This is the story that I have been dreading to write but I think it is time. I don’t know if anyone will want to read it, because unlike the others on this blog, this isn’t inspiring or happy. It is sad. But it is our story and these words needed to be written.
On Dec 13th of last year I arrived in Islamabad, first time with my baby girl and the first time that Papa wasn’t there to pick me up at the airport. Instead he was lying in a hospital nearby recovering from serious brain surgery and getting ready for some severe treatments for his brain cancer. Mama and Waliya (my baby sister) came to pick me up and even though we were all smiling and enjoying Anya’s reactions to meeting everyone, underneath it all was a huge burden. Our beautiful little world was shattering in front of our eyes and all we could do was ask for strength to breathe, be strong in these difficult days and hope against hope that Papa (and us) would get through this.
Before this on the night of Nov 26th, only around 36 hours before Papa’s surgery, a doctor’s panel sat and told mama about the severity of papa’s situation. Their words, ‘we are not expecting a miracle’ hung in the air as Mama drove through pouring rain and tears, the 40 minutes back from the hospital to their home, where Waliya waited, all the while thinking how she will break the news to her. Even now when I imagine that time and what my baby sister and mom must have gone through, I cant stop my tears. I will wish forever that in those heart wrenching days, before, during and after Papa’s surgery, we were all together. To be a strength for each other and for Papa.
After the surgery on Nov 28th, as Nadiya (my sister who lives in the UK) and I waited miles across for any kind of good news, Mama and Waliya were ecstatic to see Papa through the Intensive Care Unit window as he tried to wave at them. They thought this was tremendous after brain surgery and thought that definitely the worst was behind them. Later on, Waliya couldn’t stop crying as she remembered those early days after surgery. How hard Papa use to try to get up initially and as he gained strength tried to walk a little further every day in the hospital hallway, because the doctors had told him that the sooner he’s able to get back on his feet, the sooner he’d be able to go home and he really really wanted to go home.
This progress continued for a few days. Nadiya and I were even able to talk to Papa on the phone and even though his speech was slurred, we were beyond relieved and thinking he’ll be better really soon. Meanwhile we all tried to swallow the dreaded C word. No one close to us had ever had cancer before. Nadiya and I kept reading things online to get more information, alternative therapy for cancer, diets for cancer patients, recovery from brain surgery, cancer survivor stories etc etc, all the while thinking that even though this would be the hardest battle we had fought in our lives, we all will get through this. We made plans of how to spend the most time with our family and how to be of most use. It was set, I would be with my family in the initial months and then when Papa gets back home from hospital, Nadiya would join us and help Papa in his recovery as she has always been very good in this way.
Anyways when I arrived and went to visit him the day of, it was the worst I have ever seen him. It is still very hard to remember him like that, but I will never be able to get that vision out of my head. I hid in my grandparents room on returning and tears streamed down my face as I called a cousin who is a doctor to ask her why he was in so much torture. Despite knowing the truth of the situation and understanding it better than any of us did, she told me the words I wanted to hear and I felt better.
In my research online, while still in Seattle, I had found out about the different types of brain cancers and GBM4 stayed with me because of the terrible prognosis. In my heart I continuously prayed that that wouldn’t be the one that Papa has. Little did I know that across the world, my mom was holding Papa’s reports that spelled out the exact words. But, she had no idea what it meant, except for that the doctors ‘weren’t expecting a miracle.’ Maybe it is in our culture, that we think the family cant take the truth, maybe we fear saying the words, the reactions. I still don’t know what is better, not telling it clearly enough, or telling it too clearly. I will always wonder. But all I know is that in those moments, the mixed signals, infuriated us like anything. We felt like the hospital, the doctors, weren’t doing enough. When we would ask about any symptoms that we were worrying us, all they would say is 'bas aap ko pata hee hai na iss disease ka' you know how (bad) this disease is. Sometimes we were told how great the surgery had been, then another doctor who'd visit would tell us how the tumor has already grown again. In retrospect, it was terrible and frustrating at the moment but maybe we wouldn't have wanted to believe even if we had been told clearly. Till the last day we believed that there would be a miracle and he would recover.
