Laila, oh Leila, Layla

Laila1Dear Mom,

Besides latching onto hearing your name called out in a cemetery as a sign that you’re okay, I also have been following your name around in terms of other types of signs.

The first one I remember is when I was apartment hunting. After you passed away, just after actually, I needed to look for a new place to live because my previous roommate was selling the place I was living in.

I didn’t know whether I was going to stay in North Vancouver or move to some other area. All I knew is that I was feeling lost. You had just passed away. I was devastated (and some would say I still am after four years). But I was in shock of a different kind back then, and I had to move, and I didn’t know how I was going to afford paying for just a room in a shared place (which I was getting an amazing deal for) compared to living in my own place somewhere else.

I was pretty certain I could not live with roommates anymore, mostly because I needed to do my own grieving, healing and just be allowed to be sad without worrying that someone around me would be brought down by it. I needed to be on my own and figure out… well,  my life. I didn’t know how to live it without you and frankly, I still don’t. But I just take each day as it comes.

Anyway, I was looking in the paper or on craigslist- I can’t even remember- for apartments.

And then I was also just driving around to see what was available.

I ended up being really drawn to this apartment for rent in the Joyce Station area. It’s not even a spot that I would have thought of before. But firstly, the rent was way more reasonable than any of the other places I was looking at, the place seemed pretty decent from what I heard and saw in the pictures and from the person renting it out. But mostly, what made me think that this is the place I needed to move into was that the girl who was currently in it- who was advertising it- her name was Laila. I can’t remember if she spelled it the same way your name was spelled or if it was with an e. I think it was Laila. Same as yours.

Laila ShirtAnd so of course, a big part of me was hoping that this was somehow ordained by you. So not only was I being led to the apartment that I needed to find, but I also was maybe getting a sign that you are always with me, and that you are so okay and well and happy, that you were already helping me find the right place for me to move into.

Well, that apartment didn’t work out for me. I actually really liked it. It was really cute, and I ended up meeting that Laila. She was a sweet, beautiful young girl. Her and her boyfriend were moving out together into a bigger place. I told her the story of how and why I was drawn to her apartment, and her name. She seemed to empathize with me and hoped that I would get the apartment.

The choice wasn’t up to her. I guess it was the manager’s decision and it turned out that there were a few other people on the list of potential tenants before me. Someone else got chosen for that place.

Though it would have been less costly to stay there, I ended up choosing the place I am in now instead. It is in an area that I love, and is probably safer and allows me more interaction with people and freedom to sing in my apartment (which has somehow become a huge part of my life these days).

The place near Joyce Station would have been way more affordable, but maybe not in the long run since it is further out from the center of town. Mostly, I liked the association with your name at that time and I somehow thought I was losing not only the opportunity to stay there, but also the hope that you had something to do with it. I wanted to believe that your name and you led me there.

But my current place is owned by Ismailis, and is so close to the first elementary school I went to, and to the area where we grew up in the first few years of my life. In that sense, it brings me back to you, and connects me to childhood memories or surroundings that I think I may have otherwise had forgotten.

Though there isn’t a particular Laila in this building that I know of, I would still like to think that you somehow led me here. This place brings me peace. I have helpful and kind neighbors.  I feel a lot of freedom and security here. The tree lined streets, quaint coffee shops, convenient grocery and drugstores, and a reminder of where i came from surrounds me. A reminder of the “simple” life, living with you growing up here, and having had a mom who raised me without having much herself.

I don’t know how you did it, Mom.

But I am grateful for it and you every day. And Laila is still the name that rings in my heart always. I pick up on it in all its forms and spellings, but especially the “ai” version. Sometimes, I see it in books- as a name of an author or character. Other times, it’s on advertisements for performances- especially middle eastern dance or music. And sometimes, I just keep my ears open for the name in case the wind whispers it in my ear to tell me you are near. Laila. It is such a beautiful name.

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I miss you, Mom. I miss you so much.

 

Morning Prayer- 4 Years Now

 

prayerDear Mom,

I still have really bad nightmares about you. I had one just this morning. You weren’t happy, and I also now feel like you’re not happy with me. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I feel this way or dream these things. It really hurts my heart and makes the morning and getting up so confusing and heartbreaking.

