The last goodbye

She was only 42 when she lost her husband and we were too young to really understand what it meant to her. It’s only now that we are grown up and have our own families that we realised what she had been through.

By Jaginder Singh Rahpatti | MALAYSIA | OPINION

Mum had been vomiting quite frequently for a few months. We noticed but passed it off as one of the side effects of the numerous drugs she had been taking for her arthritis. Then the frequency grew; she continued vomiting practically every day and we decided to take her for a complete medical checkup.

She was admitted to the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital on 23 September 1984, just one day before her 54th birthday. We tried to cheer her up by celebrating her birthday on that day, baked a cake and asked her to cut it. She obliged but remarked that “we don’t normally celebrate birthdays earlier than the actual date”. Was she being superstitious? Or did she know something we didn’t?

Our Mum, Mahinder Kaur, was born in 1930, the eldest among seven siblings. She got married in 1950 to R Sarmukh Singh, who was the eldest among 10 siblings. This loving couple kept the trend of having big families and went on to have eight of their own children, who were all raised with utmost love, care and dedication.

Mom was terribly scared and worried when we admitted her to the hospital. Why wouldn’t she? The last time was 23 years earlier when she delivered her youngest.The various routine examinations were carried out i.e. urine test, blood test, x-rays etc. Nothing diagnosed yet! More extensive examinations were conducted – blood count; laparoscopy and finally the bone-marrow.

Bone Marrow – why that? What could possibly be wrong with mum? Our sister Dev was there waiting outside while the doctor was taking out the blood from the bone marrow. Poor mum! She was howling in pain. There was no way of relieving her of that pain. The doctor finally finished and came out and inquired if Dev was her daughter as she was seated outside. She nodded.

She’s got leukemia! The kind of breaking news nobody wants to hear. The kind of news that rips your body apart.

Our bodies sank with our hearts. We kept repeating that word several times to ensure ourselves that there could be nothing wrong with that. No! No! No! That horrible vision kept coming back – it’s deadly! Oh, how we wished we could shun ourselves from the knowledge we already knew! Tears kept rolling down our cheeks as the doctor gave us all the assurance. He said more laboratory tests were needed to ascertain the severity of her condition.

Mum called for Dev. How could she face her? How could she tell her? “God, please be with us.” She was crying in pain when Dev went into the room. Seeing Dev’s tears, she stopped crying and asked Dev what the doctor had told her.

Dev said: ”Nothing.”

“Then why are you crying?”

“I’m crying because you are crying.”

She gained control of herself, stopped crying and rubbed her chest (where the bone-marrow was taken from) gently until she fell asleep. That pale and pathetic face could not hide the inner pain she was suffering from. That look which made Dev feel like taking her in her arms and giving her all the warmth and protection that she could. She felt like sheltering her from all this but all she could do was to give her a gentle kiss.

Dev broke the saddening news to the rest of the family. Everyone was shocked. Nobody saw this coming.The family quickly gathered. Dishy, the eldest, who was in London, flew in immediately.

We are a very strong and proud family. Each of us without having to tell the other understood what was in our minds. PRAY! That’s what my father always used to say: Prayer gives you strength to face all pain and suffering. We are a peculiar family – we never showed our emotions to one another – until then!

Each of us had that maternal instinct of wanting to protect the other, not wanting to make him or her feel sad. We had our regular family prayers together – only now the prayer were said more earnestly. We prayed individually and jointly. In our own way, we wanted to do everything and anything possible to help Mum. We were cautious though to not allow ourselves to show her a sudden overflow of emotion, for we had decided that whatever happened, she should not know what she was suffering from. We took turns to be with her.

Our Dad Sarmukh passed away in 1971 at the age of 55, enjoying only three months of his retirement. He died of a heart attack in his sleep. Mum had to soldier on as a single parent, taking over parental duties single-handedly and diligently. Only the eldest was in university, the rest still at various levels at school. The youngest was only in Standard 5! The battles she faced and fought, and won were reflected in her children, who are all professionals. We are where we are because of our parents.

The results from the laboratory finally came. She was suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia and it was terminal – it could be a week, a month, six months.

Oh God, give us strength and please, please don’t include pain unto her! As we sat watching her asleep, watching her every breath, memories of the past kept flashing back – the things she said; the many little things she did; the sacrifices she made so that her children would grow up to be useful people.

