[APPRECIATIONS - (22-04-2019)]

Mahinda and Kamala Bulumulla

Their wisdom was endless

A long day at work, time to go home and unwind. As I take the historic Euclid Road, I am on autopilot, the parallel line of ancient pepper trees fail to elicit the usual reaction from me. I have a few days off, I am thinking, I should call home for a long chat. Then I realise “call home” and talk to whom? Those are the hardest moments, for a split second you are dissociated with reality, then like a lightning bolt, it comes to you.

They are gone, not one but both of them are gone. I will never have another chat with them, never see them or hear their voices ever again. Tears start streaming down my face, but who cares? This is my new normal, some days I can go to the grocery store without breaking down, on other days I cannot even make it to the mailbox right in front of my house.

My dearest amma and appachchi, I miss you so much. “Life is uncertain but death is certain, you were not an exception to this we realised,” you wrote years ago remembering your father, my grandfather. August 17, 2017, it was my turn to realise this harsh truth. It was a sunny morning, you were laying in an ICU bed after a brief illness, your hands at your side, your brow relaxed and eyes closed. Hearing is last to go they say and I know you could hear me.

I hold your hand, my face right next to your face, our cheeks touching and softly, ever so softly I tell you “Amma, it’s OK to let go.” I continue to tell you that we would take care of appachchi, one another and your beloved dog Tina. It’s 8.45am now, your heart rate slowing down, I carefully look at you trying not to sob, I tell you how much you are loved and appreciated. I tell you it’s OK to leave. There’s a flat line on the monitor... surely it cannot be, you didn’t even flinch. I feel for your pulse, I borrow a stethoscope from a nurse. No heartbeat, you are gone. So quietly and so peacefully, just like the way you lived. My mother is gone, I am heartbroken, l look around, no I mustn’t start sobbing, not now, not yet.

For the first time in my life, I cannot turn to amma for reassurance. Sun is not shining anymore, the sky opened up, it’s raining relentlessly. Of course, even the skies are crying. You were a fine human being, the most virtuous woman I knew. You are no more. You are gone to the great beyond.

Next few days are a blur, we just go through motions. Appachchi is all we have now, we got to take care of him and protect him. He is not buying any of that, he is healthy, headstrong and independent. In his true selfless fashion he tells us to carry on with our lives, he would be fine. Three months pass by, we all get together for amma’s almsgiving. Appachchi is adjusting we think, but he is lonely, I can see it in his eyes, he is missing the love of his life, they were married for over 53 years. They were devoted to one another, two peas in a pod. It was time for me to leave him, I kneel down and worship him, hug him tight and hold on to him. He tells me not to worry, he will look after himself. That was the last time I saw him alive, him standing there, standing tall, watching me leave, and trying to be strong for me.

On the morning of December 12, my day is starting, his day is ending. I talk to appachchi via Skype. He is telling me about his day, where he went, what he did, he talked a little bit more about amma. We say bye and I tell him that I will call again tomorrow, little I knew that would be the last time I would talk to him, ever. As I go about my day, attending to a million little things, running errands, appachchi is on my mind, more than other days, I am thinking... I should be with him for the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, of course, we aren’t celebrating, but I got to be with him. It’s 7.30 in the night, this is my time until we have dinner. It’s a beautiful night and I open the French doors to let cool southern Californian winter air flow in. I am trying to relax for a few minutes. My phone rings, my niece tells me her grandfather is sick, I call home and they are telling me appachchi is gone. I ask them, my appachchi? How can that be? I just talked to him this morning, he was fine. Exactly 118 days after losing amma, I lost my appachchi as well. Just like that my world collapsed, the majestic tree under which we found security, love, and solace no longer standing there. My appachchi, our appachchi; who lived his life without a fuss, without any frills; departed this world just like that, no fuss, no frills. I remembered how he laid a bouquet of red roses on amma’s coffin on the day of her funeral and said that’s for undying love”. Well, at least they are together now.

Two people I respect the most, who had a solid set of values and integrity in a world that has no value for such sentiment are gone.

My mother, whose wisdom was endless, encouraged us to be honest and truthful, instilled in us that honesty and integrity matter more than wealth. She taught us to be strong and stand up for what is right; to be proud of our convictions, to lend a hand to those who lag behind, and that might is not always right. She had little desire for worldly goods, yet her love for us had no bounds. I remember those rainy days when we used to flock around her, soaking up every word as she tells us stories, about her childhood, and her days at the Peradeniya University, real-life tales from The Reader’s Digest and everyday occurrences at school where she taught. Stories were endless, she created a window through which we saw the world, learned about the Niagara Falls, astronauts, the great wars, etc. Even after we became adults, got married, and moved away, we still gather around a nice cup of tea for a good chat.

I remember those mornings, when we were young, her trying to get us ready for school, trying to get herself dressed, prepare lunch for all of us and trying to keep the family dog from eating it! She travelled so often, dragging us along, to distant exotic places, meeting kings and queens, leaders and rulers, through beautiful meadows, snow-covered poles, deep down to the ocean floor and to far away galaxies. As an avid reader, she accomplished all this just with a couple library cards. She had a gentle soul, she was the apple of her father’s eye, whom she never betrayed. Her friendship was an inspiration and her love was a blessing.

My father, born into a privileged family, a product of Trinity College, was the most honest and ethical human being I knew. He had a heart of gold, he gave his all and asked for so little; his true wealth was in his generous heart.

Appachchi was also a strict disciplinarian, who taught us right from wrong, yet a gentle father who showered us with love. I think of those evenings, after misbehaving, anxiously waiting for our due punishments to be doled out, he always made sure we had dinner before punishing us as he didn’t want us to go to bed hungry. He never raised his hand to us except once.

A socialist at heart and a humanitarian by nature, he showed us the importance of being humble and humane. An honest man who taught us honesty and integrity, not by preaching but by practising. For him being truthful is more important than any worldly possessions and a true gentleman who was always faithful to his family and friends. A dog lover who always had one at his feet.

Next time I see him, he is laying in his coffin, this time he doesn’t stand up to greet me, he is wearing his alma mater tie, ready for his final journey. I kiss his ice-cold face, still very handsome. My sweet friend Paba remembers to get some red roses, “for undying love from your Kamala” she writes on the card. Dearest amma and appachchi, your humanity would be our beacon of hope and your integrity our guiding light.

Lastly, in this journey through Samsara, may you be our parents and us your children, until you gain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

Your ever-loving daughter,

Chamindi Indika Bulumulla;

Upland, California

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