Stroke of Pain, Love, and Hope
A night before she suffered paralysis, my mother cooked dinner for us. Irritation was pounding my head that night. I asked my mom to apply balm on my forehead. We were awake till 11pm.
We must have been asleep for hardly 6 hours when my father woke me up to help him figure out what was wrong with mummy. My mother used to be sick often so at first I shrugged it as just another low BP thing. I went to my parents’ room to see her. She looked semi-conscious. She was trying to speak with muffled words. She would try to get up to go to the bathroom but fall on the bed each time. I remained next to her, rubbing her feet. My father asked me to go back to sleep. How could I? Soon enough my father was on phone with a doctor who he had recently met. This cardiologist lived not far away from us. He had met my parents in Fortis and offered them to help whenever he could. The phone call must have lasted 2-3 minutes. But what happened during this time lasted forever.
In the hospital bed, she looked frail. She had started looking three decades older than her age.
One the first day in ICU, I stood next to her for a couple of hours, supporting her delicate neck. Nobody cared when her neck fell out of the bed like a broken branch. I couldn't leave her like this. I cried to her how I was sorry about what had done. I repeatedly told her that I loved her. she didn't respond, but in her heart lived the same supersoul that lives in mine. That super soul must have heard me. In her heart she herself lived too. She must have heard me too.
Two weeks had passed, but she didn’t regain strength to eat or to move. She was taking semi-liquid food through a nasal tube. My father and I had been worried about taking her home in this condition. How were we going to take care of her? The nasal tube was long enough to reach her throat and wound it. At nights she would scream in pain. It was hard to see her so helpless. Her doctor tried to calm us down by saying how her brain was exaggerating this pain. Four days before her discharge from the hospital, anxiety took over me. I left her room to take some deep breaths in the cafeteria. Krishna, who is the paramatma in every heart, reminded me to pray to Him. I always take liberty with him. I told Him if my mother didn’t start eating through mouth within three days, I would never talk to Him.
My wait began. Her condition remained the same the next day. Nothing changed the day after. What was happening? On the third day, she began to scream with pain. It was a Sunday, so her doctor wasn’t available. A general physician was on rounds. My father called her to see my mother. The physician said, we had no choice but to remove the tube. What if she couldn’t eat still? A new tube would be fixed, but it would cause more pain as it would irritate the wound. But we had to take a chance. Doctor removed the nasal food pipe. Mummy didn’t eat or sip until the evening. I begged to Krishna. The intensity of my prayer increased. On the evening, we tried once more. Krishna did His magic. She sipped half cup of tea and ate half chapatti. We brought her home, and her eating improved.
Dimples on my mother’s cheeks no longer existed. Her face became expressionless. When she smiled, her upper lip moved to show her teeth–to assure us that she was indeed smiling. Her smiles were the savior of our hopes. With each smile my faith renewed and I saw her recovering. I believed that her willingness to recover would overpower the weakness of her physical body. And every time I saw her smiling, I would say my heartfelt prayer to Krishna to heal her of all emotional and physical troubles. I would pray to Krishna to give us some good time together so that no guilt remained in my heart, so that she could receive the love she wanted from me.
Never before in my life had I imagined that my mother’s existence could affect my peace and joy—my own existence. She couldn’t be the mother I wanted, and I couldn’t be the daughter she needed. The scars and wounds in our relationship always made me believe that I was detached from her. Although I have always loved her, I thought my love for her was devoid of usual mother-daughter emotions. In the first 3-4 months of the stroke, I saw a drastic change in both of us. I became a lot gentle with her, and she expressed her love for me so often—almost every day. Her kisses on my forehead and my hands, her sweet words that she stammered sometimes, the warm look in her eyes made up for all the love that I missed during 34 years of my life. I understood that she always loved me, but she failed at expressing it, or maybe I was incapable of receiving it. Her paralytic attack had changed everything—from our routines to our hearts–everything!
I prayed to Krishna to give us some more years together. I hoped for her to recover fully and feel better than ever. I began to feel her illness was a “stroke” of providence to bring us together and fix our relationship–at what cost? I couldn’t stop wondering, though, why had Krishna designed us to learn only through difficulties, miseries, accidents, and illnesses?
One Lifetime wasn’t Enough to Learn and Let go?
