My First Mother’s Day Without My Mom

By Chandralekha Singh, Pittsburgh, PA

Editor’s Note: Chandralekha Singh is a distinguished professor of physics at the University of Physics. She graduated from IIT, Kharagpur, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics, and earned her PhD in physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She and her husband Dr. Jeremy Levy, also a physicist, live in Pittsburgh, and they have two sons in college.

The author with her mother and two sons when they were babies.

Growing up in a middle-class family in India, I never celebrated Mother’s Day. I didn’t even know there was such a thing until I ar-rived in the US for my physics Ph.D. Back then, calls to India were $4 per minute. The conversations were brief, only once every few weeks. We also regularly communicated by snail mail. Then calls became less expensive and weekly but no less valuable. More recently we switched to WhatsApp video. I called Maa every Friday evening my time in Pittsburgh, which was Saturday morning in India. I suspect, my mom looked forward to video chatting as much as I did! In every conversation, we had a set pattern: I would ask about how she is doing and about our other Indian relatives. She would ask about how we are, when my family is coming to India, whether we are eating healthy and whether I am doing my breathing exercises. My mom would always say, when you eat well and do breathing exercises, all your problems are resolved!

This Mother’s Day was different for me. It is the first without my mom in the world. At the age of 83 with high blood pressure, she developed breathing issues, but there was nothing ominous. I was looking forward to video chatting with her in early February, the day she was admitted to the intensive care unit. She was released a few days later. When I video called her when she was home, she right away sensed a sad look on my face and said in Hindi, “Why is your face looking like this? Smile karo!” I gave a forced smile even though I was worried about my mom’s health. “Yes, like that!” she said. Just then, my sister grabbed the phone from her since my mom was having difficulty breathing. I told my sister to play some bhajans for my mom since she always liked to listen to them. That was the last time I spoke to my mom.

Then, in mid-February, early afternoon my time, my brother emailed me that I should immediately call my sister. When I called, my mom was breathing heavily, and people were feeding her drops of Ganga-jal (water of the holy River Ganga). An ambulance arrived soon. With tears streaming down my face, I watched the ambulance rear door slam shut and speed away. My mom did not make it to the hospital.

During my childhood, my mother stayed until my siblings and I left for college. Now I realize the privilege of having my mother at home, especially when I came home from school. I truly don’t know what it was about my mom being at home, but I know that on the rare occasions when she was not there when I came home from school—she might have gone to visit a relative or gone shopping—I would be so disappointed. When she returned home, I would not hesitate to demand of her, “Maa, you know I’m at school for such a long time, could you please make sure you are here when I’m back because it just feels sooooo good to have you here?” My mom was a quiet person, I just knew that she loved me beyond words! When I came home from school, she would lovingly serve me healthy Indian food and kept asking me to have second servings which I mostly declined. The whole ritual was priceless!

My mom was reluctant to travel, and we had to work hard to convince her to join the family on trips during vacation days. When we had an opportunity to visit the Andaman-Nicobar Islands, my mom said, “Why don’t you all go and have a good time. I will stay back.” I begged my mom, “Please, please, Maa, without you the travel would not even be one tenth as fun, please come.” We literally dragged her on this trip and on other family sightseeing trips. Even though my mom didn’t speak much, there was just something about her presence that having her with us on those family trips was so much more fun and meaningful!

After marriage and children of my own, every time we visited my mom in India, she was ecstatic to see us. Even though she wouldn’t talk much, it made us feel so good just being close to each other.
So, on my first Mother’s Day without my mom, I wanted to reprimand her like I did when I would return home from school to an empty house, “Come back, and be with us! It doesn’t feel good without you.” My mom was always prompt in listening to me. She must have listened to me. I felt her presence. My mom’s was always a quiet presence.

My mom was widely adored within my extended family. When she passed, my cousin Meeta wrote this Hindi poem about my mom. It summarizes my mom beautifully. See the opposite page.


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