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And I Will Always Love You: A Mother's Day Memory

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.


There is a song that reminds me of my mother.

The song that usually makes me cry hopelessly, every time I hear it on the radio. I have it on my iTunes playlist and as I scroll past the song title, I hesitate to click , knowing very well I am going to be heavy with grief, choked with emotion and generally make a spectacle of myself.

Perhaps the intensity of my grief in lesser now, more on the inside and less outside. But the emotional response has not changed, like a heavy fist clamping down on my heart.

For it is not Dolly Parton’s voice that comes through the speakers, as it enters my ears and my soul, it is my mom’s.

If I should stay

Well, I would only be in your way...


Manchester Airport, 5 years ago

My mom stood looking up at me, pale, frail and shivering from the November cold even in the air-conditioned warmth of Manchester airport. My Dad was waiting farther ahead, the hand-luggage in his hand, pretending to look elsewhere. I could see his brow furrowed with worry. My wife stood behind me with a hand on my back.

“Amma, do you really think it is a good idea? It’s still not too late. We’ll cancel the flight and just go back to my place.”

Her breathing was somewhat laboured but she braved a smile. “I will be alright. You have enough in your hands with your work and children. I’ll only be an added burden. I promise I’ll go straight for a check up”

There were hundreds of people milling around, some looking like lost souls clutching baggages of various shapes and colours. There were some yearning looks, tears and last minute hugs and kisses. The airport goodbyes.

“It’s no trouble at all, Amma. It may be better if you get treated here in UK as I know the hospital and the Specialists. I know you feel better than you did few weeks ago . But I am not sure getting back to India now is so urgent. We can rearrange the flights from UK anytime”

She held my hand and smiled weakly. Her hands were ice cold and I held her wrist, surreptitiously checking her pulse. It was pounding from the effort of just walking a few steps to passport control.

My wife, whispered that the gate was about to close.

Thought I’ll try once more but my will was weakening.

“Please Amma. Think about it. The flight is nearly 12 hours. It will be too much. You’ve had pulmonary oedema and only just recovered. The cardiologist said you may be better getting your investigations down before you travel all the way back to India”

“No sweetheart. I‘d rather be home. Back to the lovely house you bought us.

The house I always wanted. I haven’t had chance to enjoy it what with all the hospital visits. I’d love to go home and relax. I promise I’ll go straight for a check up as soon as I get there”


And so I'll go, and yet I know

That I'll think of you each step of my way..

She settled on the wheelchair and grimaced. My father looked at me as if enquiring to go. He knew my efforts were in vain. My wife’s hand gripped my shoulders.

My mom gave me that smile I love. Despite all the pain and illness the radiance hadn’t dimmed. “I feel great after taking the medication you have given me and the specialists have done a great job in the hospital. I really would rather go. You know I don’t like troubling you especially with the lovely baby only being few months old. I’ll ring you. You will coming to visit me wont you, in January?”

I leaned forward and hugged her, kissed her forehead. “Of Course, I will. Please take care of yourself. Love you”

“Love you too, darling.” She gripped my hand tighter than usual, eyes misty behind those glasses. My Dad nodded curtly, still frowning, and wheeled her towards the gate. They got down the flight chute pretty quick and I stood looking at the empty corridor for a while. We walked back to the car and drove home. The Grey skies threatened to rain again.

“I feel really weird about this. I shouldn’t have let her go” I said as my wife drove.

”There’s nothing more you could’ve done“, she hushed me, “She is determined to go home. Ring your friend and make sure she goes to the hospital as soon as she gets there for a check-up.”

I leaned back on the passenger seat and watched the lamp posts blur by, the dull November weather swirling in mists of memory.


Bitter-sweet memories

That's all I have, and all I’m taking with me

Chennai Airport, 15 years ago

I remembered the younger, healthier face of my mom, smiling at me as I held her hand 15 years ago.

It was the smile of a mother who wants her son to do well, who wants him to go abroad and make a success of his education and career. It was also the strained smile of someone who is going to miss her eldest son terribly, the son who has perhaps been more a friend, a confidante, a defender and help.

