Heart and Soul: My mum, my world

The writer with her mum. Photo: Gloria Arulpakiam

Heart & Soul
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When I was a little girl, my world was extremely small. It was free from the clutter that fills it today. Back then, my world only had what mattered most: My loved ones. In my eyes, no one mattered more than my beloved mother.

After I lost my dad at an early age, my mum became my everything. For her, her children were everything. She became a young widow at 36. The pain of losing my dad wasn’t felt by my three-year-old self as I was too young to understand grief.

Mum made the decision to overcome every storm in life, for her children's sake. She stepped out to work for the very first time in her life. She found a job as a house help, in return for a meagre wage. Even with a such a tight schedule, mum never made my siblings and me feel abandoned or lacking in any way. Although mum worked tirelessly, I cannot recall a moment when she was not there for us.

Mum had to be thrifty by carefully managing groceries to ensure nothing was wasted, especially food. A grocery shop near our house was where mum would go to for supplies. Draped in a simple cotton saree and with some money tied in a handkerchief, and a blue basket with metal handles in her hand, mum would walk to that shop. I usually tagged along. Observing her carefully at the grocery shop, I learnt many things including how to pick out good onions from the bad, and to determine whether the fish was fresh.

Mum was a good cook. She learnt cooking at the age of nine, helping her stepmum in the kitchen. The toothsomeness of her food was not only known by me and my siblings but the entire neighbourhood. Her delicious breakfast cuisine was always a feast to be enjoyed. Sometimes our neighbours would even ask, “What’s for breakfast?”

In response, mum would smile and say, “Would you like some?” Sometimes, our good neighbours would offer money for the food but mum would always decline. I never understood this as we really needed the money. When I asked my mum about it, she would simply reply, “Neighbours are like family.”

Mum stopped working when I was in primary school, after my siblings obtained jobs. She continued doing chores and even picked up gardening. As a child, I always wondered why she never really sat down but instead was always busy trying to do something. I later realised that she sought for things to do as a means to console herself after dad’s passing. With her green fingers, mum planted vegetables that she would use in her cooking.

By the time I got married, my mum had aged significantly. Yet, she took care of my children, just as she had taken care of my siblings' children. I enjoyed her company at home, having tea with her as I shared stories. Whenever I was feeling low, I could always use her lap as a place to shed my tears. During those moments, she knew exactly what to say to me that would bring me comfort.

At 78, mum was diagnosed with dementia. It was not easy to see the source of my strength deteriorating right before my eyes. Though my siblings and I struggled to take care of her, faltering now and then, mum's forgiving heart consoled each of us.

In 2019, mum rested her head on my shoulder throughout our Christmas Eve mass. Upon reaching home, she held my hands and said in a frail voice, “I can’t anymore.” That night, I lullabied her to sleep, humming her favourite songs, while tears rolled down my cheeks. It was mum’s final Christmas. She passed away peacefully, three months later. A part of my world, gone forever.

Four years have passed, and I still cry when I think about her. People say, the greater the love, the greater the grief. One can only understand after going through it. I write this as a tribute to my beloved mum, Grace Victoria Gnanapushpam, and to all mothers who have selflessly sacrificed for their children.

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