{Umi is/was}

I’ve been sleeping with the lights on.

Not because of the fear of darkness, but call it childish, I feel like this man made illumination can ward off death. Maybe the light keeps away those dark thoughts from swirling in my head. Maybe its so I could keep looking at the picture frames of Umi I’ve surrounded myself with.

You hear about it, you give your condolences to others about it, you try to envision it right before you sleep but shudder & ward off the unpleasant thought of it. The reality of death can never compare to ones imagination of it. Who would’ve thought that death would be part of our vocabulary so soon. ‘Death comes to all’ doesn’t really hit you until it comes to your all.

Death came, and stood right beside me as I was repeatedly told weeping only adds on suffering to the dead, & so I suffered the wail building at the back of my throat at seeing the corpse of my mother on a washing table. Death is when you deny death although you’d just unfolded the sheet to behold forever closed eyes & the oddest smile, wanting so badly to crumble to your knees all the while whispering please, please, please‘. Death is when you try to gently bathe her, lifting her limbs with shaking hands, as she did when you were a newborn, hoping that she’d wake up and grin at the absurdness of it all. Death is when the last layer of her kaffan is about to cover her face, realizing this is… was the last time you will physically see her, touch her, smell her and so you fervently kiss her hands, her feet, each part of her face, digging your nose as you did as a child to the nape of her neck, all the while whispering ‘forgive me… forgive me.’

On the phone with the siblings there are long stretches of silence I know to be filled with;

‘She’s really gone.. Isn’t she?’

Because I keep seeing her everywhere. Its a damned thing really, because I want to forget her. I want to forget that we lost her. I want to forget that I wont ever get to taste a meal by her. I want to forget that I wont ever be chided or scolded by her. I want to forget the fact that if I ever have children, I would have to tell them about her.

That should be easy because am a natural storyteller, right? Regale whomever will listen with the larger than life image of what is… was Umi. But am a selfish cad who’d rather have you be witness to her and her complexities & oddities & see her alive than me recalling dim memories. My mouth twists & contorts in its annunciation of past tense. I stutter & struggle through the words ‘Umi is… was’, and I often pinch myself just to be sure that I have yet to awaken myself from the longest, surrealist dream.

I keep being told to be strong, but not too strong, as if I have the power of a dial switch to vulnerability in all its shades of me losing all composure, to wearing a single mask of deceptive calm and patience all depending on which you’d rather see & your definition of the role of a bereaved, when in all honesty this role won’t fit me, it hangs rather awkwardly.

She’s in a better place they say.

God strike me down, but the better place was here, with us, with me, in her house.

The better place was within her arms.

Staring at the prayer rug, I realize I only pray so I don’t succumb to anger. I’d like to care that its your birthday. I’d like to answer your message & your question ‘how are you’, but whatever I type I know will be insincere and untrue because I don’t want to share that I was never prepared for the side effects of grief.  That I sometimes sit there thinking she’s on a prolonged vacation, inhaling the last remnants of her scent from her toub and feeling for her fingerprints as if her finger tips are whats brushing across my forehead but will never feel them dab beneath my earlobes perfume while tugging my toub, on my wedding day, into place & worrying, always worrying that am beginning to forget the small details; the moles on her face, the sound she’d make…. made sucking air through her teeth that annoys…  annoyed the hell out of me, munching…. munched with glee at ice, the engrossed look on her face when beating…. beat a batter for gorasa, how she’d grasp…  grasped her hands, almost shyly when she speaks…. spoke to guests, and that laugh, the one that you immediately knew was genuine & true because her whole body would shake…. shook & you could see… saw her teeth but then I’d remember her when she was sick, and the longing look on her face because she could no longer be the constantly in motion dedicated Umi, easily tired & always, always apologizing…. apologized for being such a burden, tearing… teared up helplessly only asking…. asked of us to sit beside her and simply hold her hand.

That was the last thing I did before she died.

Hold… held her hand.

“Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power … that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.”

― Marcel Proust