An Episode for Myself

Maryam Iftikhar

© Copyright 2018 by Maryam Iftikhar

Photo of a sunrise.

I am a citizen of Pakistan. I am a twenty years old engineering student doing undergraduate degree from International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). I am a student of Software Engineering. I am the only sibling, my father is a school principal whereas my mother was a house wife. I come from a separated family that is why I live with my maternal aunt. Moreover, I aim to render services for my country and I am interested in philanthropy. Additionally my hobbies include, writing and watching movies. I also read a bit and like to spend time with my family.

Problems are not a problem until they welcome themselves back. A brain is not afraid to strive but of the continuous struggle ending in a pit. It was an afternoon of winters 2012, I was waiting for the women of my life to come home. I was back from school before them, feeling apprehensive. I was a confident child yet with horrifying notions. What could have happened? What did they find out? After all they had gone there with a haste. Suddenly, while I was on my dream trail the bell rung. I plunged off the bed, picked up the keys and opened the main gate of the house. My mother and my maternal aunt quenched in sweat with large paper files came in. Watching them lowered my fear-factor as their eyes were calm. Calm as not being satisfied, in fact calm as a soundless rough sea. Anyhow, the calm expressions did the job for the time being. It was a ritual in our house, or at least I forcefully created it that whenever my mother used to return home after any piece of work she used to bring me my favorite snack “shawarma” from my favorite place.

This episode is incomplete without its’ proper mentioning. Shawarma was hailed as a snack at our place. Our after-shopping snack had to be shawarma, our hang-out snack had to be shawarma every time from the same place. That afternoon, I unwrapped the shawarma and started taking in morsels while both of the ladies sat in front of me. It did not feel “yum” to eat as I could definitely smell something suspicious in the room. Out of hard silence, my mother said a line; “My daughter likes to eat the shawarma.” and her tears rolled down. It was not a comment by her, it was a gloomy and hopeless declaration she gave out which pointed towards an end. But end of what? Was I being banned from eating my snack? Did we have financial problems? What was it? How beautiful is the connection between a mother and her daughter. Despite all the raising questions, my heart answered one of them, it was neither a ban nor a financial issue but her health, my mother was ill. She was about to ride a bull, unwillingly. A bull that fights you and tries its’ level best to thrash you.

I sensed the sickness, left my shawarma and began to cry. If you can relate to that feeling, when you have a morsel in your mouth yet you cannot help yourself in either chewing, grinding, swallowing or spitting it out before you start to wail. My tear ducts gave up and overflowed. My aunt said to my mother; “Why do you do such?” She in a state of helplessness gave her a clue to not tell me any further. It should have been concealed but our heart does not lie in front of our families by default. After a pause, I kind of demanded them to state the truth or I was going to read the reports myself. The medical report with bitter biological flaws. “Ami” (an Arabic word for mother also pronounced as “ummi” used by Pakistanis especially) got up like she was about to guard the files and block my way. I settled. My heart started to pound and my limbs betrayed me. They stopped me from moving making every muscle numb and my hands cold. The day somehow went, my mother thinking that I would have probably forgotten those hours of news.

The next morning I was sitting with a course book in my hand, not reading it but hiding my face behind it. I was crying with zero noise. Nobody had told me anything, the alarming word of “disease” was never conveyed, and the files had yet been under surveillance so why my tear ducts were full? It was more than nostalgia and lesser than confirmation. Something sick was going inside my mother’s body was a clear but implicit situation. Without any interrogation, my mind had accepted the fact. I knew she was sick but I had no hint that she was about to fall badly sick. The same day Ami roamed around doing household chores, pretending to be normal. Meanwhile, I pretended to study. Whether it was my room, or the roof top I was at peace nowhere. I was continuously hunting places to hide and moan my heart out. Well, I did it.

It was beyond control to sit and cry because it can lead to severe mental breakdown. I opened up my shy tear drops in front of my aunt and she uttered the truth. There was no point of hiding because calamities like this could not have been boxed. It was cancer, breast cancer. It needed mastectomy, chemotherapy and laser treatment in the final stage. There she gave the news to me, all of it. A pulse ran through my ears and traversed my entire soul. Loss of hair and losing one breast was never the petrifying phase to us, it was the cure. Cancer usually gives a sense of death, as if brother “cancer” came then the arrival of the twin brother “death” was compulsory too. Similar to the general concept, we inoculated the fear in ourselves and pulled up our socks. Each one of us in the house was doing their best to get prepared. Our rides to the hospital had been pre-booked.

One night before the treatment had begun Ami caught me weeping. It was very confusing as I only cry in solitude. I was confused whether to let it go and cuddle with her or restrain from crying hysterically like a baby. Alas, I loosened the reins as I was her baby. In low pitch yet in sheer shrieks I was crying whereas my hands wiping off the pearls falling. I vaguely remember my mother kind of gently pulled me towards her and asked; “Tell me what’s wrong?” Isn’t it the standard dialogue of a mother where she asks this and the child opens up to her like a flower bud? I told her; “You already know. Nowadays you’re just lost in your own world”. I literally meant in her own fears and dismay. I do not remember how she replied and I am glad I do not. It is a one less painful memory of listening to your mother who tries to comfort you despite the tedious situation. At least, she still existed there in the past. Her presence was a comfort.

