In Loving Memory Of…
Hoor Khemchand Mahtani
(6th November 1922 – 27th February 2019) 96.5 years
“She’s gone,” she said, her voice heavy with tears.
It was my mother. Sharing news of my granny’s death.
“I’m coming straight away.” I had spent the morning walking through the local cornfields with a friend, when I saw a missed call from my mother. I had that funny feeling in my belly as I called her back.
I drove to the care home, where she had been for the last 14 months, as she had become bedridden after a series of falls and required 24/7 care. My mind was racing. I had seen her just a couple of days before on the Sunday. I remember pausing for a moment in the doorway of her room as I had left, wondering if this was our last goodbye and if I would see her again. Thoughts flashed through my mind. Why didn’t I go again after thinking that? Why didn’t the care home telephone me straight away like they had my mother? Could I have been there when she took her last breath?
As I walked into the room, just 45 minutes after she had died, she looked so still and quiet. She had died peacefully. Her body was still warm. I half expected her to move or speak. Sitting with her body was strangely comforting and it was hard to leave to pick up my children from school a couple of hours later and tell them the news of their great grandmother’s parting.
Some 7 hours after she had left her body, I returned with my 16-year-old son, my eldest child. We sat there for a while, just the two of us. He was slightly bemused at his “hippy,” mother because I had brought a sacred, temple bell with me. Handmade in Indonesia, it has a resounding tone and is fashioned for rituals and space clearing. I, on the other hand, was just grateful to have my most precious son there with me. We replaced the “fake” flowers with fresh white freesias and a single white rose.
There was something deeply poignant about it. A mother and son visiting the body of a mother, who had just returned to her son. (My father had died just one year before).
“Om bhur bhuvaha svaha.
Tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dheemahi
Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat.”
I softly chanted the Gayatri mantra, sitting under the large window in the big armchair in her room. My son sat quietly nearer the bed.
After some moments of chanting, a piercing stream of golden sunlight entered the room through the window behind me. Suddenly around my granny’s body emerged an almost cloud-like yellow glow – as if the warmth of the sun’s rays and light of my granny’s soul were merging together in union. I felt a silent yet perceptible sensation of expansion in my heart space. The sensation opened outwards to meet the feeling in the room.
“Can you feel that?” I asked my son.
The deep love of my granny filled the room with light. It was that same feeling I always had in her presence. But there was something different about it. Lighter. Joyful. It was almost exhilarating. A curious feeling in the light of her death. It reminded me of the freshness of my earlier walk through the cornfields. There was something invigorating about the sunshine across cloudy blue skies that day. An appropriate prelude to my granny’s parting. I knew that my granny was greeting us both for one last time. Feeling the purity of her soul’s tender light, an indescribable feeling of happiness filled my heart to feel my granny’s soul being called back home to God. Her happiness to be with her precious son again.
Having lost her husband nearly five decades ago already, she had worn white ever since that time, as is customary for widows of an age gone by. She spent her earliest years in India but then much of her life in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where she would walk to the temple every day with her small group of friends, sharing news about births, deaths, marriages and of course what everybody was eating. More recently around 2006, she returned to live with my parents in the UK, as her health declined and she needed more practical care and support.
My granny left this world quietly and without fuss. She was a humble yet strong-minded woman, steadfast in her love of her family and children and loving until the end. She was a peaceful and loving soul with a super sharp and clear mind. I was always in awe of her ability to make quick calculations in her head. How much rent was I paying? What were my expenses? How much money was I spending? What was left over? Did I have enough? Simple mathematics, always in her head and always absolutely spot on. No surprise that my father and brother and now daughter are all mathematicians too.
Big Mama, as I called her, would tell everyone she met that I was not her granddaughter but her daughter. Sometimes we would argue about this and that in the way that mothers and daughters often do. Mostly about eating – what was I eating? Had I eaten? What were my children eating? Could I eat something she’d made?
Embodying a fierce and devoted love, Big Mama cared for her children above all else. How many times did I hear her tell me,
“Look after your children. They are the blessings of God.”
She always asked how they were before speaking about anything. But for decades I have heard her tell anybody who would listen – that her Lal (my Dad), was a real jewel. She would have no ill words or complaints against him. She was fiercest in her love of him above all else.
