Love, Rin: The Things We Leave Behind

It would have been my late mother’s 63rd birthday on Thursday, 10/6. It also marked 609 days around the sun without her. (She would have appreciated the 6 and 9 – she believed in both numerology and toilet humour…). Throw in the solar eclipse and Mercury Retrograde with the surreal nightmares, it was a heavy week emotionally for me.

Solar eclipses are a time of realizations and awakenings – especially when you’ve been giving more than you receive in relationships and self. They can be intense and painful, just like grieving. Yet they can also be hopeful and filled with gratitude as you close one cycle and move on to the next.

While I have no doubt she’s in a better place and Shy & Curious may have stayed beneath the surface otherwise, I can’t help but fight the urge to go to her room each time and go “Mummy, guess what…” One of my memories from the first 100 days of mourning, was coming home late and turning on the TV only to see our favourite Malay sitcom on a replay. I sat in the dark, lights on and sound off smiling to myself as I was transfixed on the episode.

I’d seen it before with her and I remembered her cackling as the senile old lady bantered with her bossy adult daughter with a stinging burn. The same scene replayed on screen and for a moment, I forgot and turned my head to smile at my mum. But of course she wasn’t there. I turned around and switched the TV off. I haven’t tuned in to the Malay channel since then.

Before Hari Raya, I was offered the beautiful gift of a My Memory Quilt by my friend Anju. Set up by two wonderful big-hearted ladies Mon and Jo, they create quilts and cushions from keepsake clothes so you can honour and celebrate the memories meaningfully. While they usually create from children’s clothing, it was the first time they would design one as a memorial quilt. I thought Mummy would have preferred it rather than have her clothes languish in the closet.

I underestimated how bittersweet the process would be, however the ladies were so understanding and empathic at every step. My siblings and I had a ritual with my mum. Every time we would travel to a new country, she wouldn’t want anything else apart from a t-shirt and a magnet as souvenirs.

As I pulled out each ‘I Love X’ t-shirt, I smiled as I could tell who gifted her those and how competitive we would get to choose the coolest and exotic t-shirts for her. Then when it came to her everyday wear, I got quieter as I remembered how she’ll brush her hair in front of the mirror and put on her lipstick before heading out even just to the market. I lost it when they picked up her batik sarong and discussed how should it be stripped to create the border around the quilt.

“No, no.. I’m not ready for this one, I’m sorry…” and I pulled the sarong back crying. They were sympathetic and kindly changed the subject and spoke of alternative options. Then as I calmed down, I heard my mum’s voice going “It’s ok… anyway it’ll match better with all the t-shirts. It’s what I would wear.” I took a deep breath, apologized and handed over the batik sarong. “I’m sorry, I change my mind. It’s ok to use this. She would have wanted that.”

The other reason why it was so hard, and one that I kept from everyone at that point of time, was that this was literally her final batik sarong. It was the same shroud used when I bathed her for the last time during the funeral rites. It was placed over her while I lifted her body and scrubbed her clean for burial. I was ready for it to have a new meaning now.

When the quilt was ready a few weeks later, I audibly gasped and felt such peace. It was something she would have picked up herself if it was sold in the stores. We decided to place it on her favourite couch – immediately our cats sniffed around and curled themselves on it and went to sleep. It felt like she was home again.

Nowadays it’s me curled up on the couch with my mum’s comfortable quilt wrapped around me. I still miss her voice and laughter. Sometimes I catch myself staring at a piece of the quilt and transport myself back to an occasion when she was wearing that t-shirt and the tears well up automatically. Some days I really wish I can just confide in her everything that’s going on in love and work, and just hear her comfort me with “Baby kan strong (You are strong)”.

But most times, it just feels like she’s right there watching TV with me. Silent, calm and omnipresent.

Onto the next chapter of life.