Days passed, hospital visitations became more frequent and my exams finally came. I must appreciate my eldest- maternal uncle who stayed at home with me while the scheduled mastectomy. He cooked, mopped and guarded the house, provided a safe ambience in the house. While my exams were taking place, I had thought that she will be alright. Operation sounded like a success and I am grateful to the Almighty that it was. To be honest, I admit that although I was in eighth standard I was still very much less mature or unaware. The seriousness of the event did not strike me hard enough until the wind blew again. I remember the day she came back home with the surgical drains. How carefully she moved and still had no bit of anger on her face. I sat at a distance analyzing her posture, expressions and words. She talked and moved slowly like a little girl who saves her princess dress from getting dirty.

Days with the drain had their own role. They restricted her to make confident moves and even sleep with ease. She used to say her back burns by sleeping on it as she was confined to sleep in one posture only. She desperately waited for the days when she would be able to sleep in free postures again. As the mountaineers do reach the top one day after stressful climbs so did she, she got her freedom. She was allowed to sleep according to her desire but it met with a harsh phase waiting for us. Chemotherapy. After the first one to two doses of that liquid poison she started to give up. Poison killed poison and her shields as well. Her will began to deteriorate which started to break me. In some nights, I secretly used to listen to their conversations. What Ami had thought at that time? Was she actually saying yes to death and no to the hard work for life? Were they both discussing how could scenarios change? Out of all eavesdropping, the crux was that she was hopeful yet very weak from the inside.

Night after night she grew weaker and weaker. Vomiting, motions, fevers used to make her lethargic. She used to keep waking up in the middle of the nights whereas I slept unaware of the pain. The entire house was absorbing the painful energy. Days passed, and came again the next chemo session. I remember that time she refused to go for the fourth one. I could see the decisiveness and irritation in her eyes. She was reluctant to agree and had decided that due to extreme after effects she would not bear this exasperating routine anymore. Her denial made me feel roofless. I used to pacify her and she still used to contradict. Ever since I got to know her as a woman I described her as “Iron Man”. She had iron shields, invisible cloud of powers and a graceful body to overcome it all. Every time she repudiated yet every time she went for the poison sessions.

Ami victoriously completed all the chemotherapy but who had known that cancer cells kept laughing at her. She even gave strength to her fellow patients at the premises. I distinctly remember one day there was a woman also affected by cancer who basically had come to visit the doctor to tell him that she will be discontinuing her chemotherapy. The doctor called in my mother and situated her as an example. Ami used to cry over her family tragedy yet never looked back. Being a mother with zero contribution from the father was a mountain entrusted to move alone. Our father made us victims of domestic violence and financial deprivations, for which we took a stand. We left him and moved on. This was one of the best and smartest decisions taken by a woman to me. Life after that was peaceful but yes, indeed difficult. Hardships were not a source of new nuisance as Ami had been upbringing me alone from hatch day one. Similarly, battling with cancer was havoc but she did not give up. Backing down was not her style.

Radiotherapy was the least struggling part. It came to us like a guarantee of wiping away all cancer cells from a body. Similar to the surviving soldiers on the battle field we held our flags high that it was concluded. The entire cycle of drips, needles, incisions, vomits, body aches and dreadful nights were over now. She was healthy and so were we. The procedures of doctor visitations, routine medical tests and a jar full of medicines never got enough. They kept multiplying like cancer in her body, again. Years moved like sun and moon, hospital became more home than our actual house. I found my mother and my aunt at hospital more than their time at home. Those were the less resourceful times with no personal mode of conveyance or manpower. Sun was never merciful and neither were human beings. Sun kept blazing fire and watched both of them run from department to department beneath it whereas the human beings refused to give a lift till the gate of the hospital only. How doubtful and scared are we? We have reached the heights of corruption and fraudulency therefore we have lost the essence of trustworthiness towards each other. Anyhow, clock does not stop and those times passed too.

A human body needs to relax often and our idea of relaxation was an outdoor lunch. All three of us used to get equally excited to go to our favorite restaurant, to eat and take a lot of pictures. June 2016 became our final picnic together. I recall we were walking out of the restaurant where I said; “Let us go there and fetch some spaghetti for dinner too” and my mother walking uneasily said; “My legs ache dear, I cannot walk that far. Let’s just call the taxi please.” I was shattered. Her ache made me worried. She never refused to a take-away meal earlier but this time it was not the same, her legs had started to deceive her. That day was maybe the last time she had smiled to the pictures because after June she was disabled to even realize.

