- May 11th, 2014
Today I walked by the black and white picture of mum, framed by the dark pink rose from our garden, and a beautiful little lamp from Turkey, and I cried. It’s a gorgeous image of her, looking away from the camera, her lips parted mid-speech, her eyes determined (the only way I remember her eyes being - determined to challenge, determined to love, determined to be). I tried to say a prayer, but all that came were hot tears and ‘hi, ma’. I miss her. I really, really do.
I miss sitting at her feet, I miss teasing her and her throwing her head back in laughter. I miss our loud conversations at the dinner table. I miss the debates, the updating each other on world news and what this or that family member was up to. I miss the way my name sounds in her voice. I miss the clarity and conviction that she spoke with.
Mum passed away a few weeks ago. I have had too few years with her. I’m an adult, yes, but god the years more that I’d loved to have had. At Christmas, after a particularly difficult year of dealing with burn out, depression and dark health days, I told my family that all I wanted was meaningful time with them. I had been bugging my mother (more than usual) to start writing the book of her life; so many lessons I wanted to learn from her. Time felt short, but this short? No. I didn’t expect that. But Death doesn’t wait till you’re ready. What is there to be ready for anyway? The emptiness that claims the spaces in your life cannot be readied for. It just becomes this thing that exists. And we live with it. How we live with it - that is our choice, I suppose.
I have felt an incredible sense of being blessed, even through this deep sadness (‘sadness’ doesn’t really capture it. It feels like such an inadequate word). I’ve always felt that being her child was such a privilege, this beautiful gift that we were given. I am glad I felt that while she was alive, and now that feeling lives on in her death.
She was a force, my mum. She still is, actually. Some lights can’t be claimed fully by the shadows of Death. She lived with so much purpose. Her heart was rooted in faith, in the unflinching certainty that we all had power within us, and it was our duty to use that power with love and with kindness, and with steely determination to change what was oppressive and harmful in this world.
From the time I was a baby sleeping on the living room carpet of our home as a circle of women from villages in India gathered around to share their stories, listen to mum and build movements, to the old campaign t-shirts we wore as children (birds escaping barbed wires; a pink triangle; the personal is political; farmers of the world unite - and many more blazoned across), mum never hesitated to bring the world to us, and us to the world. When I came out to her (the only family member I’ve come out to so far), she gave me a hug, told me very honestly that she was worried because the world was unkind to people like me, but that of course I would always be loved by her. Even as she was trying to make the world a better place, she knew she couldn’t keep the harm away forever, but she would do what she could to make sure we had a family, a community, to be our safe place.
In the days since she passed, thousands of people have come forward to us personally, or through letters and messages shared across the globe, talking about the impact she made on their lives. I met an editor of a very prominent magazine the other day who told me how more than twenty years ago when she was a student, she interviewed mum on the topic of ‘human rights’ for a school paper. Mum (who was then quietly doing her activist work, without any of the spotlight that would come later) spent a few hours patiently explaining various issues to her. It didn’t matter that it would never be published in any big way; someone was asking her, and she took it as a moment to teach. Two decades later, that student is now an editor, driven to write about human rights issues, because of that time spent with mum. That is one of the biggest lessons my mother has left me; we should live our lives generously for others. Take the time to teach, to learn, to share. People matter. Life is bigger than just this moment we have right now. It doesn’t matter who we are, we all have the power to affect change for the better.
I am grateful too for the time we shared in laughter and complete silliness. I love that there was no such thing as being too old for kisses, that any age was a perfectly good age to stretch your arms out and ask your mother for a hug. I love, love, love that no matter how busy she was (and she was very, very, very busy), helping me on my school projects when she could wasn’t ever a ‘bother’ or less important than working on a policy paper. And when she couldn’t, I knew it wasn’t because I wasn’t important enough. She kept us included in her life, and she loved us so openly and loudly, even if she didn’t always use the words.
I am so deeply grateful that I had at least a few years fighting alongside her as her ‘comrade’. There are many, many struggles ahead, and I know many will come together to help carry her bright, blazing torch, but I miss deeply her unwavering belief in me, in the possibility for a better world. When a prison sentence loomed over her, she said ‘excellent, i will document the conditions in prison, and organise from within’; she took every harm they inflicted on her, and turned it into an opportunity to blaze further, even as her body grew tired, even as others grew weary.
It has been so incredible to learn at her feet, to sit across from her desk and bounce ideas, to have her look at me with that slight confusion of ‘why are you doubting yourself, when I know you can do this?’. The road ahead feels scary and overwhelming at times. I must learn now to listen closer for her voice that lives in my veins, and to trust my own voice, as she did.
These past few weeks have been difficult in pain, but also joyous in the presence of this incredible, diverse community that are bonded together for their shared love of mum. I am so deeply thankful for the people in my life who have come forward to remind me that I am thought of. Living in a cloud of depressive thoughts can make it hard to see that. In some ways, through her passing, mum has cracked past some of those clouds, and forced sunbeams through. To all who have been here for me in words, in prayers, in unexpected Asks to check in on me even if you didn’t know what was going on - thank you, truly. You have been a light in my world, and I hold your kindness close to me.
There are many lessons, many reflections, many memories to share, more than can be captured in this simple note (and yes, I realise how wonderful it is that I can say that). I will end this now though with thoughts of Love, Solidarity, Truth, Justice, & Strength. In memory of mum who embodied all of that, and breathed it alive for others, I wish it for you. Power on, keep fighting, be kind and love love love in subtle and magnificent ways, loudly and silently, for yourself and for all around you.