Death at any age is a deep and excavating process of grief and gratitude. At times, fiery and intense, and at others, there is so much grace flowing in from invisible realms. The last year was especially difficult for my grandmother – it was hard for her to live in a reality where her most precious son was not. She spent more and more time in a meditative state.
Feeling her grief when visiting was not easy as of course, I am still dealing with my own. There was, however, always that surprise gift of feeling so deeply loved and genuinely received as I would leave her. It was almost as if a soft flutter of her soul’s light, traveling through the ethers with its gossamer wings would gently touch my own. It was there in every single moment of meeting with my granny, a tangible feeling of softness and opening, that would just happen for being in her presence.
In these last few days since her death, I have found myself reflecting that perhaps this is the truest gift of a grandmother’s love. A silent, yet powerful transmission that makes you feel that all’s well with the world, that everything is going to be ok, that I am ok and deeply loved, no matter what’s going on in the world out there.
Big Mama was nothing if not fierce in her love of me too. Throughout my moody teens and sometimes argumentative ways, she would always concede that she was wrong and I was right, even when that was clearly not the case. She always chose the path of peace.
Before she was bed-ridden, a couple of years ago now after a fall, she would give everyone she met the biggest, bear hug. This included nurses, carers, doctors – anybody who would come to visit her. She was always so explicit and expressive of her love for others – but especially her children. I’ve never had any doubt for one single second of my life that she loved me fully and absolutely.
It is hard to say goodbye to those we love. Even though their love lives on in each of us.
Big Mama spent much of her last half a century at home, occasionally visiting with friends, but mostly living a quiet and simple life. She meditated and prayed every, single day. The day after she died, I knew as I woke up that Big Mama had been with me through the night as I had slept and that her soul had already transitioned. It is a testimony to her many decades of daily meditation that her soul was so easily able to access the radiant light of God. That whole day she was with me in my home, the soft strength of her soul’s light comforting and holding me, reminding me that I am never without her nor never alone. It was a quiet, soft sort of a day, inward and full of healing light. Just like my granny. Reunited with my father, there was a peacefulness and a sense of ease flowing from her. Big Mama had lived a long life. It was her time. Her time to return home.
My granny left this world quietly and without fuss. She was a humble yet strong-minded woman, steadfast in her love of her family and children and loving until the end. For as long as I can remember we’ve always said Hari Om when we’ve greeted her and Hari Om as we’ve parted. So much so, that my own children from a young age thought Big Mama was called Om and mostly have called her Om during their lives.
Hari Om as of course some of you may already know is a traditional salutation referencing Lord Vishnu, the preserver and protector of all of life. Hari Om is a mantra that is believed to remove all suffering. It is believed by some that reciting these words unites the individual consciousness and simultaneously brings the utterer into a state of heightened awakening.
It is only now on her death that as I reflect on each and every single time I’ve said goodbye to Big Mama, I felt as if to receive a blessing as if life was made that little bit lighter or easier or better to bear no matter what life has thrown my way.
As she returns now to the infinite ocean of love that is God’s infinite peace, I am struck by how blessed I am to have been the recipient of such love.
Perhaps it really does takes death to understand the profound impact of another person in your own life. Big Mama was like the roots of a tree. In her parting, I feel her strong love nourishing the trunk of my own life and helping me to stand up a little stronger in the world. Helping me to face my own life and the many changes that are unfolding within it.
As my son Kabir said on the day she died, it was typical of her that she would observe the traditional twelve months mourning period for her son, before taking her next evolutionary step and joining him too.
She was never somebody to take the light away from others, but in her love for those around her, it was she, in her own quiet, unassuming way who brought the greatest light.
I will think of Big Mama every single day. Just like I think of Dad every single day. Beyond the veil of life and death, I am grateful to feel them standing behind me, holding my heart, especially in those tender moments when I too feel like I just cannot go on. It is a comfort to know that Big Mama and Dad have each other again. The bond of a mother and her son runs deep indeed.
Yesterday as the priest offered the last rites before her cremation, he said something that struck me very deeply.
“We are all here because of this wonderful woman who has given her life to her family. Without her, we would not be here.”
As my paternal grandmother, this is quite literally the case. Gifting me the beauty of a rich and full life, my grandmother’s blessing and loving presence surround me now like the protective embrace of giant angel wings. I am so deeply grateful to be her granddaughter and to bear witness to such love.
Hari Om Big Mama. Thank you for my life.
I love you. May your soul rest in peace as you bridge the great divide.