It was last Friday of the Holy month of Ramazan when the matter got grave. She was feeble before and complained of burning sensations in her brain but Friday was the final call. She started to sweat heavily, had a mini-attack of Bell’s palsy and her tongue went numb. Her body was shaking unbelievably like never before. She managed to say; “Take me to his home.” She meant my maternal uncle’s home which had sufficient supply of electricity to support good air conditioning. We thought hot temperature at our place was the trouble monger, but it wasn’t. Initially, we rushed to the hospital where she was losing her balance again and again. I held her one arm and we walked towards the doctor’s room. On the way she said something that marked the beginning of a new phase and the end of my courage. She said; “Take care of your aunt and do not trouble her.” She did not specifically say “after me” but I guessed it. Her tone sounded final. As usual I urged her and backed her up but this time the iron shields had already sunk in quicksand. She may not have given up but her body was no longer her part. Her brain and body began to disconnect soon.

The doctor gave medicine and sent us home. We arrived at our uncle’s house where she went in the air conditioned room and slept. The room was on first floor so stairs had to be climbed. The burning sensation did not go away, without any exaggeration sometimes it felt like I could smell the smoke burning from her brain. In South Asia, we people slap or pat the pain area gently in order to relief pain by smooth blood circulation, so did she demand. For continuous twenty-four hours a day she could not rest. My aunt and I used to take turns and pat. We pat, pat and pat but nothing worked. We took her to the hospital many times but every time was a waste. One time before taking her to the hospital she said; “I am sure that I will not survive this as I have never suffered such kind of pain and symptoms ever before.” She said something that made me see my roof getting vanished brick by brick. Finally, she had to be admitted in the medical ward.

Early in the morning was Eid-ul-Fitr (Occasion which Muslims celebrate as a gift from Allah after fasting in Ramazan) and she had to be taken to the hospital. For the very first time I saw Ami so dependent as her brain was now going numb. She was unable to walk down the stairs or even sit at each floor and then move down. She could not hear us and even if she did, it was useless. After strenuous tries, men from the neighbor-hood had to be called to carry her chair down the stairs. They were our very old neighbor-hood friends and my uncles who carried her down the stairs. Her eyes were shut, she could not even brace herself. Moreover, this was the first time my mother was even unable to sit. She had to be laid at the back of the car seat and we all set out to the hospital. She was admitted but the nurse there said; “Such patients do not survive.” I was infuriated and shattered, again. It was my first time spending day and night in a hospital, it felt unlike home. There was one bench provided for each attendant of the patient with limited space between two hospital beds.

Due to Eid there were not many patients and I was lucky to find an empty bed to sleep for some hours at night. Early in the morning the peon from the staff woke me up and said; “Get up and leave the bed before the doctor sees you.” Nobody other than patients were allowed to have a bed, or even sit on it. The attendants had to be standing robots or moving slaves, presumably our backs did not ache neither we had a right to stretch after strenuous race throughout the day. Well, hospital was itself restricted due to limited space. Coming to my mother, she was not opening her eyes. Why was she in semi-unconsciousness? What went so wrong that she was unable to talk? It was the firing cells in her brain, which we had not seen then.

This was now the second round of my life to see my mother helpless and dependent. Now came the stage of moving, where she failed another time. It was beginning of July, she was about to lose her ability to talk and walk. The nurse had arranged the traditional way of making a stagnant patient urinate, the bed pan. It was a crucial experience to see your very own mother forced to urinate in a bed pan who back in time used to wash you briskly. This showed me how powerless and helpless a man is, we have absolutely no reason to boast off or oppress other beings. We are the dirt of nature and will perish with a blow. On the other hand, what was more agonizing was that she failed to urinate in the bed pan too. Her brain shunned her and cut off its major communications with her muscles. She wanted to urinate but did not know how to. Ultimately, a catheter had to be passed. I wanted to whine over this but restrained. Being strong was what Ami had taught me and I could not fail in front of her.

Life repeats certain events from past, sometimes in a pleasant way but sometimes distasteful. Ami would have never thought that someday I would tie her a diaper like she used to when I was little. How immensely sensitive it would have been for her, her brain might have started to shut down but her heart was alive, I believe. She would have had notions, harrowing ones. Her heart would be crying out loud, wanting to get up and walk to the bathroom herself. But could she? Unfortunately, no. Due to Eid-ul-Fitr, not entire hospital was functional which resulted in closed wards. Consequently, we had to face a multiple series of shifting from one ward to the other and finally we were disposed in a surgical ward for few days. She had been brought on a stretcher, another grievous prospect to witness. She had begun to talk and open her eyes, a sigh of relief. Urine was now being passed by catheter into urine bag. Additionally, she started to eat a little which gave me higher hopes. I never stopped believing that everything will get fine and we shall return to our home again.

