I am sitting here wondering how to manage my grief at the sudden departure of my mother. Shehnaz teases me. “Sudden? When is death not sudden?” Like me, she has lost her husband and both her parents one by one in the last decade or so. “Well, when you know that someone is going to die,” I say. “I don’t know about that,” she laughs. “One day we are alive—one moment we are alive, and the next we are dead. What could be more sudden than that?”
She knows what I mean and is just trying to make me feel better. Just as Gautam Buddha did with the woman with inconsolable grief who had lost her son. He told her to collect a grain from every house in the village who had not lost a loved one. She came back with an empty bowl. But an uplifted spirit, knowing that so many hundreds of people were exactly in the same place that she was, sharers of her grief.
So last week I focused on Buddhism. I read a lovely article which explained how there were different ways of thinking, and that to go on our perception and inference was simply faulty, as it was to have concepts and essences. That there was a temporal, fleeting quality to everything and that was all we could, finally, know. Of course I am not even beginning to explain it, since at the heart of it, language is useless, and there is a different way of thinking for us and for those that are enlightened.
I got some solace in thinking that my mother was not, after all, essentially my mother. As I had known for some time, she was at heart a little girl who had gone through a lot in her childhood, good and bad. The bad, and some of the good, had hardened her to become precociously adult, thus turning her into a ‘mother.’ But even then she had her crazy side to her. Then she became older, a grandmother, and a President of an organisation, and gradually her beautiful straight figure got bent over. There was no essence in her life….and that continues in a path after her death.
What I could not quite evoke in my imagination was, what was the path after death? All I had in my mind was the pot of ashes that a picture showed Sunil, Umang, Nandini throwing over a bridge into the Gomti. My mother a pot of ashes? My imagination and my whole brain would screech to a halt.
Where the Buddha could not hold my hand and help me over the chasm, Roddy Doyle stepped in. He creates a woman, Anastasia, called Tansey (I forgot to add, formally, in his 2012 book A Greyhound of a Girl, Amulet Books, New York.) She has a little daughter called Emer who she has just started learning to be the mother of. She is twenty four and her daughter is three. Love fills their relationship and brims over. Tansy loves to hold Emer and Emer loves to be held by Tansy. Within a few minutes of one day sitting together, Tansy shows signs of catching the flu, takes ill, goes to bed and never arises. She dies without Emer ever seeing her live again, just her dead body and still face, the eyes covered with coins.
Emer grows up on the farm they live on and meets someone in her early twenties and marries him. They have a daughter called Scarlett. He is from Dublin and they move there. Her husband dies and as an older woman she lives with the grown up Scarlett and her husband and daughter, Mary. Emer is old and hospitalised as the story begins and the family visits her everyday. The husbands are not sketched out much, and often they only read the newspaper, go for a walk and smoke, or ask questions. There are brothers too in each generation and they are real people with real problems but they too are on the side.
The story is about the four generations of women: Tansy, Emer, Scarlett and Mary. The story is told from Mary’s eyes. She is worried about her grandmother’s death. Scarlett is worried about her mother’s death. Emer had already lost her mother when a child and is haunted by that. Tansy died without fully being a mother and is therefore a ghost, someone who did not die a natural or easy or final death.
There are so many differences between this story and mine. I have just lost my mother. She did not linger in hospital as Emer did. Emer worried about dying. She would close her eyes and wonder if she would ever open them again. But was that why mummy kept her eyes wide open, even at night? Why she could not sleep well and yet dozed off at all times of the day and night?
Mummy was very disturbed when she lost her mother, unexpectedly, after routine hospital tests. This was back in 1981. When she visited us in Banaras we took her to the grandest Ayurvedic doctor in the city. He discussed her case with her for a long time, as they do, and he focused particularly on her mother’s death, which at that time made no sense to me.
Like Tansy, I too have daughters that I worry about leaving. I am three times older than her when she suddenly died, but my daughters are like the children to me that she left behind. I can see their sad faces as they look at my closed eyes and unbreathing chest the day I die. They are not helpless, however, and I don’t need to hang around as a ghost. But I can definitely worry, and know that it’s all right to worry, and that with all the worrying and love, it will be all right for them. I have to act the ghost now and rid them of the fear of death, of the loss of a loved one.
Of course, in order to do that, I have to first accept the ghost of my mother telling me the same thing.
There are four generations of women I live within. My biggest questions “What does it mean to me that my mother left me?” and “What will it mean to my daughters when I leave them?” are miraculously answered. Different as it is to mine, the Roddy Doyle story tells me.
It means, to be reductive if I may be indulged in being, that I will manage, and they will manage, because of the love already given. We will all “be grand.”
So, being what I am at home, is that in addition to having some answers, I swim in a sea of love for Ireland and Roddy Doyle. Though I can transport myself back to Buddha territory, thanks a little bit to some brilliant Manga, I can transport myself still better to Wexford, Gorey and Dublin. The places are alive and well and I know them!