smiling face in the elevator again. And it also makes me angry thinking that they too just went back to their every day lives, as if nothing happened.

What can you do right? I guess that’s what we’re all thinking. What they’re all thinking.

It doesn’t matter if they didn’t know you well, or weren’t a relative.  It affects us, or it should affect all of us, when another person leaves this earth.  I know you understood that. You went to so many funerals, of people you sometimes had hardly spoken to, people you sometimes never even met.  But you knew that each and every one of those people mattered. And you attended their funerals to show that we are all connected, and that that loss is a loss for all of us.  It humbles us, and reminds us that none of us live forever.

And though you never spoke about this to me, I realize now that you were always very aware of this – that our time could come just like that.  How brave you were living and enduring even though so many people around you had passed away, including your own loving mother.

And I so admire you, for being that strong person who always showed up, and always reached out a hand to people who experienced loss.  It didn’t make you too sensitive or weak. It made you compassionate, and loving.  And I am so sorry that I didn’t always listen enough, or take the time to just even sit in silence with you when you would tell me that this person or that person’s son, or this other person’s wife, or so and so’s brother had passed away.  I couldn’t connect to it maybe because I didn’t know how to, or probably because I was too scared to. But you faced the fear, despite how much it must have weighed heavy on your heart. You faced it to honour those people.

What a difference it might have made to you if I had just taken those moments to acknowledge that these people mattered to you, that you were saddened by these losses. That you didn’t have to face this alone.  It’s not about one person, it’s about all the other people that person touched, and all the grief and sadness, and the holes that are caused by that one person being taken from the earth.  It’s a ripple effect of grief. And it reaches all of us.

The bell tolls for all of us, every time.

I didn’t fully understand this until the most important person in my life was taken.

Thank you for teaching me to care about each person around me, Mom.    Thank you for caring so much about everyone around you.

I hope you are getting back all that caring and love and nurturing and peace- a hundred times over- that you gave out.

Thinking about you always.  That will never change. Ever.

Champagne Birthdays

“…I know they bought a cottage
Just large enough for two.
My mother dusted it with love,
Baked sugar cookies, too.
I wish I’d been her neighbour
Who came for snacks and teas,
Who walked the back fence
Exchanging recipes.
I recall when I was small
She taught me prayerfully.
Sometimes I think my mother was
A little bit like me.
Of all the people in the world,
Much more than any other,
I wish I might have known her,
Before she was my mother.”
– By Brenda Leigh

 

Dear Mom,

In less than three hours, it would have been your 78 birthday.  That sentence feels so wrong to me for many reasons. The first one is the “you would have been” part.  I still don’t believe that you’re not here. It shocks me when I wake up every morning. Even in the middle of the night, I think it’s just the longest and worst nightmare I’ve been through.  But then I have to face the truth each day.

It’s hard. I want to stay up until 12am and call you right at midnight like you did for my birthday last year.  Better yet, I wish I could show up at your place, and spend the night so that we could celebrate together.  I would watch Hindi movies, or eat samosas, or go to Walmart or Shoppers or even take you to Sha’s Video and James Street Grill if I could.  I wish I could do all your favorite things with you to show you how special March 16th is to me, how special you are, and how lucky I am to have had you as a mother.

And this would be your seventy eighth??!! Really? Honestly, Mom, you never looked a day over 50 to me. And even then, your skin and hands, your innocent smile, and your warm heart were always so youthful.

Youth.  I wonder what you were like when you were younger, before I knew you, like maybe on your Champagne Birthday.  Oh my God, Mom, I never got a chance to teach you about Champagne birthdays!  It was actually a term I didn’t learn until just a few years ago, when Renee had hers- her Champagne Birthday.  She actually taught me what the phrase meant.

See, Renee’s birthday is March 29th, so the year she turned 29- that 29th birthday was her Champagne Birthday.  Your birthday is on March 16th, so that means that your Champagne Birthday was when you were sixteen. Sorry I missed it.  I try to imagine what you were like at 16 or younger. Sorry I missed what kind of girl you were growing up- what you looked like, what you dreamed of becoming, who you played with, and even your laugh or the way you wore your hair and what kind of boys you liked.

I know some little things about that time- things you told me like you liked to wear long maxi dresses, and wear anjern in your eyes to highlight them with a black line inside your lower lids.  But what were you reading in this picture?  How old were you? What was in the suitcases beside you?  What kind of room did you have?  When did you first start putting on make up?