This time I had given final exams of twelfth standard and it was time for entry tests of universities. But wait, they require preparation. I had none. Before the last picnic I had given one entry test for which I had overviewed a book. That one time study helped me in further tests. One morning I left for an entrance exam, alone. My mother and aunt had wanted to accompany me but circumstances were not our friend in those days. I left, with a weak heart and zero will to sit in the test. A person whose mother is bedridden cannot think of anything other than being with her, waiting for few moments of eye contact or sharing of words. But I had to go and I did. My maternal uncle again played a vital role in assisting us in such times as he went on with me to the venue. Before going into the test hall I met a class fellow from school. All we did was exchange greetings but finding him there gave me a sense of comfort, knowing that someone known was there. His presence made me feel less worried, why? Because a friend or anyone’s warm presence is an automatic source of well-being in misery. Moving on, I sat, gave the test and came out. I had a picture of a year ago, when I gave the same test for the first time and upon my departure I saw both women of my life waiting for me with huge smiles. But today, it was the same grass, same floor, same sky but not them. The air felt extremely different and displeasing. This taught me a lesson that one must learn to live and survive alone, we were sent alone and we’ll die alone. As human beings we have no assurance that our loved ones will be with us throughout, we must accept it and strive faster to become independent physically, emotionally and financially. Learn before the rocks fall on you.

I returned to the hospital, to the women. Our daily schedule went on like getting very early up in the morning and make space for the cleaners, then to fetch some breakfast and wait for the doctor’s round. The doctor’s round was full of intrigue. What will he say? Do the reports show any progress? In the evenings, relatives used to visit daily. One evening my cousin brother asked me; “What do you want to eat, let’s go.” Ami immediately said; “Shawarma. Go take her and get her one.” A mother thinks of the child even on the death bed. I did go, my stomach was hungry for appetizing food but I missed the women along my side. Shawarma once again came into play and I felt like it may have said to me; “They are not here. She is not here.” I ate it with hunger, not heart. Other than this, the relatives had brought food and necessary items. They came to see Ami. Sometimes of the day she was able to see and talk a bit, sometimes she was unconscious. It was difficult to guess if she was getting better or not, but I was adamant on my narrative that losing hope is a crime. I knew she would get fine. First few days passed in maintaining her IV stand, checking her drips, bringing her medicines and all. Apart from her, I observed other patients too. Each struck with their own diseases, some were accident victims and some with horrible cases of delayed treatment. I saw a woman with swollen breast due to breast cancer, she was in critical pain. I had understood the phrase “Health is wealth” but I witnessed it that day. I touched my ears as a sign to seek forgiveness and I could relate to their family, how anxious they must have been. It is true that to feel someone else’s pain you have to actually let that pain flow through your own body and soul.

After occasional holidays, we were moved to another room. I liked it as it was closer to the nursing station and had to be shared with only one other patient. There things deteriorated with speed. Ami had already shifted from walking on her feet to a wheelchair and then to the stretcher, now came the final reports regarding the issue. Till now they were just guesses and ideas about her burning sensations and other symptoms. Now the disease exploded itself through symptoms and on paper. It had been diagnosed, metastasis it was. Metastases originating from the backbone and travelling into the brain. These fire producing cells were the trouble mongers. Where had they come from? Why were they re-produced? Did the earlier chemotherapy not kill all their traces? If the poison was sufficient enough to kill the healthy cells, why did it not work on the evil devils? Well, cancer can multiply whenever it likes. It’s all destiny game, for it to happen and it to re-occur. No medicine can stop it from its’re-emergence.

Cancer was back in the play. What we had been running from had already reached the ending line before us, it was waiting for us. I still believed that cancer could be cured, I kept believing. Ami grew duller day by day, severe symptoms started to surface. Her eyes started to twitch, she made strange noises unintentionally whereas she had mini-attacks of facial paralysis again and her hands had begun to twist inwards. She bared other symptoms like reduced vision, voice glitches, inability to move her legs and the most excruciating fact was that she completely lost her capacity to turn sides while sleeping. She became immobile. At this stage, her body left her completely. Metastases caused mass failures inside her structure. It was like turning off the lights of a warehouse periodically and in the end it’s a black-out. A technique to make such patients reposition is by the use of a turn sheet. As I mentioned earlier that her legs began to ache, use of turn sheet technique was also very painful. She resisted to let us move her knees and the turning procedure became the most tormenting routine of the day. Sometimes I failed to control myself and started crying to see Ami in such dire. How silent were her lips, she did not even express her feelings through her eyes as they mostly did not open. Her silence echoed in my ears and sometimes it was unbearable to give pain to your loved one for her own betterment. Staying in one posture can cause skin ulcer and bed sores due to constant pressure, therefore she had to be repositioned every few hours. It was laborious yet necessary.

Every day at the time of repositioning she used to hum like “Hmmmmmmmm…” as a signal to leave her, she illustrated that we had caused intolerable pain to her. I understood it all, cried on it and did it eventually. No matter how many assisting hands we had, no matter how slow or fast we went, every time it was hurting. Imagine for a minute, being quiet in a position with a stiff body and a group of people forcefully shift you from one posture to the other. How does it feel? None of the postures were soothing. When she laid straight she was in pain as her back burnt, when she was turned to a side then also her face was pressed against the pillow. The position we gave her was never as comfortable and easy as the natural one taken by one’s own self. Her pressed eye hurt against the pillow, her half face was in pressure for hours. My hands wanted to scratch the walls in agony and my heart wept throughout the day. I was not at peace for a minute. I was a human being confined by my physical limitations. To mention another day, when we changed her side from left to right her face had pressed impressions of cloth on her left half of the face. Impressions which get engraved on the external skin due to constant pressure of your own head pressed against bed sheet. Her ear was red and her skin was sweaty. How irresponsible of us, right? Yes. Human beings cannot move other human beings, we act like we possess strong-sturdy bodies but no. Actually, we cannot even position the head of someone else correctly. We are not programmed to do so, it’s a natural phenomenon of movement which is perfectly carried out only by the person himself. Despite the physical facts, I regarded myself brutal. We could not reposition her every few hours, her repositioning affected her short spans of naps, the position of her needles and it was extremely painful too. It was so painful that even a physically robust man would cry over it because stiff muscles are awful to move.

