I distinctly remember the last time I spoke properly to my mother. I remember it, because it was less than a month ago.
“Hi bala, how are you?”
“I’m fine mama, I miss you. You stay strong, I’m coming home soon.”
“Come soon bala, I’m waiting. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
This was my last conversation with her, a rare moment of love expressed, before she passed away on the cool, foggy Sunday morning of December 22, 2019, ending a decade of battling alcohol addiction and a cirrhotic liver. We seldom said I-love-you, but during those ten years, I was by her side dutifully playing the role of a daughter-at-arms, and she was by mine. When we fought, I would grudgingly forgive her and she would make me a dinner fit for a party, although no apologies were exchanged and the air was ripe with hostility. When I had a major exam the next day, she would stay up all night with me, even if she was hooked to a bag of blood inside a hospital room. When I moved out, she would call me every evening to check if I was up to fishy antics, and she could tell I was lying. We were mother and daughter, but we were also sisters and friends, and more often than not, nemeses.
I am who I am because of my mother- her opinions, her decisions, her screw-ups and her struggles. During the last few months she had, when we were both realising that this time she was perhaps losing the battle, she said point blank, “I am going to die and you have to be strong.” Those words keep me going when the going gets tough. And boy, has it gotten tough in the weeks since her death.
I have been restless these past few weeks. I dream about her, I talk about her and more than everything else, I can’t stop thinking about her. Memories of my mother come to me in sudden flashes, like unannounced guests and then I don’t know what to do with those memories. Do I hold them in my heart or do I let them go? What is the right away to remember someone, or is there only grieving?