How I Learned to Accept the Inevitable and Came to Terms with My Parents? Mortality

On March 1, I travelled from Kolkata to Mumbai for my mother’s surgery. A surgery which took place after two misdiagnoses in Kolkata, a third misdiagnosis in Mumbai, and two changes of hospitals. I don’t want to get into the medical details, but I can tell you that her pain was insufferable and she had fever for three weeks until she got operated.

Crying and overthinking is the last thing one needs in such times, which is why my family thought that I, an emotionally frail person, should only visit my mother on the day of her operation, and avoid stressing her out before. Unfortunately for me, the distance only made me more nervous.

It was 3.30 pm. My mother had just been brought out of the operation theatre after a three-hour surgery and another three hours of observation. Papa alerted mom of my presence near her. “See, Umaima has come,” he said.

Maa was half-conscious with the lingering effect of sedatives. Yet, when I leaned in, she asked in a barely audible voice, “Beta, have you eaten food?” The nurse, visibly surprised at how a patient just out of surgery could ask about my lunch, smiled at me and said, “See, only your mother can love you this much.”

I said I’d eaten at the airport, to which she replied, “No, go and eat, go,” before the meds kicked in and she got drowsy again.

I thought of all the times I misbehaved with her and didn’t deserve her love – even though she cared about what I ate even on her hospital bed.

The sight of a catheter hanging down to measure her urine output, another drain pipe collecting fluid from her surgical site, her hands feeble and swollen from all those insertions into her veins, her lips parched, darker than I had last seen them, her hair greyer than I remembered a month ago, and lots of machines and medicines near her bed, made me feel worse than that heartbreak I thought I’d never recover from. I felt emotionally paralysed seeing my mother weak and for the first time in my life, not in control of a situation.

I’d be lying if I said mortality did not cross my mind. I thought of death and life without my parents. And I thought of all the times I misbehaved with her and didn’t deserve her love – even though she cared about what I ate even on her hospital bed.  

I tried hard to distract myself: I imagined the most undesirable reports for every test she underwent. And every few minutes when I was in the recovery room with her, I would look to see if she was still breathing when asleep. When away, every phone call from my sister meant five seconds of terror until she assured me maa was fine. The inevitability of death is at the back of my mind at all times these days. The thought of a world without my parents terrorises me.  

It has been nearly three weeks to the surgery today. Her body is weaker than what I had imagined it would become when she would turn 80. But she has been relieved of the unusual pain she lived with for three weeks. And those three weeks were when I made several self-discoveries.  

For a quarter of my life, I have been a thorough kitchen-illiterate. But with maa now restricted to the bed, I had to take control of the kitchen. For someone who was unable to distinguish one dal from another, I have now become the mother to my mother… thinking about her meals in the middle of my workday and if she has eaten on time.  

Even though the future haunts me with its inevitability, I have vowed to give them the best of everything they deserve and I can do.

Private hospitals are basically seven-star hotels that dictate the duration of your stay, your menu, the facilities you will use, and at the end of it all, hand you a bill that can make even the most solvent people tremble with fear. And with that bill, I made peace with the fact that I will have to wait another four years to travel for the ICC Cricket World Cup, for which I had been saving every month. With absolutely no regrets.

The World Cup and everything else can wait, because nothing is more precious than the time I have left with my maa and papa. Though bitter, it’s a realisation that one grows into — that one day, our parents will no longer be with us, and we must make our peace with the fact. In an article titled “Dealing with Parents Mortality”, journalist Rohit Brijnath puts it beautifully, saying, “Mortality is life’s most towering lesson, not to be feared but gradually understood.”

My personal wants will no longer come before my parents’. I have been a freelance cricket writer for the past three years. Until I take up a nine-to-five job, I will be bereft of a press accreditation, which has been my life’s raison d’être. Kolkata has fewer opportunities for young sports journalists than other cities, and I dare not be selfish by relocating at a time when my mother needs me the most. Press accreditation and a live World Cup game meant the world to me, until I saw my mother in a hospital bed and realised the truth in the hoary old saying, “Maa-baap se bada iss duniya mein aur kuch nahi hai.”

Among other things, I discovered that there is always, always, something to be thankful for, when a young girl, younger than me, struck up a conversation at the hospital. Her father was admitted for uncontrolled diabetes, while her mother passed away four years ago after fighting failed kidneys for seven years. “My mother was on dialysis for seven years. I lost her four years ago,” she said as her voice broke. She was fighting a battle bigger than mine. I was thankful to have both my parents beside me.

Given that I don’t have a brother, I am unsure of who will look after my parents once I move in with my husband and his family. But even though the future haunts me with its inevitability, I have vowed to give them the best of everything they deserve and I can do. Because, to quote a forward I mindlessly scrolled past on our family WhatsApp group in more carefree times, “Love your parents and treat them with loving care. For you will only know their value when you see their empty chair.”

Umaima Saeed

This article was originally published in Arre