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Artist Ankita Mitra On Coping With The Loss Of Her Mother Through Art

  • IWB Post
  •  November 28, 2018

Ankita Mitra’s sketches during Inktober were a tribute to her mother, who passed away after battling breast cancer. In a conversation with IWB, she shares how strong and inspirational her mom was, which in turn helped her deal with seeing a loved one go through so much pain.

Her mother was diagnosed with cancer in January 2016 and she lost her father in February 2017 after a heart attack. Ankita’s story is a testament to one of life’s hardest lessons, that it must go on.

“Everyone has their own way of coping with loss. For a person like me, who is not good with words, art is my language. For someone else it might be sharing it with your loved ones,” says Ankita.

After the demise of her father, who was a diabetes patient, Ankita created a role-playing game named ‘Daddy diabetic’ for kids to create awareness. Subsequently, she was awarded a couple of National and International awards for it.

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Excerpts from the interview:

How did you cope with the news that your mom had cancer?

Whatever may be the stage of cancer, it is shocking for anyone who comes across this news. My mother was a general physician herself, and when she felt something was wrong with her health, she got herself examined. For me, the news came in much later once the test results confirmed that she had breast cancer. Being a doctor, her approach towards the whole thing was practical. She handled herself in such a positive way that it was made easier for us to come around. She was our strength and that helped us cope.

When someone we love goes through such a health issue, we sometimes feel that we’re not doing enough for them. Did you also feel this way?

Yes, there’s always this feeling. In her case, she was planning to go ahead with a mastectomy, however, the doctor suggested that it wasn’t required.  So, she undertook lymphadenectomy (removal of the lymph nodes) in the year 2016. Post the operation, her cancer relapsed in 2018 and she underwent chemotherapy sessions once again. Her situation worsened because of the side effects of the medication and 12 days before she passed away, she couldn’t recognise me anymore. Those were the times when we felt helpless. In such cases, doctors are the best judges to decide the mode of treatment. But we felt it could have been handled in a better way.

What kind of conversations did you have with her in the last stage?

There was never a last stage. Some days she was doing absolutely fine, whereas on the other days, she would not be doing well. My sister and I shared an amazing bond with her, where we could talk about anything. There were no inhibitions regarding any kind of topic.

But during one of our conversations, I was showing her some pictures of the convocation day of the previous batch and I remember her saying “I wish I’ll be there to see your convocation day.” That day is about to come and I will miss her immensely.

Is there a particular memory that has stayed with you about how your mother handled everything?

After her chemotherapy sessions, my mom lost her hair. So, one day while the elections were going on, she asked us to buy her a wig so that she could go out to contest a vote. When she came back, she took it off, realising she didn’t need it. She was happy and confident being herself and embracing the new look that life had to offer.

One of your sketches (below) is captioned “Deathbeds are the prettiest of all.” Can you elaborate?  

My mother passed away on September 24, 2018, and Inktober started from October 1, 2018. My sketches were in relation to her death.  So, that day the word was ‘Chicken’ and I did not really know how to connect chicken with death. After putting much thought to it, I created a pretty plate with a bone on it. I would say it signifies the death of a bird and deathbeds always look pretty with flowers all around them. That is how the idea was conceptualized.

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Cancer treatment is a battle that the entire family has to take head-on. How did you keep your spirits up during the process?

Oh, we played a lot of board games. Also, my mom loved watching movies, especially Bengali art films. In between her chemotherapy sessions, there was a gap of 20 days, and during the 18th or 19th day, she had the strength to go out. So, we started a ritual to take her out for a movie a day before her next session, which made her very happy. We also went for a few trips in between before her cancer relapsed.

How helpful was the idea of channeling the pain of such a loss through your art?

Everyone has their own way of coping with loss. For a person like me, who is not good with words, art is my language. For someone else, it might be sharing it with your loved ones. So, it really depends from person to person and it is important you find a way to deal with it. Do not think of people judging you for your ways, it’s okay to be yourself.

I would also like to mention that my immediate family & friends were very supportive and they encouraged me to go out and spend time with friends. It helped me change my mood. Also, it’s better to reminisce happy moments than reminding yourself that you have lost your loved one. Surely we miss them but we should also keep in mind that they are in a better place now.

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There are times when people mean well but end up asking questions which can hurt you. Did that happen with you as well? 

Personally, I didn’t have to go through such questions. You do get tired repeatedly answering the same questions but I understand the concern.

Cancer

If you had to illustrate your mom in a sketch that has an essence of what she loved the most, how would it be?  

My mom was a very lively and inspirational lady. People looked up to her. She loved being around children, and worked with a couple of NGOs as a child specialist. On our birthdays, she would love to treat the kids at the NGO. She loved reading books and often played the harmonium for us. So, if I had to draw a sketch of her, it will comprise of all these things.

Ankita’s heart-touching story sends out a strong message of cherishing every moment spent with your loved ones and handling things maturely. We wish her the best for her future endeavours.

Photo Source: Ankita Mitra’s Instagram 

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