“Losing Amma, Finding Home” by Uma Girish

The title of the book was extremely catchy. ” Losing Amma, Finding Home” grabbed my attention at the book store. The brief description of the book, ” A Memoir About Love, Loss and Life’s Detours” made me buy it right then.  I am glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed Uma’s book. Perhaps I could relate to the descriptions more as I am very familiar with the middle-class Madras (now Chennai) milieu she writes about.

The story is simple. A lady, in her 40s, moves with her husband and 14-year-old daughter to Chicago in the United States to make a new life and shortly after, just a month later, comes to know that the mother (Amma) she left behind in Chennai is stricken with cancer. It speaks of the turmoil within her as the next eight months go by. She feels helpless, yet guilty and makes a few expensive trips to Chennai, but she is torn between her need to be with her mother and care for her own husband and daughter so far away.  One can’t fight one’s fate, as the old timers say. On her return to the United States, the telephone call she dreaded informs her, on a day that she will never forget for the rest of her life, that her beloved  Amma, aged 68, is no more.

To complicate matters, while the relationships between the lady and her sisters, one in the Gulf and the other bearing the brunt in Chennai, have been extremely cordial, one cannot say the same about how their eldest brother  now settled in the US feels about his sisters. This adds to the tensions described in the book.

As if the critically ill mother is not bad enough, the sisters also have to deal with a cranky old man, their father who is no longer the alcoholic he once was but who is irascible as he is confined to the house and often to bed because of a long list of ailments.

Uma Girish is very good at her descriptions about things and people around her.  She knows how to maintain a charming, deft touch of humour to off set the tragic moments in her story. At the same time, perhaps there is an element of repetitiveness in  the story as she deals with the guilt and other problems that beset her , as they would anyone who has lost a loved parent. She struggles with thoughts that may be they could have done more for her Amma, not just during her last days but indeed for all their lives.  She writes with sensitivity about how her father is forced to cope with his wife’s death as he has got accustomed to her being at his beck and call for the 47 years of their marriage.

The experience of her mother’s death helps Uma find a new career option for herself, as she becomes a counsellor and grief guide.  An excellent summary of the book is provided by a quote on the back cover from Christina Rasmussen, author of ” Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again” who writes, ” Written with grace….is a wise and powerful memoir of how the choices we make after a loss determine whether we shut down or open our hearts a little wider.’

Highly recommended.

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