Upgrading to the sea view

Tea in BrightonAs I sit for breakfast, overlooking the sea at this hotel in Brighton (Southern England), I look out towards the turbulent waves hitting the pebbly shore and reconnect with my mum’s love of the ocean.

Mum grew up in Mombasa, a relaxing coastal town in East Africa. It’s where she had studied, formed close friendships and first met my dad. My brother and I, as we grew up, would hear stories of the infamous “lighthouse” where all the youth would gather outdoors in the evenings to hang out, for music and hot food – makai (corn on the cob), mogo (cassava) and chips, not forgetting madaf nu pani (coconut water) and perhaps other drinks they never told me about.

We’d had a number of beach holidays together over the years, with our last family holiday together in Aruba, just after I graduated from uni – again close to the water. When I attended a conference near Lago Maggiore in Italy and had sat by the lake on a beautiful June afternoon in 2005, I had vowed to take mum there so she too could enjoy a cappuccino overlooking the lake – but I never got round to taking her there. Now that I can, it’s of course too late.

This September will mark 10 years since mum died. A few weeks after she passed away, most of the family, including my maternal grandmother, had made the day trip to Brighton to scatter mum’s ashes, somewhere along the coastline that I’m overlooking right now.

If mum was here, staying at the same hotel, staying in the same part of the hotel (facing north so not overlooking the sea), I feel I would have upgraded her room to enjoy the sea view from her room. Even with limited mobility, at least she could have enjoyed that. Then I would have brought her down for breakfast to enjoy the sea view from the hotel restaurant. We would have had far too many mugs of tea together, making the most of the unlimited refills!

But sadly she is no longer around and these gestures no matter how grand or small, cannot come to fruition. This makes my eyes well-up realising the futility of my wishes for mum and I to have any more of those experiences together.

On this bright spring morning, as I finish my second mug of tea while overlooking the turbulent waves crashing against the pebbly Brighton shore, my heart is filled with sadness and regret.

While it’s been almost a decade since mum died, these feelings of regret are surfacing only now. I realise too, that while there’s nothing I can do to make up for all that’s left undone, it’s certainly within my reach to simply observe what’s coming up and let it pass in it’s own natural time, in it’s own natural way.

I have a choice now to either get bashed about by the rough waters or to upgrade to the sea view and calmly observe whatever comes up. Like each wave along Brighton’s coast that builds up momentum and gradually comes to rest, even these turbulent feelings will comes to pass.

I don’t miss you, mum

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

Dear mum,

Today marks six years since we were last together,
Yet it seems we have not been apart.

You may not be here with us in person,
Yet you live through each and every part of me.

There are days I find myself drunk in the darkness,
Yet I remember your laughter in both ups and downs.

At times I feel stuck and struggle to breathe,
Yet your calm and patience is now setting me free.

No problem too big and no matter too small,
Always eager to listen and be present at all times.

It may be six long years since you were last with us,
But your light continues to shine bright within me.

I don’t miss you, mum. Your virtues live on.

Your son,
Suraj

Missing mum, 5 years on

Written by Suraj Shah.

Who has been present in the major events of your life?

In a timeline exercise I did one evening last week, I discovered a common thread – the importance of one single person throughout my life.

Timeline’s are more powerful than you realise. They help trace out the major events that took place at various stages of your life, and they help you remember, using the memory of your senses, what was going on at that time, who was around, and how you felt.

Some major moments in my life

Here is how some of my timeline looks (although ages may be a little skewed as memory has ways of playing tricks on you):

  • Age 5: Attended primary school.
  • Age 9: Won a competition.
  • Age 10: Moved house.
  • Age 10: House burgled.
  • Age 12: Started high school.
  • Age 13: Moved to a private school.
  • Age 14/15: Tutor died.
  • Age 15: Penpal died.
  • Age 16: Grandma died.
  • Age 16: Moved school.
  • Age 18: Went to uni
  • Age 18: Grandfather died.
  • Age 22: Finished uni – got my degree.
  • Age 22: Best friend died.
  • Age 23: Travelled around India for over 3 months.
  • Age 25: Mum terribly unwell. Mum died. Mum’s uncle died. Dad’s uncle died.
  • Age 26: Met Heena (now my wife). The best summer of my life.
  • Age 27: Got married. Other grandma died.
  • etc.

As I was recalling these major events of my life, I was recollecting who was around me, what was going on, and how I felt. A common thread emerged.

Mum was around for it – she was a part of the big moments in my life

Whilst I was at primary school at age 5, at a time when we all had to wear shorts, I once tripped in the playground and my right knee was so badly grazed that it was bleeding non-stop for over 5 minutes. At that age, it felt like decades! I remember how mum came to collect me from school to take me home and nurse me.

One Saturday morning, aged 9, I was feeling unwell and couldn’t make it to music school. So while I was resting on the sofa watching cartoons, I heard the doorbell ring, and mum answered the door. The postman had delivered a package, with my name on it. It was a brand new Nintendo Gameboy – I had won a competition! That became my prized possession. I suddenly didn’t feel so unwell!

At age 10, we moved house, but dad was so busy in the shop at that time that we hadn’t managed to unpack every single box. In the spare room upstairs, there were boxes of mum’s jewellery, our video camera, and a collection of home movies that hadn’t yet been transferred onto VHS. Within weeks of moving house, we were burgled. It was bad enough that they stole some of the expensive digital equipment and the jewellery, but why the video tapes too? Mum was distraught – all her precious memories from my brother and I as young children – gone.

At age 12, I started high school. The night before, while I was trying on my new uniform and getting my books and pens ready, I remember tears rolling down my eyes. I was scared about going to this new school, mum was in hospital undergoing surgery, and I didn’t want dad to see me cry. I missed mum and wished she was there to comfort me.

At age 13, mum tried her hardest to get me into a better school. Together we succeeded. I started at a private school, and luckily my fees were all paid for me by the school. Mum was over the moon, as education was so important to her.

Around the age of 14 or 15, my physics tutor died. I remember mum telling me the news after she got off the phone with the tutor’s wife. I didn’t know how to react. Then my penpal died. Then my grandma died. Mum wanted to support me through all of that, but we never really spoke more than a few words about each incident.

Soon I went to Manchester to start university, and within months, my grandfather died. I rushed back to London to be with the family. Four years later, I graduated from uni and my best friend died. Mum wanted to support me through that too, but once again we never really spoke more than a few words about it.

And then, mum wasn’t around…

Over the years, mum’s health deteriorated further and further, with several major operations along the way. When I was 25, mum was in hospital for several months and eventually passed away. Clearly, she wasn’t there to support me through that. Within weeks, her uncle died. A couple of months later, my dad’s uncle died. Mum wasn’t around to support me through any of that.

The following year I met Heena, and then we got married. Mum wasn’t around for that. My cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that.

The following year, my brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

The following year, another cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

This year, my cousin sister is getting married. Mum won’t be around for that either.

September 26th, 2011, marks five years since mum passed away, and I certainly do miss her presence in my life. Some days I feel numb. Many days I feel lost. But then the clouds clear and the sun shines through, and I realise that I am blessed with such great people in my life, and that a purposeful and inspired life is inevitable.

The power of the timeline

Before this timeline exercise, I hadn’t realised just how much of an important force my mum was in my life. She was present, in some way or another, in almost all the major events that took place in my life.

If you have a spare half-hour, give the timeline exercise a go. Perhaps share what you discover, by writing in the comments below.

(Photo courtesy of Alice Lim)