Set in a silver frame is a photograph of a four-year-old girl with a cat on her lap. What the onlooker does not know is that the girl has had the cat on her lap all afternoon and has refused to move. One day this little girl was sitting by the fireplace in her home in Sweden and was looking at an encyclopedia. She looked at one picture and pointed it out to her mother, who looked at it and said ‘Yes, I know you will go there one day and never come back’.
The picture was of the river Ganga. My mother’s journey to an unknown country must have begun then. But this story is about the immense inner strength and compassion with which she braved two traumatic marriages, a deep spiritual crisis and cancer. It is about her greatest gift to me — courage. When she was diagnosed with cancer, she made me sit down. I had been avoiding this ‘talk’, because I knew she was going to tell me she was going to die. But when she finally made me sit down, I said, “Amma, you are not going to die.’
The fear I felt was crippling. How would I, and her cats and the dog manage without her? Memories of childhood flashed by. A kitten she had saved and a pup I had brought home. An injured raven that she nursed and taught to fly again. Our numerous animal rescues.Would I be able to look after them?
She smiled and told me that her death was a real possibility but she would fight it. There was no denial. No rationalization. No intellectualizing. She told me death was merely a change of clothes. Death would not stop the love she had for me.
After four months, the cancer lost. She remained cancer free for five years. Then one day she fell inexplicably ill and was gone in three days. In her last hours on the ventilator, I repeated to myself the conversation we had. I smiled at her and told her that she could go if she wanted to.
When I returned from the hospital, I saw Meera, one of our cats, with her paws around my mother’s photo, her face nuzzling it. I hugged her and told her that we all would be fine.
Looking back, I know that my mother gave me the greatest gift- courage. She gave me fearlessness, not just to face her death but to face anything that came my way.
Because if you are fearless nothing, not even death can conquer you.
— This story had earlier appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women.