As my mother became silent, I grew weaker physically. It had now been a month with no proper space to eat or sleep. I found refuge in whatever corner I used to find, whether it was outside the ward or in the lawn of the hospital. Wandering alone, here and there sometimes for purpose and sometimes because I had no space in the room. As briefed earlier, there was one bench for the attendants but in new room there was one sofa for one attendant only. I obviously made my aunt be with Ami while I found space somewhere else outside. I clearly remember, there was a bedridden and paralyzed woman in the ward just outside our room. Nobody was with her and her family had left her in the hospital. She had a husband and children but none of them visited. It had been nine years that she was there, she was paralyzed though her brain was functional. She was unable to communicate yet used to eat properly upon feeding. As none of her family visited her, her sofas were available. Although she involuntarily used to make very strange and loud voices but I still used to nap there. I prayed for her health and wondered how unworthy a man really is. Due to ailment, other humans cannot bear your load. Can they drag a motionless weight while they have to run fast treads and match pace with time? That’s a question.

One evening I was standing close to my mother’s bed basically itching her, cleaning her hands and doing little acts for showing my care for her. It was one of those days when her eyes were open and she said; “I get soothed when my daughter does it.” My tears fell as if they were waiting for her to say something. I went close to her face and kind of sobbed on her shoulder, as I lifted my head I saw my aunt crying too. My mother had made a baby face like she could feel everything, she knew everything, she was loving me being close to her but she could not say anything because she was a baby. She looked beautiful. My physical strength may have been lowered but my keenness to assist her fully never diminished even by a single notch. Talking more, Ami had stopped eating completely for which nasogastric intubation tube (NGT) was installed. I was there when the nurse carried out the process. It was piercing and full of acute pain. I saw Ami retaliate and the nurse thrust it down her nostrils. The way my mother choked and swayed her head left and right to obstruct the insertion was miserable. It felt like watching the scene made me a culprit, I felt like as if I were the one inserting the tube. The nurse had no fault, it was her job and a difficult one.

Due to zero improvement, the doctors had sent us home. They said she had only three to four months to live. I had heard such words from the doctors in movies but this time it was no movie, it was real scary scene from the movie called “Life”. How unethical of a doctor to say so, I thought. How can he declare a thing as such? Why is he giving up? Even if there is no ritual success of treating such patients how he can just give a verdict, a daughter thought. I knew how rigid the metastases were but I was not ready to accept defeat. Losing hope is a sin, a crime. It takes away the hope and kills the gift to continue and makes you unable to stretch yourself to the farthest borders of availing opportunities and sometimes success. Though we had come home, but proper nursing facilities were unavailable at home. Her NGT only passed thin liquids and allowed no viscous solutions to pass. For some energy to get into her body, drips had to be given. For this we admitted her in a nearby clinic where drips were given to her. Medicinal drips were the last solution to let her breathe till her last breath. It was almost September, she had been dwindling between waking up and falling back into her sleep. When hospital input seemed of no use we used to come back home but when she seemed worse, we went back to the hospital. Out of all the lonely entry tests, I got accepted by a university. I joined from September but by that time my mother did not know anything. She could not understand when I told her about my admission. How bizarre it was that she was the person who used to worry the most about my higher education. She used to inquire different people about it and asked them to guide us whenever the time will come but when time came, she went silent. I got admitted to the university and went to university from the hospital. My aunt said to go back home and continue my studies but I could not leave my mother. She was in such stage that even going home for a shower used to make me uneasy as I was away from her. So I decided to continue my first semester from the hospital only.

After long day at university and sleepless nights in taking care of my mother, I was physically very much tired. But I could not stop, my heart never gave up. Ami was my first priority and I used to conserve all my pieces and their energy for her. I used to come home and change her diaper first of all. Though my hands were tired and had no strength to reposition her but she was my mother. She had taken care of me when my father refused to accept me as his responsibility, so if she chose to dedicate her life for me then how could I not attend her in her difficult times? Despite all margins, my aunt and I used to reposition her, clean her and change her diaper. To be very honest, I felt so good after cleaning her. I loved cleaning her, bathing her, changing her clothes, changing her bed sheets and combing her bald head. My heart bled due to her pain but at least I was satisfied that I myself cleansed her and washed her. That she was in good hands. To quote a disturbing memory, I had come home tired after university. My hunger wanted to see food on the table but how could I eat? I never allowed myself neither ever wished to put my requirements first. My mother had to have her diaper changed, after all she had been waiting for half the day. My maternal aunt was elder than my mother and old, her bones were not tough enough to handle or reposition Ami on her own. We all needed each other. I put on my gloves, laid the infinity sheet beneath my mother and carried out the process. As she resisted from repositioning her the process took a long while, what used to happen next is painful. It is what I did, or what had to take place by my hands.

