It's not often that I read a book and discover the author is speaking to me on all levels. Uma Girish's transformational memoir, Losing Amma Finding Home: A Memoir about Love, Loss and Life's Detours is that kind of book that spoke to every single one of my "hats."
In order to truly relate to my excitement, you need to understand how our background cross. We're both authors, trying to find our voices in the States. Uma and her family emigrated from India and suddenly she finds herself on a TransAtlantic journey back and forth to India trying to care for her aging mom who is now diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. even though I grew up in Manhattan, the years I served in the Israel Defense Forces and subsequently taught Israeli High School students English, (a total of twenty years out of the States) add up to very little familiarity when I return with my husband and child in 2007 to Pittsburgh -- and suddenly I feel very lonely and alone. I felt for Uma when she subsequently returns from India from that first awful visit facing an empty refrigerator at her apartment in Chicago during an unbearable winter. She knows nobody and nobody knows her story and yet her story is making her hungry -- hungry for relationships and friendships. She hasn't been in the country long enough to develop and nurture any meaningful relationship and she knows she must weather this unfriendly period in her life.
Then there's our common teaching hat. As an ESL instructor till today, I know what it's like to weave the multicultural hats as an English speaker fluent in Hebrew. Like Uma, I took courses by the British Council when I taught in Israel. The American and British hats were so different due to our different histories, mentalities and world views. The common denominator was of course, the teaching of English. I felt for Uma when she tried to get an ESL teaching job and settled for a volunteering position. If anything, Uma's generous and forthright spirit dominates all through the book even when she realizes that teaching English won't be an option and settles for volunteering at a senior center instead. She tries to use the gifts that come naturally to her, but in a foreign land where she hasn't yet found her tribe, nothing hits her more deeply than when she is called to return to India once she learns her mother has passed.
This brings me to the third and final common denominator -- the one that solidifies our maternal relationships and who we are meant to serve. I too, had to navigate the lonely emotional terrain after receiving a phone call that my mother had passed after a series of complications with Alzheimer's type dementia on April 30, 2013. It was the phone call that would change my life. When I read how Uma had to watch in agony her mom shave off her head or wither away before her eyes, I felt a great deal of compassion. How lonely it was to visit my Mom time and time again, visit after visit to see her die away and limited to no verbal ability and very limited physical ability.
I cried when her mother passed as I knew how deeply she loved her mother in true Indian style -- via the various Indian rituals and customs she describes in the memoir of how she has honored her parents. Leaving one's family in the name of professional development or searching for lost dreams in another country where you know nobody is a true sacrifice.
What makes Uma's memoir special is the beautiful timeless way she weaves all these "hats" -- you don't need to experience the death of a loved one (god forbid) or teaching English as a second language (ESL) to know how a loss comes disguised with its own imperfection and gifts. Each step Uma takes is a step towards self-discovery and she wraps those gifts so beautifully for the reader to discover.
I discovered so much about Uma and the writing process and how she got picked up by Hay House India who picked up her book in our interview on my show, "Giving Voice to Your Story" for Creating Calm Network, which you can listen to here.
All in all, five stars. A highly worthwhile read