The decision of the Beatles to make their catalog available for streaming was met with much joy by the Khaund household. I had already begun to unearth some of my old Beatles CDs for Iris when the announcement was made. I made sure we listened some of my favorite albums as soon as they became available. First and foremost, we needed to listen to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As a kid, my family only had about a half dozen eight track tapes. Yes, 8-track tapes–it was the 70s. Sgt Pepper was one of them (the others including the Village People and Barry Manilow – I can only wonder what my musical taste would be like if the Beatles didn’t work their way into the collection). It’s why “A Day in the Life” will likely always be my favorite Beatles song. But as we listened to the streamed content and I sang along to every song, one song stuck out in my mind. It was “When I’m 64”, whimsical song about growing old together. That was my mom’s favorite song.
The irony has never been lost on me that she never quite made it to 64. To quote the opening line from Sgt Pepper, “it was 20 years ago today” that she passed away after a series of illnesses that plagued the last decade of her life. She never got to meet Cherise. She never got to see Iris and Robyn. In all, she missed out on so much of my life. No one wanted to see me get married and have kids more than she did. I don’t profess to have suffered the way others who lost their parents in their youth suffered. While losing a parent is never easy, I made it to adulthood before my mom passed away. Her mission-critical responsibilities were covered. The tragedy is that she never got to see the fruits of her labor. Still, you’re never the same after you lose a parent. 20 years ago, I lost my biggest fan.
Perspective is a funny thing and 20 years can really tell you a lot. As much as people tend to lionize those who passed away, I don’t. I remember her for what she was. She was a flawed individual, she had some petty tendencies, and she certainly made her mistakes with both my brother and me. She was stubborn–oh my, how she was stubborn. She was unafraid to show emotion and affection, and she always wore her heart on a sleeve. To her bratty teenage sons, that’s a dangerous attribute that can lead to a lot of nasty words and hurtful things being said in both directions. The last years were particularly tough as her illnesses seemed to affect her. Meanwhile, I’ve never made secret the fact that my parents didn’t have an ideal marriage. Individually, they were two good people with unconditional love and support for their children. Together, it was just not a match. As you can imagine, the concept of arranged marriages would never appeal to me and this had a lot to do with it…
But with all that said, her devotion to my brother and me was absolute and unwavering. Nothing was more important to her than her two boys. I even have my moments where I worry that I don’t prioritize Iris and Robyn enough and I believe that’s triggered by the prioritization placed on my life as a child by my mother. She set an unachievable bar. Even my Dad raved about her single-mindedness. She fought for every advantage for us. Special programs, special classes, special opportunities. She loved India and missed her family, but stayed here in the US because she knew it was best for our growth and achievement. She was never quite comfortable here, but sacrifice was often her thing–although I often accused her of parenting through martyrdom (like I said, I was a bratty teenager at times). These are the things I enjoy remembering. These are the things that inspire me as a father. There’s something about knowing she had her flaws that made her parenting that much more impressive. It makes me appreciate my own flaws, both as an individual and as a parent. Several years ago and long before I had kids, I gave a best man toast at the wedding of two dear friends when I used a quote from a book I had read: “People aren’t perfect, but love can be.” In my spoken words, I was referring to my friends. In my heart, I was thinking of my mother.
In some ways, I find myself as profoundly affected by her death as by her life. I was fortunate enough to have my Dad for nearly another 20 years after my Mom passed and I never took one of those years for granted–which is why I had no regrets when he passed in June. I treated every moment as if it could be our last and knew the day would come when I was on my own. Time is slowly creeping to the stage where my mother will have missed half my life, but I still think about her often and have sense of obligation to her memory. She remains an influence on me and my actions. I often think about what her opinions would’ve been and whether she would’ve been proud of me. Frankly, I know she would’ve been proud no matter what, but I still try to maintain the bar of expectations to justify her sacrifices. I often tell Cherise that my mother would LOVED her (after the requisite time of getting used to a white daughter-in-law), though she would’ve driven Cherise nuts. As a grandmother, my mother would’ve finally got he little girls she wanted instead of the two boys she was stuck with–and she likely would’ve spoiled them rotten. She would’ve constantly bragged about my career and overstated what I had achieved–because that was just her style (“did you know Sandy was best friends with Bill Gates?”).
So two decades have passed. I’m planning to honor the anniversary of her death in absolutely the best way she could’ve imagined (more on that in the next blog entry). But, in the meantime, taking the extra moment to think about her makes me smile. We all have one birth mother and that relationship is sacred, both in life and beyond. She lives on through me and through my girls (especially Iris, who carries so many of her traits). I think that would make her pretty happy.