I wish I had a sign that you were okay, and that you were also more than okay with me.

Sorry I am having these thoughts. It feels sad, like I am changing our relationship now somehow. I know we were very close. I know that you loved me so dearly and sweetly, like no one else could. And I loved and still love you with all my heart and soul. I just can’t figure out what this bad feeling is, where it is coming from, and how to shake it off or fix it.

I will try to concentrate on my morning prayers to you, which are still going, even now, four years later. The lines or questions have grown a little more. I realized I had more to ask of you and the universe. I hope you don’t mind. Here it goes:

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Hi Mom,

What are we going to do today?

Where are we going to go?

What are we going to do?

What are we going to say?

What are we going to believe?

What are we going to achieved?

What are we going to have the courage for?

Who are we going to help?

Who are we going to inspire?

What are we going to give away?

What are we going to hang on to?

What are we going to cherish?

What are we going to choose?

What are we going to stand up for?

What are we going to cry over?

What are we going to laugh through?

What are we going to create?

What are we going to paint?

What are we going to sing?

What are we going to dance?

What are we going to write about?

What are we going to dream?

What are we going to read?

What are we going to practise?

What are we going to play?

What are we going to perform?

Who are we going to date?

Who are we not going to date?

Who are we going to kiss?

Who are we not going to kiss?

Who are we going to love?

Who are we going to let love us?

What are we going to teach?

What are we going to learn?

And one I just made up: What are we going to pray for?

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I always start my morning prayer with you. Before all these questions, I ask God and the Universe to take care of you. It goes like this. I say these words as soon as I wake up and before I am even out of bed:

Thank you for waking me up for another day

Please take care of my mom, please take care of my mom, please take care of my mom. 

Then I name all the people in the family individually who I am, or we were, closest to. And I ask that they be taken cared of.

And then I end off with Please take care of my mom, please take care of my mom, please take care of my mom, again.

I’ll be saying this prayer until I am with you again, Mom.

God Bless You, as you would always say.

I miss you so much.

 

Where should we go?

dream travel

Hi Mom,

I had a dream last night or this morning that I was at some event. It looked like an Indian or maybe even Ismaili function. I just remember seeing some clothes that looked a little Indian-like, and that smell- you know the one?- Of chai and sweets and maybe even uger baathi (incense).  Anyway, I don’t even know what I was doing there.

But in front of this plain white door was laying this outfit, on the floor. It didn’t look like something I recognized of yours. But at the same time, I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt as if you had just been in it. As if you’d been wearing it. But then you kind of disappeared out of it. Like your physical form just left it and it lay on the ground not in a pile, but almost in the position it would be in if you had been sitting in it and leaning against the wall or door it was in front of.

It was an Indian outfit. Pale blue and white, I think. Light fabric. Maybe some little sequins on it.

Then, out of nowhere, you appeared. Not in the outfit, but just watching me look at the outfit. I stared at it with such sadness. You could probably see that. And I might have even asked around, wondering where the outfit came from and why it was there.

But then you were behind me. I don’t know what you were wearing. But you looked sad too, I think.  But you looked at me as if it was normal for you to be there, right near me. And I was kind of in shock and didn’t know what to do.  I knew you were not alive anymore, but as usual in my dreams, it felt as if you didn’t know this. And I never want to tell you or say anything about it in my dream. So I don’t know.

And instead, I just waited for you to say something. And you looked at me and said, “I miss you. Can we go somewhere after this?”

I cried. And I’m still crying at the thought of it as I write this to you.  I didn’t want to wait until after the event was over. I wanted to say why don’t we go now?  But I think I just cried in my dream and then woke up crying.

I don’t want you to miss me so much that you’d be so sad.  I don’t want you to be sad. And I know you don’t want me to be sad either. So I guess I can only try to turn this around and say, I miss you too, Mom.  You have no idea.

And I would have gone anywhere with you.  I wonder where you’d have wanted to go. To eat, to a different city or continent? For a drive or a walk? Or just to your home somewhere?

I’d like to imagine or pretend we could go somewhere together. Where should we go? Your choice. I want to take you anywhere you want to go.