Stroke was not enough to bring lasting transformation. Our relationship started to deteriorate when I joined the office after a gap of two months. One time when I returned from the office, as soon as I entered my room, she called for me. The old annoyance came over me as a fit. That was the beginning of hell. For the first few times, I would apologize to her, and she would forgive me. These incidents became frequent, my apologies weren’t sincere, and her forgiveness lost its warmth, too.
On her last few days with us, I used to ask her if she loved me. She would turn her head away and no a No. sometimes I would keep my head on her chest and call her with deep love "mummy". She would respond from semiconscious state "Haan" and then fall back into her world.
Once I shared with Archana, my devotee friend, how my mom said no to me when I asked her if she loved me. Archana asked me why didn't I tell my mom that I loved her! Why didn't I think about it?!
The Beginning of the End
We relocated near my sister’s place to get some help from her. My mother never wanted to live so far from her brothers and sisters. Her condition worsened, both physically and mentally. Some neighbors concluded that she was mentally-challenged. She had been suffering from the lack of love. Now she suffered more because we ignored her desire to stay back. I insisted on moving to Delhi. My father liked the idea, too. But the one for whom we thought we’re doing all this didn’t want it in the first place. Our relationship worsened.
She remained restless, depressed, and waited for her life to come to an end until it really did. What all must have been gone on within her. Her head would keep swinging from left to right, from right to left. She would repeat her demands no matter how we reacted. I used to scold her for not thinking about us when I, myself, repeatedly failed to be tolerant to her suffering. I would scold her; shout at her. Sometimes I would just take out all my frustrations on her by cursing her brothers who, I thought, got more love from my mother than I did. I was in my teens when envy sprouted in my heart. She tried to be a good daughter and sister, but ended up being a mother who couldn’t love her own daughter.
My mother and I would hardly talk but when we did our relationship became worse. She would reveal her worries over her brothers’ condition and wouldn’t talk about my struggles within and without. My want for her love took a grotesque form. I became a bully.
I used to remain irritated with her even when I was 4 or 5 years old, but with time that childish irritation turned into strong anger. We must have been enemies in our past lives. When enemies are reborn as close family members, their capacity to hurt each other expands. They suffer more because of close bonding. Their past samskaras and vows as enemies make them compulsive in their actions in the current life. In calm moments, these past enemies and present relatives (parent-child, husband-wife) realize the need to forgive and let go, but their past impressions trigger old behavior whenever circumstances become fertile. That’s what happened between my mother and me as long as she was alive.
During her last months with us, I had this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh on my closet’s wall:
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.”
I tried to internalize the teaching of this saint. I tried and tried and tried. At last, I failed.
I took care of my mother’s body as much as I could, but I killed her soul. A couple of years after her demise, a homeopath told me how repeated disrespect by a family member may paralyze the left-side of the body of the person who is on the receiving end. Ground beneath my feet trembled when I heard this. I left his place as soon as I could and walked toward home. Once I was on the footpath, and there was no one around me, I let the cries out. All I could do was ask for my mother’s forgiveness and scream Krishna Krishna! Krishna, please protect that soul no matter wherever she is and in whichever body. Please give her all the love she needs. Please heal her psychic wounds. Krishna, please liberate her and give her shelter at your Lotus Feet.
I’ll Observe Fast after You’ve Passed Away
These were my words to my mother on the second Ekadeshi of January 2013. Hardly a month would have passed since I started observing Ekadeshi fast. I was struggling with my hunger; with the idea of remaining empty-stomach until noon. My stomach’s hungry rumblings make me angry, and I end up saying things that I wouldn’t want to say.
That morning, my mother was like her usual post-illness self, and I screamed those words in my own helplessness. God knows what came over me and I blurted out “I won’t fast anymore. What’s the point if I scream at you like this? I’ll fast only after you are gone!” The arrow of my words pierced my own heart as soon it left the bow of my tongue. I came back to my desk and looked at Krishna’s brass statue in helplessness and anger. Tears making way out of my eyes, I asked Him why couldn’t He help me control my anger? Why couldn’t He find some help for my mother so we could spend the remaining time—few months–of mother’s life peacefully?
Krishna is devoted to His devotees no matter how imperfect they are. Before my next Ekadeshi fast, a caring lady (Shiela) offered to take care of my mother’s daily rituals till 4/4.30 pm every evening. This lady used to work with my sister a couple of years ago. My sister had been trying to contact her for a long time but Shiela’s number must have changed. One day, when my sister was thinking about Shiela’s availability, her doorbell rang and there Shiela was!