Ami was on top of the important areas but I was a human at the end of the day. I was young but my powerful bones grew less-youthful at the dim of the day. While repositioning her our bodies used to be in a bending position constantly, sometimes standing on our knees on top of the bed or one leg up and down the bed like when you fetch water out from the well. As the clock ticked so did our bodies. Our bodies; “tick-tick-prick-prick”. Our tongues got bitter but our touch remained soft. We healthy bodies tried to tell an immovable body to least resist, to cooperate, to listen to our voices and to refrain from hindering the process. Ah, it was a waste of words as her brain was shutting down, gain of guilt in our hearts forever but most critically it was her silent sighs and unspoken tears which she used to shed. What did her heart feel? What not she would have thought? How strange and lonely she would have felt between us? Our unintentional yet irritated behavior would have made her feel like a locked child in a dark room. How can I forgive myself for uttering those harsh words? How can I forget when we used to tell her that our bodies are giving up so please let us clean you well? What about those time slots when we were rudely aloud and prayed to The Almighty in front of her asking Him to bless us with the physical strength to take care of her better? What a horrible daughter I must be. Another similar day, I had come home and saw my mother slipped down from her actual laying position. Her head was almost above the middle line of the bed, her bed sheet all messed up and her feet stuck between the rods of the medical bed. They stretched outwards, she was uncomfortable but there was no sufficient help to drag her to the correct placement. I threw my bag and began to pull her by the help of the cloth beneath her. God, I felt so helpless when my hands were unable to pull her up. I was infuriated at my physical limitations, now I had begun to pull her up with force. I was disturbed and in pain to see her like that. That was an angry force when my teeth were clenched against each other and my hands were dragging her up, roughly. I can probably never erase this difficult memory because I could sense her helplessness as well. A mother being roughly dragged by her daughter, awful! Helpless! Her helplessness was far greater than mine. I could imagine her back being roughly pulled against her bed cloth, how uneasy and hurting. My best efforts to take her feet out from the rods single-handedly and they did come out but with rough hands, angry force and a grumpy voice. While I pulled her an inadvertent voice was generated, like it does while pulling an extremely heavy object. I think sometimes, when I was little she bathed me in the wash basin with delicacy and love. Her hands were like cotton, gentle and light. When she used to dress me up it was never with rough hands, then how do I forgive myself for using rough hands on her? I will never be forgiven.

There were those nights too when she was neither unconscious nor responsive. She just laid there, listening but not answering. Blinking but not watching. I remember there was a night, long before she completely went silent that I sat right beside her on the bed and asked her; “You do not want to say anything, do you?” I could not bear her dead silence, I had never lived a day without listening to her motherly voice. She was a woman who never stopped her lifecycle due to labor. Our home used to vibrate with the pleasant noise of her feet, it echoed with her words and a constant force moving here and there. Her aura created energy in the house but now she had radiated all her energy. She was gloomy and quiet. I was yearning to listen to her, that she would say something. Ask for water, or to turn the fan slow or that she was in pain or that she had wanted to get better but she only said four words; “What can I say?” She cut me. Her words were none less than an axe. I felt like I was placed on a log and was dissected in half by the same axe. Her words this time again pointed towards an end. I again shed more tears, silent and helpless. Moving on, it was another night in September 2016 when I was awake doing my homework. My aunt used to take Ami’s care in daytime and I used to be with Ami past midnight. There was very little space beside Ami’s bed, however I did sit there on a mat on the floor and worked. Side by side I gave her liquid feed through her feeding tube and kept an eye on her drips. After 1 or 2 a.m. I had become dizzy, and I fell asleep. Today I think why did I sleep? When Ami was awake and her eyes were open why did I not talk to her? I wish I had been up with her all night. I wish I had said all those things that I wanted to tell her. But even if I had, all I could have managed to convey in those times were my apprehensions and fears that I did not want to lose her. I was again defeated by myself and let go of the moments I could have spent with her more memorably. I still do not forgive myself to not take care of her like she had nurtured me all her life. Ami laid there, quiet and still.