Thanks for coming into my dream. Don’t be sad though, Mom.  I think I remember you had your hair done nicely in the dream.  That made me smile. That you were somehow still dressing up for any events, even if they were just to show up in dreams.

Vicks

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Dear Mom,

I think I suddenly got some sort of cold. I was fine yesterday, but then at the end of the night and this morning, I felt so tired, with a runny nose, and a bit of a scratchiness and cough in my throat.

I reached for the Vick Vapo Rub of course.  It’s strange how such a small bottle, and the smell from it, can bring back so much sweetness, and love but also sadness and sorrow.

Vicks, and just that smell, makes me think of how I had such a loving mom- you- who took care of me when I was sick, no matter what age I was.  Even though I got frustrated over you “babying” me at those times, God, what I wouldn’t do to have you do that for me again.

I am sorry if I ever gave you a hard time over caring the way you did. It was such gift I was given- to have you as a mom, to have you take the time to rub Vicks on my throat and forehead and nose.  And your hands. Vicks conjures up the feel and look of your beautiful, soft hands, oozing love through every finger. Giving me your healing and warmth and motherly magic.

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So I wish I could go back to those days, to appreciate them more. And more than that, I wish I could go back to them to tell you how very much they meant to me, how much you meant to me, and still do. And I wish I could give you back that same tenderness, and caring and time.  You spent so much time with me- as much as was needed to help me through, especially when I got sick.

The soups, the hurder (tumeric), and blankets, and tea and your hand on my forehead. Everything soothed me right into my core, into my heart. And so when I think of you lying there in the hospital, and me not being able to give you back that soothing and comfort, it tears me apart.

Vicks brings me back a warmth and smiles- the tenderest of memories of the most love I received, and will receive, from any human being ever. But it also breaks my heart and brings me to tears because that love is gone. Or the love isn’t gone, but the touches and what I can see and hear- your voice unlike no other and the words you chose that no one else could. Even the way you said my name.

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The thought of if already brings a ache in my throat. And this is not from a cold, but from grief. From anger, from pain, from losing you. But mostly from not being able to help you the way you helped me. I am so sorry, Mom.  I wish I could have brought you a bottle of Vicks and put my hand on your forehead, and make everything magically better, the way you always were able to do for me.

I keep being told you are no longer in pain.  But the people who tell me this are here, alive. So how do they know what you are going through? I need to see and feel it for myself.  Please give me more signs.  I still, after 3 and a half years, don’t feel it- your peace.

Please reach out and tell me or show me that you are okay.  Please.

Live Life

Dear Mom,

Again, I haven’t written to you here in awhile. It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say. Sometimes, I have so much to say. I don’t know where to start. And I think that it has to be something in particular. Something worthy of talking about or different than the usual just missing you.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? I mean, that was the problem and now is.  That even when you were here, I thought I had to do something big for you in order to go visit. That I had to have some plan or have something in particular in mind. And when I didn’t, sometimes, I just decided not to visit, or I ended up visiting you, spending a lot of the time figuring what we “should” do, what I could do. But I was missing the point. There was nothing that had to be done or planned. I should have just been enjoying all the moments I had with you.  But I didn’t. I wasn’t fully present, or I had other things on my mind. Or I wasn’t a good listener. Or I thought that I needed to take you on the ‘necessary’ errands.

But all that was necessary was appreciating the woman in front of me. The only one I wanted to really put my time into. The most important person in my life.  And somehow, I missed that. And that is what is breaking my heart. There are moments where I remember being “with” you, like right next to you, but not taking it all in.

And the other day, I was driving over Lionsgate Bridge to head to North Vancouver. And I felt so sad that I couldn’t just pop over to your place and visit.  I felt so sad at the millions of opportunities I had to do that more, and I didn’t enough while I had the chance. And now, I have no chances left.

It’s hard to live with that.  I have tried to keep this blog more positive, and not always say exactly what I am feeling, in case someone else reads it and worries about me. I have tried to have a purpose to each entry, or a theme or a focus.  But, that’s not really how I thoughts come out when I talk to you.  It’s sometimes all a jumble of sweetness, regret, grief, fear, sadness, guilt and worry.  And I realize that the only way that I can really make use of this blog, of this opportunity to spill my thoughts on these pages, is to just say what is on my mind, on my heart.

