Wish You Were Here
A Memoir by Chandra Misra
Every change for me is a small death because you are not here. Each new stage of my life reveals my loss: I do not have a mother. I feel it every time I approach another change in my life, a new baby, a new job or a new house.
My mother died when I was only ten months old. A sudden sickness stole her forever. Some twenty years later, as I prepared to have my first child, I discovered the peculiar paradox of my situation: Not only was my childhood stolen from me, so also was my ritual passage to womanhood.
People who have mothers can grow up. People without mothers can only fake it. If mother is the great protector in childhood, she also is the great anchor of adulthood. If I had my mother, we could have fought over whether to make clothes for the new baby or set up the crib before the birth of the baby. But she does not age and therefore cannot acknowledge that I have.
My mother was not there to help me with my newborn or pick out a name for her. She was not there to give me tips on how to manage at my in-law’s house. I would have protested about their way of living, and she would have made me understand the way of life and living. I would seek her approval, but I do not know what she would have approved of.
Of course, this is all a mystery to me. It’s only in death that she takes on such power. I have no memories of my mother and very few of her things. She did not leave me her favorite jewelry or dishes. She never took me shopping for my wedding jewelry or reminisced with me about her wedding over a cup of tea. We never made mango pickles or typical festive cakes. It’s as if she took both a piece of my past and a piece of my future with her when she died.
I remember the first time I was in a maternity ward in Bombay when my daughter was born. All the new mothers had their mothers beside them to cuddle the grandchild and show the daughters how to do the usual routine with the new baby. That was the first time I realized I was different than the others. Permanently marked by her passing away.
In time, her death has come to define me. I am more outspoken and less hamstrung. But I am also less nurtured and more terrified of change. I once saw a three-year old, whose mother had died of cancer. She was running frantically around a room asking all the nurses present to be her mother and then strike out angrily when we said we couldn’t because “no one loves you like your mother did.” Sure, we could, and did, send Christmas presents and play games but it was not the same. No one can replace your mother, and I have no chance to get back that which was stolen from me at such a tender age.
A friend once told me how she wished she could cry out loud for her deceased mother on special days as if all the sadness and tears could add up to the person she had lost. It is not an equation that works for me. Instead, I think patience is the key. Even though I did not know my mother well and have few memories of her being around, I grow more like her each day. My sisters say I look like her and talk like her. Genes have taken over where memory had failed, and it is as spooky as it is comforting to realize that I have, at long last, wrested some vestige of my mother for myself. So, when I get anxious about a new situation and wish she was here, I remind myself to look within me.
Chandra Misra, a first-generation immigrant from India, came to the USA in 1977 with her two young children to join her husband, who had immigrated a few months earlier to work as a corporate research scientist in suburban Chicago. They moved to suburban Philadelphia in 1984. Chandra earned her nursing degree from Gwynedd Mercy University and worked as a critical care nurse at Albert Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia. Later she worked as a Drug Safety Associate and as a Medical Scientist at various Pharma companies.
By becoming a nurse, Chandra found confidence, comfort and hope as her dream to help people was fulfilled. “Nursing brought my future into focus and made a difference in my life.” For her, the USA is the land where her dreams came true. She loves to write and to let people know about her experiences. She lives with her family in North Wales, PA.