What not had crossed her mind? Did she want to say anything? Was she able to listen to us? Was she able to think or feel in those times? I am not sure, I only know she would have felt her helplessness. She had become diabetic in those times and I used to check her sugar levels at home. Now I feel terribly guilty and my heart cries when I think that daily needle pricks would have hurt so much yet she did not make a single noise, because she could not. I remember one day while checking her sugar levels, I pricked myself by mistake. It hurt very much, and it kept hurting for a day. Can you possibly imagine pricking every finger almost daily for continuous months? How torn her skin would have felt. One prick left me in constant pain for a day and my mind was diverted towards it through the entire day, how would have her fingers felt? Like they were cut for one inch daily and then left as they were, cut, bloody and hanging. Moreover, when I think I caused her that pain everyday with my own hands to which she could not even cry, I go cold. The mother whom I have loved all my life and who is my role model of a woman that her pain caused me pain, today I was the one unable to comfort her or at least cause her zero external pain. But, no! I caused her daily pain, when I used to prick her or drag or pull her to reposition her. While changing her diapers she used to resist us, as we know diapers cause heat and rashes so was the case with her. Her skin used to become itchy and red upon which she wanted to itch. Her itching left her skin scratchy, especially while cleaning her she wanted to itch her buttocks but we had stopped her from spoiling her hands and scrapping her skin off. She used to resist too much that it stretched from an hour to one and a half hour sometimes. I used to swing her hand away while I used to clean her, sometimes a bit hard to forcefully stop her from spoiling her hands. GOD! Her skin was so itchy that she had no fault. I can imagine how would have I felt.

Basically, the delay caused her medicines and feed time late as well. Everything was connected and every event had led to another one. Months had passed with zero progress. I still had not lost hope. Second Eid festival, Eid-ul-Azha came. Our family relatives visited us at the hospital. Gladly, it was that time when she was awake. She smiled at their comments, it was a joyous day for me. Family and friends play a vital role in one’s life. I thank all the people who used to come to see us at the hospital because their visitations gave us hope, we felt supported. After all the battle, the day finally came. It was the night of 21st October, 2016 that I had checked her drip rate, had fed her diet and checked her bed. Her eyes were closed but she was not at rest. I eventually went to sleep knowing that all things were at their place. Next day was Saturday, I was awakened by the call of my uncle and aunt. They had called my name to wake me up and I saw my uncle say to me; “Ami is not well.” That is a general statement to declare about a patient, but it took me a minute to absorb it. Why? Because he did not mean that my mother was not feeling well, he meant that the time had started and she is now “not well”. He called for an ambulance while we packed some stuff for the hospital again. I was unable to believe that what had gone so wrong in a few hours whereas I had seen Ami just okay last night. But calling a person takes less than a minute only, and so it did. We went to the same nearby nursing facility and this time oxygen supply had to be given. Because when I woke up, Ami was breathing heavily. Her breathing rate was very fast and now it was time.

I had heard before that before the actual call, a person starts to breathe heavily. But I was a daughter, I had realized the somberness of the scenario but I continuously kept praying in heart. Saturday passed and Sunday came. It was 2 p.m. that another uncle of mine had brought lunch for us. Ami had been in the same condition for a day, doctors had none to do. All the drips had been removed because this time everyone saw it, the task of medicines was now over. Ami had been set free from the shackles of pricks and needles. She was just breathing, heavily. It was around 2:40 p.m. that my uncle had left for his home. My aunt and I were talking about if (God Forbid!) something unfortunate happens, how does the scenario need to be dealt with. After all such times bring a lot of people in the house. While discussing the scary matters with my aunt, I had continuously thought that am I responsible child to talk about their parent’s funeral? Or whether I was immoral to do so? I had only one motive in my mind, if a situation as such occurred I was sure that I had to take care of all the arrangements. I had to keep an eye on everything and make sure that every guest was met with respect and properly. The reason behind this thought was that when I had come to this world my mother was worried about the presence of all the necessities before my arrival. Similarly, I had to make sure that her departure was organized well and respectfully.

As the clock struck 3 p.m. so did the oxygen cylinder. My aunt noticed the needle going down to zero. She alerted me while I saw Ami take her last breath. She went from the peak of heavy breathing to level zero and she did not return back. I ran to Ami’s bed and recited Kalma-e-Tayyaba in her ears “La Ilaha Illallah Muhammad u’Rasoolullah”. I recited the second Kalma-e-Shaha’adat and “Allah u Akbar!” After reciting the religious verses I checked Ami’s heartbeat. I heard no sound, I checked her pulse and I found none. Meanwhile, the nurse rushed in with the doctor to medically give a verdict. For a few seconds, I thanked God for blessing me the moment I had been praying to him for the last few months. It is a religious custom in Islam to recite Kalma-e-Tayyaba in the ear of the departed soul if they themselves were unable to utter the words right before departing. I had been praying every morning to God since July 2016 that if my mother does pass away by this disease then do allow me to recite the Kalma in her ears because I know she will not be able to do so. It was granted as asked, I was with her and God allowed me to recite it in her ears. I am faithful that she would have heard the words and God would have accepted them on her behalf.

