2016: Months Seven and Eight

July

Life’s funny. Sometimes it likes to cruelly punish you for choosing happiness. Like, I never wish to regret grabbing what little joy I can from each moment I’m able to, because I remember so many days when there seemed like nothing to even hold on to.

But I ended up regretting anyway.

August

—was robust, and lovely, and filling, but no matter how many days the sun was out, I keep going back to the one afternoon it felt like it wasn’t.

A phone call from my dad. Me rushing to the hospital. The body on the bed. Already wrapped in cloth, but you could still tell. There has been a battle here. A long one. My uncle, gone. Seven months on that bed, and he never got to go home again. My last glimpse of him alive replaying in my head: him breathing through a tube—but I would call it closer to heaving than breathing. If pain had a face, that was what it looked like. That was just the day before. I cried with my mother on the phone that night. I wanted to take the pain away. But was there any way for it to happen besides this? The unused medicines gathered on a table, to be donated to the charity ward. Several boxes filled with medical charts. There has been a battle here. A long one. My mother’s siblings, already taking care of everything left undone. His nurses tidying up. Me and my cousins saying goodbye. Another memory surfaces, one from so long ago I’m not even sure I’m remembering it right: my uncle cheekily telling me that they wanted to adopt me when I was born, only my parents didn’t agree. I think about that a lot now. He could’ve been my dad. He was a dad. A great one. And a brother. A friend. An accomplished physician and director. A generous human being. And a husband. There has been a battle here. A long one.

The survivor stands, and smiles—that was how she welcomed me, smiling—and cries, because how could she not, and keeps thanking everyone, despite it all, because how could she not—his wife, my mother’s sister, carrying a burden I could not even imagine, showing strength that gives me goosebumps every time. I was always in awe of her during and after all our visits. Even more so now. She was there for all of those seven months. His one constant watcher. Through all of the years before, too, of course. All of those years…and then this.

There has been a battle here. A long one.

Acceptance comes swiftly. Faith alone already gets you there. Seven months praying does not come without its answers, and it would be a lie to say it was difficult to see it could look exactly like this. And this—the body on the bed, the switched-off machines, the white walls, the smell of disinfectant in the air, the hallways with room after room of stories not unlike this one—all of it is too familiar. This was my uncle and aunt’s line of work. And mine. And there was no way to not think of another death, another sibling, another doctor, my mother’s brother, lost to cancer, four short years ago. Another story not unlike this one.

There has been a battle here.

My brain registers: “This is what happens; you’ve seen it all before.”

But that’s the thing about death. You never get used to it.

And the grief? It is an ocean. And while acceptance may be easy—swimming is not.

There has been a battle here…

Same day. Cab ride home. Early evening. Rain outside. Fingers trembling. Eyes stinging. Perfectly dry, but also drowning. Beeping from my phone. The messages take a while to sink in. My cousin-in-law has given birth to a healthy baby boy. There are photos. He is beautiful. His cheeks! I close my eyes and feel my heart contort in a way I never experienced before. A part of me asks, “How am I supposed to feel? I was just staring at a wrapped corpse some minutes ago. A corpse that was still a man this morning. A man who was family.”

But there is no supposed. There is just feel. Everything. Nothing is diminished. The heart expands. It does not need time to adjust. It just takes in. Everything. The grief. Still an ocean. And the joy. Existing with it.

I breathe. Think of my lungs. And of tiny new ones beginning a lifetime of working. And of another pair of tired ones no longer having to struggle to do it.

There has been a battle here…


It has been a beautiful fight. Still is.

Charles Bukowski

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