“I’m sorry Sir, we tried….”

Posted: October 30, 2012 in family

“I’m sorry Sir, we tried. We think she’s been dead for at least 15 minutes…..” These words roll off the tongue of a doctor so easily, and often sound so thoughtless. But never were they delivered with more sadness and poignancy than on that fateful Wednesday, October 17, after the medical staff at the hospital, failed to revive the heart of a frail 83-year-old woman who meant the world to me, probably even more than my mother.

We’ve all gone back to our daily routine. In fact, a day after the funeral, my son decided he didn’t want to stay home and went back to school. I followed his example and returned to work. It was the best thing we could have done. But you know what they say, one doesn’t realise the value of someone, until they’re gone.

But that Wednesday it was different. I don’t think I have ever felt as sad and desolate as I felt that moment. There were no tears, just a deep sense of sadness. As my wife and I kept our emotions in check at the hospital, my son broke down and wept like only a child can. Vidya, a friend from childhood, who idolised my aunt as a child, was the first one there as soon as my wife called her from the hospital to give her the news. She was inconsolable as she saw the lifeless body lying on the stretcher.

Chittamma (little mother in Malayalam) had brought me up from the age of ten, when my mother left me behind in Pune and went off to find a job in Ooty. She became a sort of surrogate mother and when my mother retired and came to stay in Pune, never did she complain about the additional load on her finances. Then my brother came to stay and she welcomed him too. She just stepped aside and became the aunt again and younger sister to my mother.

I remember telling my wife before we were married, “I’ll leave you, but I won’t leave them.” My wife thought I was joking, but I think she realised how serious I was about looking after my aunt and mother, after she realised how much the former had done for me. Today, she admits that she could take up a job only because my aunt was there in the background, looking after our growing son and running the home.

It’s the little things that we suddenly miss the most. The diary that had the dhobi’s list, the folder where all the bills were kept – neatly, in different plastic pouches, is now our responsibility to maintain. The clothes that were folded, painstakingly, every day, and kept on our beds, are now a big heap that one of us has to disseminate.

She would wait for my son to return from school so she could feed him something, cajole him till he agreed, and get angry if he didn’t. He too would return from school, dump his things on the living room floor, go straight to her room and flop on her bed. Today when he gets back home to an empty house, because, neither my wife nor me, are at home, I wonder how he feels. I haven’t asked him, and I guess when he feels like it he will speak to me.

I would get home from work around midnight and her bedroom light would be on. Once she heard the door closing, she would switch off her light. Quite often, she would be reading or be asleep on her ‘rocking chair’ that was a gift from my sister-in-law when we moved into our new home in April. She always wanted a rocking chair and now that she had her own bedroom her life seemed to have become complete. I would reprimand her for keeping such late hours, but she complained that if she slept early she awoke very early and “didn’t know what to do after that.” Nowadays, as I get home from work and as I pass her room, I give a fleeting glance inside, almost hoping to see her sitting up solving her favourite crossword puzzles.

Until recently she never had the privacy of her own room, because we couldn’t afford a large enough house. She shared a room with her sister (my mother) when the latter was alive, and looked after her as she deteriorated rapidly from Alzheimer’s. In those three years she and the rest of us watched my mother disintegrate from the happy-go-lucky person to a physical and mental wreck, until her death. But she looked after my mother – cleaning, bathing and feeding her. She could have asked us to get a nurse, but refused, and did it all by herself.

She would often joke that she would not outlive her own mother who died in her early eighties. Then she would say to us that she would not live beyond 84, and my son warned her in jest, “You are not going anywhere, till I finish my SSC exams.”

After my mother died, Chittamma told my wife, she didn’t ever want to go that way. “I don’t want to become a vegetable, no life support and never want to stay in a hospital. I’ll put it in my will!” We all joked at about it then. But on that Wednesday she got her wish.

  1. Manoj Bandivadekar says:

    A fitting Obituary to Chittamma…. Rest in peace.

  2. kausikray says:

    Dear Mr. Mohan, thank you for sharing this touching story. I lost my grandma in 1982 – when I was just 8 years. Being a child of working parents, I took my grandma as my sole companion. I can feel your son’s mind – because I went through same phase. RIP little mother.

  3. My dear Sinha,

    Both my grand-mothers were special to me, especially my mom’s mom. I slept with her and stayed with her, after my younger brother was born.

    So Sinha, tell your son Ashutosh that Joe Uncle, who is 61, knows how it feels to lose a grand-ma.

    You may also want to give biographical detail about Chittamma, for us who did not know her well.

    Peace and love,
    – Joe.

  4. Kavya says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, sir.
    And I’m so thankful you chose to share a tiny drop of that with the world. It’s deeply and quietly overwhelming in all its beauty and its sorrow and in the memories that remain.

    My grandmother is very old. I call her ‘Amma’.
    I cannot bear to think of a time when I would have to refer to her in the past tense.

  5. Sinhasaab.. very touching.
    And now I can only admire the poise and grace you exhibited all through. I think having spoken to you right after this tragic incident, I can only now, after reading this post realize the amazing sense of loss you felt then.
    Hats of sir!

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