I was away in India for the last couple of weeks for a very sad reason – my mother-in-law passed away suddenly at age 65. She had a congenital heart defect that had not been diagnosed when she was born or for that matter until she was 50 or so. She had been so energetic and had given birth to two children, had done a lot of physical work while raising them and her heart had coped so well through it all. Even in the last couple of months the doctors at the teaching college in Bangalore used to call her as a subject to show students how there are people with heart defects who almost beat it and keep active.
Since her diagnosis 12 years back she has been on several medications, diet restrictions and worst of all restriction in the amount of water she could drink per day. If I think about that it really breaks my heart. She was very disciplined about it and did everything in her capacity to fight her limitation and live on. She took art of living courses and never failed to do her breathing exercises each day. I have never seen a patient who was on so many medications and diet restrictions be so patient and calm and never show any irritation or anger from having to go through it all. She never complained – she silently just fought it. Had she been educated she would have scaled great heights for she was very sharp and was in with the times and could grasp things quickly. Even when I explained some scientific concept to her she grasped it immediately and responded with understanding and left me amazed.
While there may have been minor irritations natural in such a relationship, I really respected her as a person and we shared a friendly relationship. She was not openly warm and fuzzy but she would show that she cared in many other ways. If I asked her for a particular kind of kurta, she would go out of her way to get exactly that for me. At her funeral ceremony an older relative told me that she had mentioned things in praise of me to her – I never knew she ever thought those things of me.
She was a great mother to her two children – she used to celebrate their every victory but would never brag about it to anyone. She had religiously saved all my husband’s prize books, certificates and any mention of him in newspapers and gave it to me after our wedding. In all those little ways she showed them how much she celebrated their achievements. She used to call us from Bangalore and leave us messages for our birthdays and anniversary. She loved hearing every detail about any interesting thing our son did. She knew no fear so much so her cousins fondly referred to her as “Captain”.
She lost her mother when she was barely eight and grew up in a large joint family with Aunts and Uncles as caretakers. After growing up in a liberal family, she married into a rather conservative one. But she adjusted to her new surroundings and coped with any challenges that came her way. She did not have a maid for housework because she felt she could do it herself. Only after her diagnosis she hired a maid to help out. She was a fantastic cook, could sew all kinds of clothes and was skilled at handicrafts. She would not miss any wedding or function she was invited to on principle. She loved people and was extremely hospitable. She loved sports and used to stay up nights watching cricket, tennis or soccer matches with her son. My husband now recalls so many little incidents and all the things his mother did for him. In the four and half years that I have known her, I too have become quite fond of her. We will miss her terribly. We have a few more spoons of the “Avakai” pickle she made for us this year – we don’t have the heart to finish it. She was a courageous and patient woman who lived her life to the fullest. Death is final and leaves you wishing you had said this or done that but there are no second chances. It only leaves you with one thing to hold on to – memories.