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There are so many questions, so many details I wish I had asked you, about the girl you were before you were my mother.  I loved hearing your stories.  They will never be the same coming from someone else.  You always said I should write this stuff down. Well, now I can only write down the things I remember.  There are a lot of holes- things I don’t know, things I was scared to find out about because I know you didn’t always have it easy. And I guess sometimes, we forget that our parents were not always our parents. You had a life before me. You ran around your own playgrounds, had your own parents who looked after you, you had your own dolls and favorite places to go to eat or meet friends.

I only have a few pictures of you when you were younger. But they are not as far back as when you were a child. I wonder if anyone has those.  I think you all had to leave them behind when you had to leave Uganda.  You lived in Uganda. That in itself is incredible to me.  It’s like another lifetime for me, but it was during your life, a part of who you were.  I wish I could have seen it from your eyes.

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You were so beautiful and looked so free in the pictures I saw of you before you were a mother.  I couldn’t have been there for that time in your life.  I guess I should be grateful for that because I wouldn’t have had you for a mom then.  So thank you for having me. You were definitely there at my Champagne Birthday! That would have been when I was three years old.  I found a picture from that year, that birthday.  Look at the way I was looking at you, Mom?   You feeding me cake, my eyes fixated on you like you were my everything. You really were, and still are.

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I hope that wherever you are now, you are being taken cared of. I don’t know if you celebrate birthdays up there, but this would definitely be a day to celebrate.  Your birthday. It was the best day of my life, because it was the start of the journey of you becoming my mom.  And you coming into this world- well, you touched so many hearts and lives, Mom, the way you cared so much. You always seemed to be buying gifts for other people, never thinking about yourself.

I can only buy you something now to hold onto myself, for you.  It’s not the same, but I try to still pick things that I think you’d like.  I loved buying you gifts. I still see things around at different shops and picture you wearing them or opening them as a gift, or I imagine what you would pick to buy or try on. Oh wait, you never liked trying things on. That’s right. You just saw it, bought it, and I hoped it fit so we wouldn’t have to return it to the store in time. And you were always grateful you didn’t have to spend time in a change room.

I hope that you are showered with the sweetest gifts now.  Have lots of cake with Mama and Bapa. I hope that they are feeding you all your favorite flavors.  And of course, that there is endless chai to go along with it.

Happy Birthday, Mom. You are so deep in my heart. I carry you with me wherever I go.

I am not into celebrating my birthday anymore without the woman who gave birth to me. It just doesn’t feel right. But I will definitely celebrate your birthday in the small ways that I can in hopes that you might feel me thinking about you.

You are never to be forgotten.  You will live on in my memory forever. And everyone of your birthdays will be the most special day of the year for me.

Love Tas

Chando Mama

 

snowmoon

Dear Mom,

Chando Mama. That’s what you called the Moon. At least that’s what it sounded like.

I know you loved the moon a lot. I can still picture you smiling like a child, and stopping to tell me to look up at the sky whenever we were out somewhere at night.

There’s a bright full moon out this evening.. There has been a lot of news leading up to this night- because supposedly this is a rare Moon night. They say that it is referred to as a Snow Moon, sometimes also called a Hunger Moon.

I heard on the radio today that it appears every 19 years?!

I know I could look all of this up to see if it’s true, AND look up the exact word or spelling of the moon in our language. But sometimes, I like to remember things the way that I was first told them, or just the way they were in my memory.  I don’t need it corrected. I just want to hold on to what I heard or felt at that time.  This especially is true about anything that I heard from you.

So Chando Mama and today’s Snow Moon that hasn’t shown up for 19 years it is.

I never got a chance to tell you that the Moon has been so significant to me over the past few years in particular. Some might say it’s because I’m Aquarius.  We are moon-crazy, I believe. Some might say it’s because I’m a romantic. Moon crazy indeed. Some might say it’s because I believe, or believed, in magic. I think all of these could be true.

But, the biggest reason for my love of the moon is over the past few years at least, I swear I could feel Mama- your mom- in the moon’s energy.

I actually would smile at the moon and speak to it on some nights, as if I was speaking to Mama. I could just feel her. I don’t know how to explain it. But at those times, I just knew it was her.

I never told you because I didn’t know if it would make you sad, or maybe I thought you would just think I was being silly. But now I wish I HAD told you, because maybe you would have believed it too. And maybe, in remembering that now, you would find some ways to reach me through the Moonlight because you know I’d be looking  for you or Mama up there.

