I couldn’t love her the way she needed to be loved. I couldn’t support the last three months of her life as the cancer was slowly invading her digestive tract, pancreas, and lungs the way a bad nightmare does, except she never got to wake up.
I was too busy being angry and hurt over sibling dynamics, feeling invisible, outfitting her with a traditional standard I had come to despise. It was easy to conveniently forget her safe escort on three different buses we needed to take to and from the orthodontics office, the way she would tear her old Indian saris and sew them into long skirts because she knew I loved them, the house filled with the scent of masala 24/7 so we would never starve while growing up.
Why was I still hungry?
We honored the 5-year anniversary of her death through puja. I was drawn to the diya like a moth to a flame, singing with a fervency during the arti that felt misplaced. Who was this 45-year-old woman child hearing her mother singing, seeing her soul, her name in the sacred fire?
Who was the sister blaming her brother for distance and insensitivity, blaming herself for deficiency and vulnerability?
A few days later in yoga practice, I felt intuitively called to listen to one of my favorite bhajans. A torrential downpour of emotion flooded the mat. I was grieving all the things I expected of Mummy, all the blocks to loving her just as she was. There was no dam to hold anything back, nothing between me and this moment.
Forgiveness was palpable both ways.
She’s lacing up her black Converse, noticing a brown mark on one side of a shoe. She stands to retrieve a wet washcloth to wipe the shoes she is so proud of.
I comment on the mark. Maybe it’s a scuff from my sandal the other day as we were walking to the library. She glares at me with that entitled teenage look, punishing with silence and a hug withheld before biking off to school.
“I let you go with love”, I call out cheerfully. “You know where to find me!”
We think we have forever with loved ones, a lifetime to heal a suffocating heart that can barely breathe.
Can we compassionately bow to each thought, feeling and sensation sculpted from the cycle of dependent origination into a solid self? Can we be patient with practice, trust wise teachers, good friends, and tenderness to slowly crack the plaster open?
Opening to vulnerability is not natural. It takes so much courage and support. I carry these verbal snapshots of unconditional love like passages from the holy books, knowing things will change.
The plaster will harden with conditional love and soften with practice again.
puja: a prayer ritual performed by Hindus of devotional worship to one or more deities, or to host and honor a guest, or one to spiritually celebrate an event
diya: an oil lamp used in the Indian subcontinent, notably India and Nepal, usually made from clay, with a cotton wick dipped in ghee or vegetable oils
arti: a Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities
bhajan: any song with religious theme or spiritual ideas, in a regional South Asian language
Cycle of Dependent Origination: A chain of causes which result in rebirth and dukkha (suffering). By breaking the chain, liberation from suffering can be attained.