She was only 42 when she lost her husband and we were too young to really understand what it meant to her. It’s only now that we are grown up and have our own families that we realised what she had been through. We can now understand what was in her mind when we caught her crying at moments while reading my father’s book. Oh God! We wish we could have done more for her – showed her more love and respect instead of just having taken her for granted. We knew all of us felt the same. Only now it was too late! She was sick, she was in bed, and she was going through that dreadful treatment – chemotherapy. We wanted to sort of “repay” for all that she had done; only deep in the abyss of our minds we knew that nothing at all can “repay” what a parent has done. We could not even ask for forgiveness for we didn’t want her to be suspicious.

Moments like these make us very reflective. Why God? What’s the message behind all this? Is it your way of showing us how to appreciate our mother; is it your way of making us realise how much a ‘MOTHER’ really means? Oh God! We have learnt our lesson; please don’t take her away from us. We will do everything we can for her. We will show her we love and care for her.  This simple gesture “love and care” – how much do we really show? We have taken too much for granted. Not all the money in the world can cure her now – she’s going, slowly drifting away from all of us. We could see it coming.

She was becoming weaker. More complications were trickling in. But, no! We had not given up hope, as the doctor informed us that the blood-count had improved slightly. Light! That shaft of vision that we had been searching for. We kept on praying like we never did before, feeling a bit hypocritical as we knew this was not the right way i.e. to only think of God when you need him and to only give all the love and respect to a person when you know the person is dying. We went to Titiwangsa Gurdwara and prayed for her but we felt ashamed, artificial and confused. We knew the hands of providence were looking down and smiling at our artificiality. But we prayed, and prayed for Divine intervention.

Her condition kept deteriorating. The doctors informed us that the next few days were critical. It was then we decided to inform her parents. The next morning my grandparents were down; both showed amazing composure and courage. There were no tears but only words of encouragement for us.

“Pray for her. Everything is in God’s hands. God will protect her. Just keep praying.” And pray we did, like never before.

All of us held on close together like a chain, gaining additional strength from each other. None of us broke down. We went on and on, hoping and hoping, but the vision was slowly blurring off. The doctors were on their feet, helping her to fight this IMPOSSIBLE battle – fight, mum fight! Fight it out of your body. But No! It did not succeed. The doctor said that she was going downhill very fast and we could inform whoever we wanted to. No! No! Nobody else should be with her. Only us. The children and her parents wanted to be close to her in these last moments.

All of us made a circle round her bed. She was semi-conscious, she could hear us and she knew her time had come. But we felt that she accepted it – she was prepared to meet her Creator – she was not sad. No, not a tear. We had to be the same. My grandmother told us to pray and chant hymns so that she could hear us. We assured Mum that all of us will make her proud and there was nothing for her to worry. We took turns and spoke to her, like never before.

My grandmother told Mum that God had put His hand on her head and she’s got to think of Him now and nobody else. Mum nodded her head. We prayed and chanted hymns oblivious of the surroundings, keeping very good control of ourselves. At 5.45 pm, the doctors came in to check on her. Just as we released our hold (all of us were holding some part of the body) to go out, we saw Mum taking her last few breaths. Doctor!………. all of us were pushed out……. there was a lot of commotion – nurses running in and out of the room; machines taken in. We knew her end had come when everything seemed quiet in the room. The doctor came out and said, “I’m sorry.”

We kept our composure after Mum’s departure. There was no wailing. Only prayers. Everything at home was very solemn. Each of us were engrossed in our own thoughts. For us it was only mum and we kept looking at her face, feeling so terribly sorry for ourselves that we have lost a wonderful, unassuming mum – a “FRIEND” who can never be replaced.

No! There is no one in this world who can replace your MUM and DAD. How we wish God had given us more time with her so that we could shower her with all our love and affection. Our only regret is that we had not given enough, we had always taken. That’s what most of us self-centred human beings do – we always take and take, never believe in giving. Why do we have to go through such turmoil to realise that “Happiness is in Giving”.

We will never forget you, Mum. We have tried our best to make you proud of us, Mum. Your legacy lives on through your children, your grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Happy Mother’s Day!

(In conjunction with Mother’s Day, a tribute in loving memory of Madam Mahinder Kaur from Sarmukh Family, Ex-Batu Gajah. The author is a close family friend)


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