A Journey With Cancer

From the airplane straight to the hospital room.  My sister and Aunt, one of the only pictures I took of her while I was there.
From the airplane straight to the hospital room. My sister and Aunt, one of the only pictures I took of her while I was there.

I was in the middle of studying for a test in my Spanish 201 class, when I felt I needed to cope with what I deem as an emotional breakdown earlier today.  My Aunt passed away from cancer in 2008 and I just found myself crying about it inconsolably.  It was quite weird for me, but at the same time a bit cathartic.

I have come to the conclusion that I am not that guy that holds back his tears.  I have a really hard time trying to stop that from happening.  I am still traumatized by the pictures of dead Syrian children lying on hospital floors after Assad gassed them.  Each time I see pictures of my cousins, I am taken back to those seemingly sleeping children lying on the hospital floor and it makes my eyes water up, those Syrian kids could have been my cousins is the thought that runs in my mind.

I got this link forwarded to me- This guys wife got cancer and he did the unthinkable thing.  I went through the link.  I absorbed it, and through it I began to relive the memories of Annie (pronounced Un-nie, who was my mothers younger sister).  She passed away five years ago after a grueling battle with lymphoma.  My last trip to Pakistan was to see her off.

Going through these pictures reminded me about how pained I was to be visiting her when she was so sick, so weak and going through chemo made her feel less herself, less in control of how she looked and presented her self.  I saw in her eyes how happy she was to see us but how pained she felt that it was under those circumstances.

I felt and concluded during that visit that a lot of what we do when some one dies is largely for the benefit of those who remain behind.  Those last moments with her, all I wanted to do was capture them and keep them forever.  Seeing her intermittently during trips back to Pakistan, talking to her on the phone, receiving her gifts, all of those seem like stolen moments now.  Moments that were engulfed in the uncontrollable distance that separated us, and therefore they almost weren’t meant to be.

Those last few weeks of her life, I didn’t take pictures.  I didn’t take the pictures out of guilt.  I didn’t take the pictures out of respect for my Aunt.    I didn’t take the pictures because it seemed insensitive.  Inhibited, I stepped back and tried to take all of it in, but once I got back to the US I was immersed with “my life” and life moved on.

Watching someone wither away and die is a difficult thing.  I can’t even begin to put myself in my mothers shoes, or in the shoes of a parent watching their child die.  But I can imagine how it could be therapeutic to be behind a lens of a camera because it gives you distance, it gives me something to do.  But at the same time it would take me outside of the situation, where I became an outsider and therefore not part of what was going on.

Going through the link allowed a rush of feelings to surface.  Sorrow, there was lots of sorrow.  Sorrow is one of those emotions that is slow.  Glacial in its process, sorrow builds and slowly envelops and I am not sure that I have totally dealt with my sorrow that surrounds my Aunts death.

A few hours after seeing the photo’s posted on the site, I found myself driving in my car crying.  Thoughts about my Aunt, those brief few weeks, the pain she was going through, my childhood memories of her- they all rushed into some void that I had.  I was overwhelmed.  I couldn’t bring myself to stop crying.  Soon I was crying because I was crying.

There’s been a few hours of trying to cope with this feeling of immense sorrow I found myself confronted with.  My life has been so busy, filled with constant developments and forward movement.  This is the first time in a very long time where there is time to let the emotions catch up with me, the forward movement has slowed to a what seems like a crawl.

Image

My Aunt’s journey with cancer ended in June 2008, but I still am coping with it and trying to make sense of it, all the while I keep loosing more family members.  What I realize is that while I make myself out to be an “American Muslim of South Asian decent”, I very much am an immigrant from Pakistan.

Even if I was 2 years old when I emigrated to the United States, I am still caught between two places, maybe not as much as my parents, but definitely still coping with that reality to a certain degree.  Thats the immigrant life, stuck between two places- one is the place where there is definite forward movement, your new home; the other where the past moves forward without you, your country of origin.

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