My mother’s health had been deteriorating fast since the last quarter of 2012, which always made me think if 2013 would be the last year of her life. 2013 was also the 66th year of her life. Was the number 66 that I had been seeing indicating her departure from this world in the 66th year (
the number 66 synchronicity
April 22, 2013 was Kamada Ekadeshi, both, my sister and I fasted. My sister fasted for my mother. In the two weeks before this Ekadeshi my mother would spend most of her time sleeping. We got all the prescribed health tests done; her reports were perfect. So perfect that she could actually stop taking the medicines she had been on since her paralysis on October 9, 2009.
On April 21, 2013, she opened her eyes and talked to us briefly in her broken voice of which we could understand only a few words. She had lost the ability to speak a couple of months ago. Her words would never come out clearly, and after two or three words her voice would become inaudible.
It was around 8.30-9pm when I returned from the Love Feast program that would take place every Sunday on the ISKCON temple’s land. I had brought with me garland prasad. Everyone including my mother smelled the garlands to take in the fragrance prasad. While I was placing the garlands on her pillow, a thought struck me…what if it’s her last night. Everyone was relieved to see her awake. I asked her casually where she had been all these days in her dreams. After a short silence, she mumbled “Krishna Bhagavan”. I became curious and asked her to tell me more. Her words were inaudible after she spoke the Lord’s name. I asked repeatedly what about Krishna Bhagavan, but my father intervened and asked me to help my mother finish her dinner first. So I nipped my curiosity in the bud.
On the morning of April 22, when Shiela was helping mummy with wheat porridge, I asked again about mummy’s last night’s …”Krishna Bhagvan”…. I asked her if He appeared in her dream. She nodded “yes”. “Did He say something”?, I asked. She nodded yes. “What did He say?” I asked. To this she said “Worship Me.” I asked her if Krishna Bhagavan asked her to worship Him. She nodded “Yes”. “Did you see His face?” I asked. “No”, she said. “Then?” She said that she heard His voice.
On the afternoon of April 22, when Shiela was feeding her lunch, my mother’s breath became heavy with phlegm. She tried to say a long sentence but it remained stuck in her throat; sunk in phlegm. Gurgling was what we could hear. I looked at her face and chanted the Hare Krishna mahamantra quietly. “Try to throw the phlegm out, mummy.” I said. She couldn’t. Papa and I waited for a few minutes but nothing happened. Sheila again started feeding her lunch. Papa went back to his room and me to my desk. I didn’t resume work and instead started chanting the Hare Krishna mahamantra on my Tulsi beads. I must have chanted only for a minute or two and when Shiela called me to give tissues to her as my mom was throwing up phlegm finally.
Instead of taking out the tissues from the kitchen drawer, I went to the other side of the dining table and tried to tear off the newspaper while watching mom throwing up lots of phlegm. With my beads in my right hand, it became hard for me to tear the paper…why the hell was I trying to tear it off? Why couldn’t I just use the whole of it? It was just a newspaper! Shiela panicked and asked me to bring it fast. I gave her the whole piece while beads still in my right hand. Mom’s face was down. Shiela put her hand on mom’s forehead to raise it and there her neck fell back. All I could say was “Mommy? Mommy?” I checked her heart beat. There was none. I put my finger below her nose to check if there was any sign of breath. None. Her soul left through the mouth; one of the nine gates in the body.
My sister, brother-in-law, and father took her body to the hospital. Doctors confirmed she was gone. On the day of Ekadeshi the soul who was playing the role of my mother left the body. Vedic scriptures reveal that when a soul leaves its body on this day, it finds a home in a Vaikuntha planet and all her karmas are burned. It seemed to me that Lord Krishna had turned my anger-filled statement into a boon.
Shiela, who was helping us take care of my mother, reminded us how a few weeks before my mother’s death, mummy was saying something like
today is Ekadeshi and both my daughters are fasting
. It was not Ekadeshi that day and my sister never fasted on Ekasdeshi so we ignored her comment. But on her last day on earth, on Ekadeshi, my sister WAS fasting! My mother knew when she would leave us …
Devotees say when we take one step toward Krishna; He takes thousand steps toward us. My mother’s divine departure is Krishna’s gift to us.
I have firm faith that although I did nothing right, Krishna has burned karmas between me and my mother. If it wasn’t so, why would she pass away on Ekadeshi, looking at a picture of Radha Krishna, in the atmosphere of chanting?