Incoherent Memories: My Mother’s Heart Attack, Covid-19, and Lessons from My Experience

I lost my mother in 2019. She died of a heart attack. The whole year became dark and empty for me. I lived with grief thinking about her struggle and sacrifices in life: she married at 13, maintained rigid social and familial expectations, looked after her children including their health and education, and spent 56 years of her married life in a village while keeping her family happy.

No sooner did she have time to think about herself than she suddenly departed from this world. I still remember the last conversation we had— she had plans to renovate her house, to visit us in Australia, and to live a happy life in her own country Nepal. But she left us before her ordinary dreams were materialized. She left us without saying a goodbye. It was, indeed, a silent and heart-wrenching departure.

I had a plan to visit Nepal for her death anniversary in May this year. I couldn’t even do so either due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. I could not even have the opportunity to visit the place where she spent fifty-six years of her life. My heart palpitates in her name forever.

In the Middle of the lockdown, during her anniversary time, I even whispered, “You are lucky mum as you don’t have to experience this chaos your loved ones are in. We all are locked up inside the house – this is pathetic.” I am still feeling the same as we are in much tougher restrictions now— the outbreak is spreading, and death tolls are surging.

Once the curfew was announced in Melbourne, I recalled the memories from my first appointment with UNICEF in Nepal. It was 15 years ago. I was assigned to work in the mid and far west regions of Nepal. I had never been there before, and my daughter was only 18 months old. I took the task and decided to travel— packed the bag, left the daughter and the city behind to take the new challenge.

Without knowing whether I made the right decision or not, I started a new job, but, after a couple of weeks, an indefinite 24-hours of curfew started. Nepal was in a civil war between the Maoists guerrillas and Nepali security forces. I couldn’t return to see my daughter as planned. I was by myself there in a rented house without the Internet and television.

A mobile phone was the only source of communication to reach out to my daughter. My husband was in Europe at that time and our daughter was with her grandmother. After a difficult nineteen days, the curfew was called off, and, finally, I managed to go back and bring my daughter with me. All those memories surfaced due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

The lockdown life here now is somewhat different to the one I had experienced in Nepal. I am not alone in the house now. My husband and I are working from home full time and our two daughters are schooling from home. We have all technologies, services, and options available, giving us a bit of freedom. I can feel safe to go out for one hour run, say “hello” to people who run or walk pass me, make calls to friends to check how they are doing. I also do not need to worry to eke out a living.

Despite all these options, I am still feeling trapped, agitated, and distressed. I see the need to get out, meet friends, and talk and laugh freely. Coming from the collectivist culture, I am missing the real meaning of connections and conversations among friends and families. We were not taught or raised to live by ourselves, and this becomes real in this lockdown.

What I miss the most in this lockdown is the collectiveness and the connections. I experience the difference between the individualistic and collectivist culture that I can sense in my circle of friends. The lockdown rings differently among different people. A few friends separately ask me to join virtual drinks, and I decline with no offense, as I have been sick of digital life— zooming all day for work. I feel the need of real connection which, for me, is being together with friends in person and chitchat.

The night curfew here reminds me the time of the birth of my daughter in Nepal. There were regular night curfews in Nepal— from 8 pm to 6 am in the morning. Armies had completely blocked the roads that even the ambulances couldn’t pass. My labour pain started after 8 pm and I spent the whole night thinking if I was going to die without reaching the hospital.

Luckily, the next morning, I was brought to the hospital where I gave birth to my first child— my first experience of being a mother during the curfew time. I am going to celebrate the 16th birthday of the same daughter in the next two weeks here in Australia. And it is going to the similar night curfew time again. However, the reasons for the curfew then and now are different.

While reflecting on the journey where I began from, I am reminded of the cultural differences in Australia. I take all comments and acknowledge the differences. What did I learn from it? So far, I have developed the attitude that it is fine to ask questions if people respect and acknowledge the differences, if the process of quest enables new learning.

I waited for a year to commence conversation with my next-door neighbour. I knew from the start that most western communities do not like to be bothered or interrupted by others. I respected that until the neighbour dropped a card in the letter box during Christmas time. I took the opportunity to write a reply and introduce to my family.

This generated a conversation and a sense of being a good neighbour. I learnt the rule of fitting in and tried to open myself using multiple strategies, such as kids’ playdates, birthday parties, and sporting clinics. I still sense the invisible fence that people put up to start a conversation— that frustrates me.

The lockdown taught to reset the life with a new perspective— the importance of collectivist society where everyone is concerned about one another and is available to support each other in both good and bad times. It builds a sense of community whether virtual or physical and reminds people of the comfort of being together.

I am hoping that the global communities are reminded about the struggle of those who are living in poverty and how important it is to share resources. Nonetheless, everyone feels the need to be connected to one another, then why not to keep this culture of community connection and conversation going, even after the virus goes away? I would encourage everyone to live with the culture that connects all of us—– no matter what colour skin you have or which café you go.

I am using three strategies to spend the lockdown days productively, that are “reflect, relearn and reset.” This helps me from being distressed. You can also apply this— reflect on your life or important times in your life, relearn from them to develop an art of living during difficult times and reset the ways to make your life meaningful.

Author’s bio: Dr. Sabi Kaphle is a Public Health Lecturer at CQUniversity in Melbourne, with more than 20 years’ experience in the health sector in Australia and internationally. Twitter – @KaphleSabitra; LinkedIn – Dr. Sabi Kaphle

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