I am the eldest of three brothers. I always tried to be her help, her support as much as I could. She was a voracious reader and read everything that came in her way- books, magazines and even newspaper used to wrap parcels. I got my precocious and voracious reading habit from my mum.

When I was only seven or eight I remember climbing up the loft looking for something to read and found a ruled notebook with plenty of writing. It was about a 17 year old girl who gets married. I realised it was my mum’s diary from when she got married, because I knew she was 18 when she gave birth to me.

I didn’t know whether I should or should’ve not, but I couldn’t resist reading it.

My father was a tough disciplinarian not afraid of using his belt on us. He was 10 years older than my mother. I suddenly realised what it must be like to a young girl to get married at that age, a girl who never knew her parents ever raise the voice. A girl who grew up in a city had finished her school with dreams of going to college, suddenly finding herself in an arranged marriage with someone who perhaps had no understanding of how to relate to a young girl.

It wasn’t pleasant reading. Of broken dreams and the sheer horror of a naïve young girl who had mixed feelings about getting married but didn’t have the courage to disobey her parents.

I decided to be my mum’s helper, her friend, and do the best I can to shield her from my father’s wrath. It worked sometimes, but not always. There were a few black eyes and bruised shins that we’ve both shared. I think it was when I was 15 and a lanky but strong boy that I remembered grabbing my Dad’s fist as it descended on to me and looking at him straight in the eye. Until then I had never defended or resisted his violence, just bunched myself into the smallest size possible like a turtle withdrawing into its shell.

His manic eyes had weakened with shock as I told him quietly that if he ever did that again, he will regret it badly.

After that he left me alone, instead directing his misdemeanours of parenting onto my poor brothers. I was going through medical school, trying to cope with all the learning and training while in the back of my mind I was constantly worried for my mom and my brothers.

Here I was in the airport, venturing out to a strange new country, to do my further education, to enhance the fortunes of myself and my poor family.

Good-bye, oh, please don't cry

Cause we both know that I’m not

What you need


“I will miss you” she said, eyes misting up through the smile. “Don’t worry about us. You have enough to worry about. Exams, training, finding a job. Please do well. I will write to you.”

 I nodded, not being able to speak, and hugged her and my brothers.

I moved to my Dad, who was brimming with pride that I was the first one in the entire clan to  not only get a degree but to actually go aboard for higher studies. I hugged him to, and whispered,”look after yourself. Look after them” in his ears.

I turned to my mum and mouthed I love you as I walked away towards the boarding gate towards my lifelong dream of achievements and academic highs.

I will always love you

I will always love you

And I hope life, will treat you kind

And I hope that you have all

That you ever dreamed of


Manchester Airport, 5 years ago

I was back at the airport within few weeks, frantic with worry. She had to get admitted to the hospital shortly after going back to India. Pulmonary oedema again and this time her kidneys were failing and her coronaries were blocked with advanced Diabetes. She was only 58, and her body had no business failing on her like that. She had always been one who spent more time looking after others than her and Diabetes is a relentless adversary if you don’t pay attention to it.

“We have to move fast, Mohan,” The cardiologist had said on the phone, “Her angiogram is pretty bad and I think a coronary bypass will help.”

“Do you think she is fit to proceed?”

“As fit as she will be. The dialysis has helped and she has picked up. If we do the bypass as soon as possible, she has a chance. I agree it is a risky proposition but she’s more at risk if we leave her as is...”

I was at the airport lounge when my brother rang me again. “She wants to speak to you. She is worried. The surgeons wants to take her to theatre as things are pretty bad.”

She asked the question every Doctor/Child dreads.

“Do you think it is safe for me to have the operation?”

“Amma, it’s hard for me to decide from here. According to what the Specialists are telling me it will certainly help if all goes well.”

“I am scared. Shall I wait till you come?”

“The specialist wants to plan surgery as soon as. I am at the airport, I will be there by the time you come out of the theatre. I would have liked to be there before but it seems if your lungs fill up again they will struggle to operate..”

“I am sorry for all the trouble.” Her voice quivered.

