Two-for-one Life

Lately I have taken to thinking about my mother in a different way. In my mind, she has always sat on the hallowed throne of motherhood, the memories of her made sweeter by her absence. Every time I feel lonely, I cry for the unique bond that we shared.  Her deep kindness and love for the underdog guides my values till today.  However, my thoughts about her have recently taken on a different dimension.

These days I am curious about who my mother was as a woman. As I get closer to the age at which she died, my sense of having been robbed of her place in my life has the added pain of missing not just a mummy but a fellow woman, an experienced mother, a friend, a brilliant mind.  

My mother was 49 when she died, and three of her last years were consumed by painful cancer. The mental torture of having to watch as my dad went through the same thing at the same time must have been overwhelming. I am curious.  How did she cope with this as a wife, an employee, a mother with soon to be orphaned children?  

When Covid-19 turned its wrath on us last year, the fear of leaving my children behind almost drove me cuckoos. At some point, just the simple act of turning in my bed had me whimpering in pain. But one night, I forced myself to sit up in the darkness and take deep breaths. Then I threw a massive tantrum at God.

“My youngest is just 8, Father, I can’t be dying!”

Did my mother cry out in anger when it dawned on her that the tough battle she was fighting was all but lost?

There was a night I came home from work and went straight to her bedroom as usual. I asked what she wanted me to pack for her admission to hospital the next day.  She was not bothered. As she dosed off and uncharacteristically left me to organize her usually carefully selected items, the darkness of lost hope filled her room.

When the Covid terror hit me, I got a small glimpse of what she must have been feeling. Exhaustion. Loneliness. Excruciating pain. Frustration. And the fear of a mother leaving her children behind.  

As a woman, had she felt robbed of a life yet to be relished?  Her last born was nearly 19, the day to day concerns of mothering long gone, and replaced by the profoundly different demands of parenting adult children, seemingly independent but not yet fully formed. Was she looking forward to coffee outings and chit chat over wine, and laughing over our romantic escapades? Could she picture weddings and grandchildren like I often do? Did she want to enjoy her empty nest by studying something creative like I long to do?

Sometimes, she and I spent happy hours discussing ideas for expansion of the business my father had left behind.  Buoyed by her talk of the future, I could not resist the hope that the morphine IVs administered by the visiting hospice nurses would soon be a distant memory. My mother suffered through a really long illness but until the last moment, I resisted the thought that she could succumb to it. Some people are just so full of life!  

I was miffed by people who kept referring to my mother as “the old woman.” Yeah, I get it, Uganda’s life expectancy was low at that time but really? Calling a person not yet fifty old?

Let the old lady rest.  Rest in peace old woman.

She was no old woman. In fact, when I visited her mother, my grandmother, last year, frail in her mid-nineties but laughing with a twinkle in her eye as she wondered when she would see me get a husband, an all too familiar pang poked my heart. It hit me once again that my mother had died too young.  She had had a whole life ahead of her. 

And these days, I am more aware of it. Because I am almost at the age at which she died and yet I feel I have so much more to discover, to enjoy, to get right. This is an age at which I am learning the fastest, when things are starting to make sense, when I have the most patience to wait for things to work themselves out, and when I am finally comfortable in my own skin.

Did my mother feel like this, feel as if she was on the cusp of something beautiful and then have to deal with the fact that it was all being yanked away? Within reach but never to be attained?  I do not feel like I have even lived at all, and yet many considered her done!  May she rest in peace, they said. Let her rest, she is tired.

Oh Mummy! I wish I could go back in time and speak to you like a fellow woman, as one who knows that middle age is a glorious time of self-discovery, of awareness of your own value and the significance of the space you occupy in time and place. I wish I could replace that panicked, traumatized young lady who was so scared of the thought of living without you, with the more mature version of me, empathetic and truly understanding of what you were losing and how so unfair it all was.

Of course, life is not fair. Even I eventually figured this out.  But I wish I had understood enough of its pain to suspend the need for my own comfort, and hold my mother in a comforting embrace. I wish I had told her how angry I was about the cruel snuffing out of such an exuberant, joyful spirit.

But it is what it is. Now I wonder if I can honour my mother in a way that would cause that wide smile to light up her face.  While my dad was loud about his children’s achievements, announcing with bombastic pride that his child would end up being featured on CNN, my mother’s approval was more subtle.  You felt it cover you like the softest cuddly blanket.  Your favourite meal in the middle of the week, money to splurge on a hairdo in an expensive salon, an overheard defense against some nosy naysayer.

Unlike many women who dread the aging process and do not tell their age beyond 29, I am thoroughly excited about growing older. It is obvious why.  I know that my parents died before their time. I feel bad that they did not really get to relax after a life time of military coups, economic crises, the AIDS epidemic, insecurity and wars. They raised us well and I am confident that we would have been thoroughly attentive adult children, reflecting back their incredible love and loyal support.

So I am going into my next season with a life force for two. I will enjoy getting older, try out new things, keep learning more and more. Going after God’s own heart will be my mission, because He is the source of life in abundance. I will be grateful for every single experience, even the tough ones. I will enjoy the body I am in, and I will relish the mind that drives it.  I will be creative every chance I get and my days will be filled with bursts of colour, in images and words. My children are an incredible gift and I will enjoy them to the max. Every day spent on earth with them is precious, even when their antics turn my hair grey!

I will always miss my mother. But even though she is not here, I think she would approve of my plan to represent her, and grab life with both hands.

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