It’s not really a blog for other people. Anyone can read it, of course. And I initially wanted it to be a record of memories of you that I could share with your granddaughters when they are older.  That they have something to read. But I hope that you and they will forgive me for making this also just a place for me to talk honestly with my mom, no matter whether the writing makes sense, is sad, or doesn’t really feel like it is going anywhere.

Right now, I need it as an outlet to just be with you, Mom. It feels different than writing in a journal to you, though I did do that often for the first couple of years or so.  Those words seemed to have gone into the pages and stayed hidden there. I am too scared to go back and read them. These words feel like I am letting them go somehow- like they are freer to soar and just maybe make their way to you through the internet, through the Universe, rather than tucked away in a book, in a box, under my bed, too closed for anyone or the universe to fully get a grasp on.

I went to a little craft fair today, near my place. All the vendors were selling handmade items like scarves and jewelry and soaps and even slime! Oh yeah, I still have to tell you about who in our family is crazy for slime.  I bought her a little for Christmas. I hope she likes it. I will tell her it’s also from you.  Although, maybe that’s not the kind of thing you’d want to give to your granddaughter. Don’t worry, I will choose a few other things that might be more up your alley to give to her.  The other little munchkin granddaughter has some cute things coming to her from me and you too. Don’t worry.  I just didn’t see anything that she’d really like at that place.

But you know who I always automatically look for gifts for? You.  No matter where I go, whenever I see some earrings or a nice sweater or shawl, or bracelets, I think, “Mom would really like that. Or that would look good on Mom.” I almost said that to one of the vendors today. But I didn’t want to confuse her or sadden her by telling her that my Mom is not here anymore.  Or maybe I just didn’t want to hear myself say it out loud because it would sadden me to say it.

Somehow, I will always be shopping for you, Mom. Even if I don’t end up buying the items, you are always still the first person I think of when I do most kinds of shopping.  You’re always at the top of my list. It’s going to be another tough Christmas without you.  I will make sure to buy or do something in your memory.

I did feel very sad  about it today, and I remember wondering what I should do about it. How to get through this slump that I am feeling. And then a car passed by me with the license plate LV LIF, or was it LIV LF or LIVLIF?

I tried to take a picture of it but I wasn’t quick enough. Was that you again, Mom, letting me know I need to get my butt going and just enjoy the life that I have? I hope so. Because that could mean that you are watching over us up there, and enjoying your heavenly days.

Love Tas

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.

 

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

tea and toast

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

grandparents day

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.

grandmas

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.

 

My Angel MOTHER

“All I am or ever hope to be I owe to my angel -my Mother.”
– Abraham Lincoln

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Dear Mom,

I found this angel in a box of Christmas decorations I had brought over from your place. Is this the same angel that was sitting on that mantel area next to your fireplace all this time?

I don’t know why I didn’t notice the words on it over the more recent years. I am sure I bought this for you at least 3 or 4 or more years before. But somewhere along the way, it got so familiar, just part of the other items in that area, that the message got lost to me. The words somehow became invisible.

But now that I’ve found it, the words, the rose against her cheek, the clinking of her transparent wings, the light green of her dress, the heavy drape of her falling sleeves and the old style letters on her skirt feel as if they are engraved deep within me.  Isn’t it funny how the value of something can shift so extremely?  Something I hardly looked at before has become one of the center pieces of my home and heart now.

When did I give this to you, Mom?
Did you ever read the words on it?

Or did you just feel its message, because of that Motherly magic of yours?

I keep it on my kitchen counter now, near where I do the dishes. I swear that on some days, when I look at it, or move it into the living room, it appears as if the face has changed- like the angel’s head has tilted to a slightly different angle. Like she, or you, are secretly watching me or watching over me.  Probably just wishful thinking. But either way, it has become one of the most precious items around my place.

I know that you were my angel mother on earth, but I hope that you truly are my angel up in heaven. That would mean that you are weightless, free with beautiful wings to carry you wherever you wish. And it would mean that you are free from any pain or suffering. That you are surrounded by, and filled with beauty, peace and love- that is my wish for you.

You always have been, and always will be, my Angel MOTHER.

I hope the other angels know how lucky they are to have you up there.