“Don’t be silly. I want to be there” I could feel my stomach knotting with fear and worry, despite all the medical advice I’ve dished out, all the risk conversations I’ve had, I knew the bypass is a very high risks proposition for her condition. But the cardiologist had pretty much held me at ransom with the talk of further risk if she didn’t have the surgery...

“I love you mom, take care. I won’t be long”

Oh, I do wish you joy

And I wish you happiness

But above all this

I wish you love

I love you, I will always love


The flight attendants were kind and put me on to business class seats as I was a frequent flyer. I was thankful for the privacy away from the hustle and bustle. I felt I couldn’t face conversations with strangers from either side. The shutters went down and the cabin was dark.

I didn’t realise I had just spoken my last words to my mother.


Heathrow Airport, 5 Years ago

It was all over. I was waiting in the lounge at Heathrow to connect back to Manchester and go back home to my wife and children. I was in the washroom, splashing water in my face and looked up in the mirror. I had large bags under my eyes that were bloodshot with spidery capillaries.

I kept getting flashbacks.

Arriving at Chennai and being met by my frightened brother. “She is still sleeping and has not come around after surgery, Mo, do you think she’ll be alright?”

Driving through the crazy Chennai traffic to the hospital and meeting my worried relatives outside the ward. They all wanted me to explain what was going on as the Doctors haven’t really been very forthcoming.

The curse of being the only Doctor in the family. Not being able to feel the emotions of a worried son but to flick my professional switch on and questioning the specialists, interpreting to my family. “Her Coronary bypass went ok but her BP dropped repeatedly due to the poor state of her lungs and kidneys. She needs assistance for breathing so she is on a ventilator”

Looking at my mom in the ICU, battered, intubated and a mere wisp of what she was once.

The clickety click and whoosh of the ventilator as it breathed for my mum.

Running behind the trolley as mum underwent a CT scan to check her brain status while still under the ventilator. Seeing multiple opacities bloom like little nuclear explosions in her brain where she had bled under the anaesthesia.

Her brain was dead.

She had always told me she didn’t want to be chained to machine forever if there is no hope of recovery.

The whole family asking me to make the decision about switching the ventilator off as they felt they didn’t know what the right thing to do was. The specialists were no help at all when I needed them most even though I was part of the medical community.

It made me think about the medicine they practiced and the dehumanised protocols and guidelines that have no heart in them. So much opposite to the medicine I practiced and the support I try to give my patients.

If I should stay

Well, I would only be in your way

And so I'll go, and yet I know

That I'll think of you each step of my way

I remember vividly standing near the machine as the nurse switched it off. There were the last few strained breaths from her lungs but her eyes were lost to this world and the pupils had long since stopped reacting. But the little flicker of hope like a lonely candle flame in a dark room, thinking she may just may...

She didn’t.

I, I will always, always love you

I will always love you

I will always love you

I will always love you

My mom, and her beautiful smile. R.I.P

My mom, and her beautiful smile. R.I.P

Me, at my son's christening- as one life ends another beautiful one begins...

Me, at my son's christening- as one life ends another beautiful one begins...

In Hindu tradition the eldest son dissolved the ashes of the parent in the sea. I held my mom’s ashes in a bronze vessel , wearing the ceremonial sarong across my waist, bare-chested, walked into the sea.

The priest had asked me to turn around and face the shore halfway into the churning waves that were lashing about my chest wall as I stood.

I threw the ashes over my head into the sea.

The primordial sea. The sea that gives life to us all. The sea where life emerged from, eons ago. The sea that constantly blesses us with the weather, and sustains life. The sea we feel can take everything, we abuse with toxins and dump rubbish in but it always soaks it all up. The sea that bubbles and churns and bathes and calms yet can be turbulent and vicious when disturbed, just like motherhood.

The announcement came over the speakers for my connecting flight to Manchester.

Back to my home and my family.

As I walked to the flight desk I saw a little boy grab his mother’s index finger in complete and utter trust and follow her into the long corridor.

I, I will always, always love you

I will always love you

I will always love you

I will always love you

Thank you for letting me share this memory with you.

It has been hard but strangely therapeutic.

For mothers everywhere.

Mohan Kumar


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