I miss you.
In the spring of 2004 you were diagnosed with lung cancer. But by the time we learned about it, it had already reached stage 3. To this day, that spring is the most surreal time of my short life thus far.
I vividly remember coming home from school that day and sensing a certain imbalance in the house.
I walked into the lounge and saw you hugging Baba, as he was crying. I wasn’t used to the sight of seeing Baba cry so I knew something was very wrong.
I approached you, Mama, with a hesitant face, pretending like I didn’t want to know what had caused the imbalance so I just didn’t ask what was going on. You didn’t tell me either, maybe you knew what was going on in my head. I just hugged you and started crying until I fell asleep in your lap. Deep down, I knew whatever it was, it wasn’t good and something I just wouldn’t be able to digest.
A few days passed and I finally got the courage to ask you what had made you and Baba cry. You gave me a calming smile and said it was just your food poisoning. I wasn’t the smartest kid around but I knew you weren’t telling the truth, but I made myself believe the lie. I guess the idea of you having food poisoning was easier for me to accept and comprehend so that I could continue with this image of a strong boy in 6th grade. If only I hadn’t been so foolish and naive.
Mama, you were always the most charming and liveliest member of the family.
You would teach in the morning, administer debating classes in the afternoon, take care of my daadi in the evening, chase me all over the house to make me do my homework, make dinner for everyone and visit your own parents to make sure they hadn’t fired more of the hired help. Even with all this going on in you day, you would find the time to laugh when others couldn’t.
There was this time when bhai called you late at night to tell you that the family car had gotten stolen. Instead of panicking, you started laughing. Bhai, surprised, asked you why you were laughing to which you hysterically said “because I’m about to give the phone to your Baba!”
After the chemotherapy, your hair started to fall and I can’t believe how strong you were through it.
You loved your hair so I know it couldn’t have been easy for you when we went to the neighbor’s beauty parlor to have your head shaved. I still remember that fake smile you mustered through it but I knew it wasn’t reflective of how you felt inside. Our neighbors were kind enough to keep the parlor closed off to other clients while you were in there. You sat down on the chair and asked the hairdresser to shave your head to which the hairdresser started crying.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t be “man enough” to see the hard things so I ran home because it was all getting too real now and I could no longer lie to myself that this wasn’t happening. The rest of family brought a lot of wigs later but we decided they were only good to use as props for some funny family photos.
Cancer doesn’t just impact the patient, but everyone around them.
Everyday is either a victory or a loss. You start finding hope in whatever you can make sense of. Doctors become your best friends and worst enemies at the same time. Dinner conversations revolve around stories of successful cancer patients, for us it was the story of Mama’s friend who was diagnosed with a very similar condition and then cured. This story in particular became a source of hope for us and we became obsessed with it. If Mama’s friend could be cured, then so could she. Everything would be fine. Things would go back to the way it were. Mama would keep laughing at things at the worst of times.
Her friend passed away later that year.
In looking for a cure Mama and some family members went to the north because there was a saint who lived in a cave there.
We had heard that he supposedly had supernatural abilities to cure people of all ailments. Our guide was a cancer survivor who himself had been cured because of this ‘baba jee.’ You try to find hope in almost anything, even if it involves something as bizarre as following a stranger for 2,000 miles so that you can go meet a saint who lives inside a cave. But any mere mention of the word “cure” was enough to thwart any logic and inject my family with adrenaline to make a difficult trek.
The surviving cancer patient who took us, our guide, died a few months after.
I was the youngest one in the family, so I was very attached to Mama.
She was my defender, whether it was fighting with my brother or getting into trouble at school, which happened more often than I would have liked her to deal with. As long as she was there, I felt like I could get out of any tough situation. To the bemusement of my brothers, I was that annoying kid who would threaten them with ‘mein Mama koh bata doon ga‘.
A few months after the chemotherapy and a minor surgery, Mama’s condition worsened.
The humor started to fade, she was pale and just wanted to go home. She asked my eldest brother to come back to Pakistan from Canada. She knew something we didn’t want to believe. A little while later, Mama passed away.
We cried. We were broken. But then a few months later, we started laughing again. There were days when someone would mention her and I would try to avoid the topic because someone would start crying and things would become uncomfortable. I guess our false hope of Mama’s cure had evolved into a false hope for normalcy after Mama’s passing. I tried to push away the feelings of grief so I could move on and get on with my life.
I told myself back then that talking about her wouldn’t bring her back. Now, that I’ve moved to Canada, I can’t help but think about you, Mama. Maybe it’s the cold weather in Canada or maybe being away from Pakistan is finally getting to me. I just wish that Baba was actually crying that day because you had gotten food poisoning and everything could’ve been back to normal after a few weeks. Because right now, I’m stressed about Graduate School and really wish you could give me a hug.
It’s been a while Mama and I really, really miss you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you enough how much I love you, because I really do, and always will.