Remembering Ammu on Mother’s Day

Happy Ammu Day

By Sreya Sanyal

Happy Mother’s Day!  

My name is Sreya Sanyal, and this is the ninth Mother’s Day my family will be celebrating since my mother passed away. As a young girl, I looked up to my parents so much, and deeply appreciated the sacrifices they made for my brother and me.

They met in medical school in Kolkata, and they supported each other through every stage of their medical journeys. When my brother was first born, my maternal grandmother took care of him, as my parents were medical residents. Traveling across India to Oman, and eventually to Colorado with my brother in tow, my parents always had each other and the support of my mother’s family in Kolkata. Once in Colorado, my parents informed my brother that his 11 years as an only child were about to end, and in the spring of 2000, my family celebrated their first Mother’s Day all together with the four of us. 

Ten years later, my brother was a medical student, and my mother was a practicing oncologist. On Mother’s Day in 2010, she informed our extended family what our little family already knew: she had developed late-stage gastric cancer. At that point, I realized that the number of Mother’s Days we had left was so few. My mother, so strong, smart, and beautiful, kept working as a cancer doctor for the next year and a half. She comforted countless families and helped many mothers beat cancer and live full lives with their children. In 2011, she was quite sick yet still working, but in 2012 I celebrated the very first Mother’s Day without her in my life.

My father lost his medical school classmate, best friend, and wife; my brother lost his beloved mother who cared for him across multiple countries and continents; I lost my childhood. Though my family wrapped around me to help me grow to where I am today as an aspiring medical student, every Mother’s Day I remember and reflect on the few short years my mother and I had together. She was my first best friend, my first confidant, my first and only role model. 

Whenever I could visit India, or any relatives, I reveled in stories about her, trying to feel closer to what I had lost. This past December, my maternal grandmother passed away, the last of my grandparents. I grieved my grandmother deeply, but some part of me grieved the loss of the last person who remembered my mother’s whole life. 

When I visited before the pandemic in January 2020, I stayed in my mother’s childhood home and saw photos of her at my age, ones I had never seen before. After the loss of my grandmother and my mother, the grief I have for continuity and cultural connection feels insurmountable at times. However, this Mother’s Day I want to reflect on the values and memories my family does have from these two strong women.

Mothers are so central to Bengali culture, with strong women raising strong daughters. This Mother’s Day, take time to recognize the sacrifices that have been made for you and connect with the mothers around you, as this has been an exceptionally difficult year. To all of those who have lost their mothers or grandmothers, reach out to your family and connect over the memories together. Please celebrate safely, and call your loved ones back home!

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