As the doctor gave his word, I became physically warm. My body switched from normal temperature to very high, I suddenly got struck by the fever. I felt like I was made to stand on a burner and it made my entire body hot. That Sunday my mother left all of us. She was the one who never allowed me to get away from her sight because she could not afford to lose me. But today she had departed, showing that however a mother is careful about her child she has to reply to the final call. My mother was a human being and was bound to leave this world one day. When she passed away, I switched to the role of a responsible child. Instead of weeping then, I had to made calls to closest relatives and university authorities to alarm them with my absence for next few days. Even after then I was not allowed to cry, but by whom? By myself only. I had to pack all the accessories as the ambulance was to arrive soon. It was a grieving scene where a daughter packs utensils and medicines whereas she watches the doctors and the nurses preparing her departed mother as per customs. I took packed bags to the ground floor and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

By the time ambulance arrived my legs began to shun. My body felt weaker and weaker. As I went closer to the ambulance I saw my neighborhood friend’s brother come out to help me. His presence was comforting. He took all the bags and put them in the ambulance while I saw my mother come down a stretcher. There she was, quiet and still but this time she never opened her eyes again. The roads back to home seemed meaningless and everything dull. By the time we arrived home, I saw tents outside our gate. In our culture, guests are seated under the tents on a funeral outside the house. As I stumbled down the ambulance, I saw a group of known women crying. They had wanted to hug me but I didn’t allow myself to hug them in sorrow. Why this time? Because I had to put all the accessories up in a safe place which included clothes, medical equipment, my laptop and other necessaries. I behaved like a responsible daughter because the responsible Iron-woman was herself no more. I went upstairs, my cousin came to help me. The very next thing I was concerned about was first “Ghusal”. In Islam the deceased has to be given a complete bath in order to remove all filthy remains from the body before submitting the person back to the Earth. I was grateful to God that He gave me the opportunity to give my mother a satisfied Ghusal. My maternal aunt, my maternal uncle’s wife, a very old family friend aunt and I gave my mother a proper Ghusal. To specifically mention here, I had already given my mother bed-baths as she was immobile but this time I was weaker and delicate. After bathing her we wrapped her in white cloths and let her lay in peace under the tents. Meanwhile, my very important family members had arrived.

As I have already mentioned that we had been living apart from my father since my childhood, all I had for family was my maternal relatives. I held them very close to the heart and their presence was very significant. As they kept coming they went seeing Ami and every single one of them returned quiet. Tears and silence, a painful duo. Till this time I had not moaned once as I kept myself busy in checking the arrangements and guests. I did not sit beside my Ami in those times because I knew that if I sat once, I would have not been able to get a hold on myself. As the night approached everyone went their homes except family. Everyone made me eat but my throat was clogged. Clogged with unshed tears. I forcefully passed few morsels and laid quietly. My brain nerves got pulled like somebody had pulled the strings so hard that I was unable to shut my eyes or think for a minute. My aunt gave me a mind numbing pill and put me to sleep. That is how weak and feeble a human body is. I knew it was my last night with my Ami but my physical strength had broken down. My body rejected my soul’s will and thrashed me to the floor. Next morning I was woken up to give Ami the final Ghusal. This time, she had to be prepared for final submission. After bathing her one last time, I properly cleansed her and wrapped her in “Kafan”. Kafan is a white cloth in which the dead bodies are tied up and laid in the grave. There she was, ready for departure from us.

Men of the house came to pick her up and take her to the graveyard. Ami honored her nephews very much and I saw her being lifted on their shoulders, her soul must have been happy. While Ami was being carried away I took last pictures and kept making a video of her. As soon as I saw her disappear from my sight I closed the camera and burst in tears. I had cried and hugged my loved ones after a day. I kept crying while women tried their best to console me. Finally, the house got empty with her sunshine and her presence. The walls seemed vicious and I took refuge in sleeping. I did not want to cry nor talk, I laid in the presence of my cousin-sister and closed my eyes. Before passing away I remember a night before Ami had fever and I had used wet towels to lower down her body temperature. I had tightly clenched those towels with my chest and cuddled with them in despair. I fell asleep with the towels I had touched my mother with.

Days passed, people went their homes and I went back to the university. Life proceeded the same way, neither the Sun came down nor the roads slept. The clock kept making its hours and so did we. I had not rebelled her death but had buried this emptiness inside me. I can today say that I have grown into a woman that she had wanted me to be, calm as the morning breeze but stronger than military tanks. Her life has taught me how to live with a high head and gentle heart. I go to the same shops she did, now I buy clothes and do grocery in place of her whereas I handle my outdoor chores myself. That is the essence of living and spending time with the most important pillars of your life that their presence teaches you and their absence trains you. Today when I visit her, all I see is a grave because she stays in the good lands above somewhere. Today after two years, I wake up every day to work and live life because God gave me this life. Life contains tests and hurdles. It comes with a rope of faith and tolerance, if we cling to that we can hold on safely. That is what I do, I use the teachings of my Iron-woman, thank God for His blessings and cling on to that rope of faith. Crying and anger only destroys one’s own self. Nobody gets hurt and this Universe surely doesn’t cry in your grief. It’s you who has to breathe, live and let it go.

I grew up in the city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan. I went to Grammar School Rawalpindi (GSR) from which I passed my tenth class in 2014. My parents got separated when I was in class 2 and since then I have been living with my mother and maternal aunt. I went to APSACS Fort Road for college from 2014 to 2016. I had attained a good name in school books as well as in college. As I enjoy writing I had received national and international certificates by winning essay writing competitions. I had also received other certificates for other activities. I still am a resident of Rawalpindi.

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