Today seemed like a perfectly normal day, except the heat was more oppressive. I woke up from a deep slumber only to realise I was running late for work. By the time I entered office, the daily rituals had begun.
I was typing this column furiously, waiting for some copies to arrive so I could edit them and had been bickering about a talk I had to memorise in order to deliver it with some semblance of perfection. And then came a message: “Mom is flatlining. The doctors are doing final check.”
It was from my best friend whose mother had been battling Stage 4 lung cancer. She seemed more prepared for the eventualities than I did. There was a tiny sliver of hope that Aunty would survive this. There was no real reason to think on these lines — between reason and heart, the former has greater currency in real world. As I was clinging on to this hope, a message popped up again. “Mum is no more.”
This did not come totally unanticipated. Aunty had been struggling for a week, the doctors had given up. There was no reason to think otherwise. What I find more absurd is that why I kept any hopes of survival alive when the family members who were present with her did not.
Possibly because I am among those people who cannot easily accept death. Especially that of those who are close to me. My best friend’s mum was my second mum. She had useful advice to offer for every aspect of life. She celebrated my success as much as she rejoiced her daughter’s.
But above all, she was an iron woman — somebody who could go through the absolute worst and yet emerge from it with greater strength and resolve. Last year, when I threw a 45th marriage anniversary bash for my parents, she radiated maximum joy and glow. While the body had aged, her mind was still young.
None of us who were in the room that day could have predicted that this woman — bright, joyous and full of life — would be battling Stage 4 cancer in two months. And even when she did, there was something about her spirit that had me believe that she would survive this. It’s the same hope I had for my mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had overcome so much in life that I thought she wouldn’t be subjected to the worst the disease has to offer.
Optimism is great, but denial is not. The latter, however, comes from not wanting to let go. Most of these women have been reference points for the strength we have come to believe in and embody as adults. Losing a person then is losing a living, breathing example of what strength looks like.
But because nothing can last forever, these endings need to be accepted as well. What will stay ultimately are stories of a life well-lived and battles well-fought. Stories that will now need to be told — and retold.