When I was traveling, especially in foreign places, and felt a little lost or lonely, the Moon always kept me company.  Even following it somehow led me to places where I ended up needing to be, without realizing it.  I felt all of a sudden “found” and guided, rather than lost or unsure. And something told me that that was Mama’s way of still looking after me, after us, as well.

But over the last year, I’ve been losing those beliefs.  I wonder if those moments with the Moon and with my sensing Mama were just completely make believe. Maybe they never happened. Because if I had had those feelings from Mama, then surely, I would feel you- my own mother- somewhere around me as well.  I have been searching everywhere. I’ve been keeping my senses open and alert, to see where your energy  might show up- in the moonlight, in a song, in the sparkle of the ocean or fluttering wings.  Maybe in the wind.  But I’m not sure if I feel anything.  I’ve even waited for you to come into my dreams, but nothing peaceful and reassuring has come from my sleep.

But tonight, I did find myself a little hypnotized by the moonlight. I looked up a few times at it, and felt… something. I’m not sure what it was. But I decided to talk to it a little, as if you were there somewhere in its light.  I guess this night of the Snow Moon is also going to be my night when I open up a little space in me to hope and believe again.

And why not start with the Chando Mama, right?

If I once felt Mama up there, surely you’d have to be there with her.

And maybe some days, pretending is better than not having a hope at all.

I blew a kiss towards the Moon tonight Mom, for you and Mama. I hope you felt it.

Thanks for the light, for the guidance, and the magic in the sky. I am wishing up on the many stars around the Snow/Hunger Moon tonight that you are at peace, and cared for up there.  That while you are watching over me, you are being watched over and loved the way you truly deserve to be, the way you always took care of us.

Goodnight Mom, Mama, and the Moon.  With my curtains open, I am grateful to be sleeping under your light tonight. I will try to make tonight a new night of believing.

This Tea is Forever for Two

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Dear Mom,

I just sat down to have a cup of tea, and I wanted you to know that every sip of tea that I have, and will forever have, is full of memories and thoughts of you. Do you recognize the hot pad under the mug? Yes. It’s yours. You must have had that for years. I’m glad you kept it.

I know tea was one of your most favorite things in the world.  And now it is one of my most favorite things as well, because of you.

It’s funny how something so simple, so ‘small’ such as tea, can become such an important part of our hearts. It reminds me of the moments I sat with you, at your kitchen table, a mug of warmth for our hands.  Sometimes, we weren’t even talking. We just relaxed over chai and cookies, or chai and your infamous pound cake, or chai and Indian soap operas, depending on whether a crazy drama was on that day.  But either way, there was always tea.

Tea was the first thing you always ordered when we went out to eat as well. I can’t forget the smile that even the thought of a fresh pot brought to your face. Priceless.

Thank you for always keeping a box of green tea in your cupboard just for me, even though I know you couldn’t understand how I could drink the stuff.  Sometimes, I think you probably wondered how I could be your daughter. Green tea? Seriously?  Is that how I raised you? is what I imagine you thinking sometimes.  That’s not real tea, is what I’m sure was going through your head.  Yet, you knew that was what I preferred, so you always had it ready for me.  I still only try to drink green tea or herbal tea. Sorry, Mom. The caffeine in the black stuff has somehow become too much for me.  But I do really miss it.

But now I keep a box of Tetley black tea in my cupboard for YOU.  Actually, it is YOUR box of tea, the last one that was left in your apartment.  It makes me feel like I can offer you some from earth to heaven, each time I sit down with my own cup.  And at times, I have given a teabag from your box to someone in my life whom I felt might benefit from the magic I believe your spirit sprinkled into those bags.

TETLEY.  Orange Pekoe or English Breakfast.  You couldn’t live without it.  And since I know I can’t live without you, I sip tea A LOT.  It gives me this feeling that you are still near me, still soothing me, with the warmth of your motherly magic.

You bring a whole other meaning to TEA COZY.

Tea for two. Forever, me and you.

And don’t think that this just works on me because I’m your daughter.

Don’t tell anyone, but your son bought a beautiful tea set – an ornate pot and little tea cups a couple of months ago. Now I KNOW that was your doing, from way up in heaven. I think deep down inside, he probably knows it too.

Thanks for continuing to warm us with your tea love from within, Mom.  We will always save a cup for you.