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This past summer, a year after my mother died of cancer, I travelled to India with my father. I had planned to meet my grandmother in Bombay before going to Kashmir to do ground research for an education project I'm working on. These plans changed, as the Kashmiri family I was going to stay with could no longer host me. My father deemed it unsafe to travel under the altered circumstances. During the first few days in Bombay, I plotted to take my chances sneaking away in a filthy, questionable, Kashmir-bound bus, and I found options of even more questionable-looking Kashmiri hostels. Danger and conflict seemed irrelevant to me, but my father was surprisingly adamant. As the reality of the situation sunk in, I braced myself for staying put and being wrenched into reflection.

I spent many hours by the window, observing a pigeon and his mate making their nest on the grating. There were no jewel tones on his throat. He, like his mate, was the gray of smoke condensed into life. I imagined him born somewhere in the unclear distance, beyond windowsills and edifices. In the ethereal nowhere that is the somewhere we last met, he was birthed from billowing flurries and tendrils, winding, choking, and bursting into a grey-feathered fowl.

In her girlhood, my mother had kept pigeons and doves. She loved one of the doves the most. His name was “Incomparable.” He flew higher than the rest. She once told me he was her favorite because he would answer her clap in the thick of the monsoons. He would come to her whenever she called.

It made sense to me to feel jealous of this bird, suddenly, and I laughed a little when I realized I was glaring at my pigeon companions. I only felt jealousy whenever my mother praised anyone.

She would laugh when I admitted this to her, thinking I was joking. My gentleness would dissolve in seconds, and I would surprise her with kisses on her neck and tell her a bit savagely that I was in love with her and that I was going to take her away with me. She would look a little alarmed before laughing again. Sometimes I would laugh with her and sometimes I would tell her, seriously, to stop and say yes. Yes, she would travel with me and let me provide for her. I wanted her to tell me that the warmth of my closeness was cure enough.

My mother was always truthful to me. The only time she showed me a desire to escape was when I found her sitting on her bed, alone one day, watching the rain. She held my hands and told me they were beautiful, and she made a joke about her “chemo hands” blackening at the cuticles. I wasn't in a joking mood. Those were hands with a depth beyond beauty in their quiet battle, hands I would give my life for. I couldn't look her in the eyes. Then she said gently, “Let's go, Mehr. Let's go to Kashmir. I will get better. Then we will go.”

“Yes, Mama, I know.”

I looked out the window, entranced by the steady Vancouver rain, at peace with her love. I remembered my village in India, the sunshine, the windy hills and the tough little orange wildflowers that grow on them, and I wished I could carry her into my thoughts. She said suddenly,“I put my confidence in you. Promise me you will be a best friend to your father and a mother to your brothers.”
My heart broke.

Then she rested her head on my shoulder, and I depended on her.

In my waking hours, I dream of her. It seems that she will step into a room I am in. When she does, tired or exuberant or confused by the very strangeness of Earth after Paradise, I will have kept my promises. I will have no savagery, only gentleness. My non-profit will have truly taken flight and been a force for good. Yet, even in these imaginings, I know nothing compares to what she gave me when she placed her head on my shoulder. I live on a precipice between magic and reality, overlooking deafening transience, knowing that where promises to keep and dreams to nourish meet, is a place to find her.

My name is Mehr Ansari. I'm part of the Columbia chapter of AMF, or Actively Moving Forward, a support group for those who have lost a loved one. Please reach out to us if you have lost or are experiencing the illness of a loved one. Our group is open to everyone. My email is

The author is a Barnard College junior majoring in Asian and Middle Eastern cultures. She is the secretary of AMF.

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