I was waiting for her across the road from where the terminal gate was visible. In the sea of people, I saw a frame of a person who looked familiar but I could not identify her at first. She looked leaner, older and much grayer than I had expected. The gray I had been informed over the phone suits her better now.
“I am done with that coloring nonsense.”
The older and leaner caught my surprise. As I walked towards her, I saw she was immaculately dressed, as always. Tired from the long flight, she walked at an excruciatingly slow pace, taking frequent pauses. I realized her pace was also something I was not used to, yet.
In the next few days, we would set a rhythm between us. She is still my Ma and I am her daughter but our roles, our pace of life and responsibilities have exchanged places. We are at that juncture in life where we are making that subtle shift.
Most of my friends are at the same point in life as me. When we ask each other about our folks and we embrace ourselves for a difficult answer. Most of the times you cannot do much but listen because you understand their place, the agony and the turmoil. A friend just summarized it aptly in one of her recent post; it is a myriad of emotions.
As if it were not hard to change places with your parents, there are plenty other complex things thrown in the mix. Deteriorating health, memory loss, terminal illness and prolonged recovery from illness sail along with it. With each passing day, it gives you a sense of holding on to something that is slipping away from your hand.
You suddenly begin to wonder why you rebelled so much in your teenage years. You frantically look in the family albums and make a digital copy of the pictures you had long forgotten about. You hold on to a gift, a card, a letter, a hand knitted woolie, a pen anything that was ever given to you by your parents.
For those of us, who live miles and miles away from home, we make those hurried visits to home, sometimes for a happy event and sometimes a not happy one. It is sometimes the 75th birthday and sometimes an emergency surgery from a bad fall. Our time is limited. We hold onto every single moment in that limited time and silently hope that time moved at a slower pace than usual.
You hold on to everything because there is a sudden urge to hold on to your memories. I know a friend now writes a journal everyday journaling every single day she spends with her parents. Another one is making a film from the old home video clippings and someone is making a picture book with personal stories in it. It is only fair to not remember them only as you see them today. They have lived a complete life, accomplished things, weathered storms, held fort and most importantly made us what we are today. It is only fair to keep a memory of all those beautiful years and moments.
Ma and I take turns to make tea for each other during the day these days. I have learnt from her to savor each cup of tea as if it were the most delectable drink in the world. The key here is to remain unperturbed by the discussions around us that it is our 15th cup of tea of the day. We almost raise a toast for each one that we drink.
And it is in course of our tea-time that she tells me little anecdotes from when I was a child, a toddler, a teenager or a young lady and I go back and make silent notes of them in my journal. I envy her a bit for her ability to have loved me unconditionally and yet being able to let go. I understand now that the “letting go” part is the toughest in the world of a parent. That is what I hold on to dearly while I notice the wrinkles on her skin and the slight tremor in her hand.
A friend narrated a story after her trip back from home. Her five-week time was up and she had to leave her once home to come back to her home, her kids, her job and her life. Friends and family came to bid goodbye but left her with a size able amount of guilt. Her mother who had not yet recovered from a major surgery, sensed her turmoil from the hospital bed and said to her, “I gave you the wings to fly because I wanted you to soar high and because I always knew you would come back home when I needed you. How would anyone else understand that? I am not going to clip your wings now. Go take your flight.”
In the course of writing this post, several days have gone by from that airport terminal to several cups of tea, to Ma’s birthday, to days that we have cooked meals together, shopped together and taken walks together. We gossip like we love to do. We watch “The Good Wife” together. I discipline the kids and she pampers them silly. We do the normal everyday things. We savor each moment. It is important to do that.
“Ma, what is the shade of the lipstick you wanted?“ I ask her while suddenly remembering how she got me my first lipstick when I was old enough. She had figured I wanted to try and was old enough to wear. She had known many such things even without my telling her a word. I wonder if I will ever understand her in a similar way.
“762,” she answers while watching Fireman Sam with the kids and supervising an art project. And then out of nowhere she asks me an unrelated question, “Why don’t you write as often these days?”
“There isn’t much time on hand.”
“There will never be. But time always goes by too soon.” She says this very often in the course of observing my crazed and haphazard routine of life.
What would have enraged a twenty year old me; sounds like pearls of wisdom now. So every day for the past month, I have written down a few lines of this essay because I am trying to hold on to time, hold on to memories.