One week after I reached, Nadiya reached too. She decided that it was too much to be so far away and she just had to be with our dad. She gave Papa, Mama and Waliya exactly what they needed, what I wasn't able to give with a little baby to take care of. She gave Papa all her attention from morning till night, when we would come back home to rest for a few hours. She would remind him of funny moments we’ve had together and entertain him with her sense of humor. She would clean and organize Papa’s hospital room. She helped Mama manage all financial issues and she was with Waliya when they had to take Papa for the terrible radiation treatments. In the days after she reached, Papa would keep asking for his 'Nadu' all the time.
Weeks kept passing. Our days was spent at the hospital. Our nights were spent praying and trying to cheer ourselves up so we are ready for the next day with Papa. We did our best to arrive at the hospital with a smile on our face and no tears in our eyes for Papa to see. We wanted him to see us and instantly feel better, we wanted him to smile and be able to cheer him up. We would remember funny stories to tell to Papa to cheer him up. Even in those terrible days, instead of looking like the gloom our hearts felt, we tried to dress up for Papa, so he feels good when he sees us and he would always notice.
There were many days when Papa was better, he would tell stories about his air force days. He remembered all the names of his friends and even teachers of his school/college days. He would discuss technology ideas with Bilal (my husband) when he reached. He would ask us to bring him particular foods and sweets. And he would ask about Anya a lot, 'where is the little traveller' with a twinkle in his eye.
On the other hand their were days when Papa would forget where he was, would ask for the same things repeatedly throughout the day, felt very restless and would keep changing his beds or chairs and not be able to find a comfortable place to rest, where he hardly talked or opened his eyes, and just kept thinking something, what? My heart will always ache to think of that.
In those one and a half month in the hospital, Papa had more visitors than we could possibly imagine. News of his illness travelled among his lifelong friends and colleagues and it was a huge shock to everyone. Papa was not yet 59, and had always kept very good health and he was the last person any of us could even imagine lying in bed in the condition he was in. Day in and day out, people visited, from all across the country. We have no count of them because they were far too many. It is truly in bad times that you realize your worth and of those around you and we truly realized how loved and respected our dad was. Except for one or two, Papa greeted them all by their names, always shaking their hands firmly and telling them he would be well soon.
Through all of this, through brain surgery, through the terrible recovery and the cancer treatments, through the endless discomfort, there was never a time that Papa complained about what he was facing. He was more brave than anyone I have seen and in that courage he left a huge example for us. He showed us how to stand tall in front of the toughest battles. He would talk about God a lot. He would recite verses from the Quran. One of the last things he said to us before he went into coma was ‘meri betiyan kitni bahadur hain’, my daughters are so brave.
And all this above, was only half the battle we were facing. The other was more painful in ways because it came from those we had always trusted and hit where it hurt the most. It is true that you find out the reality of people in hard times, and as this tragedy unfolded, many in our family turned their backs on us. Not stopping there even, they went to all extents to hurt us. We arrived at the hospital every morning, with our stomachs turning hoping that this would be the day we wont have to see their faces. They pained us like nobody ever can, their words stung, their hatred burned and in those days when we needed all the support we could, they kicked us where it hurt the most. The worst is that they did it all in front of Papa who was already so helpless at that point. He would try to calm them down, but when evil starts, it is hard to stop it. Their plans were only beginning to unfold but at that point all we could think of was Papa and it hurt us the most that they were hurting him when he needed to be given the most peace.
On Jan 12th, 2012, Papa had seizures since the morning, doctors didn't arrive till much later in the day and it wasn't until the night that he was shifted to a room near the Intensive Care. They told us he was in coma, but we saw him open his eyes a few times in the 5 days that followed, we thought he wanted to say something, we felt his hands tighten on ours, and we truly believed, or in retrospect wanted to believe, that he would get out of it. In those 5 days we literally started living at the hospital in my mama's little car, along with Anya as there was no one at home who could take care of her. I would nurse her in the freezing little car, and one of us would take care of her while the rest of us would take turns sitting at Papa's side. At Papa's side, we held his swollen hands and we read the Quran, we read Ayat ul Kursi, we read duas endlessly, we cried, we talked to those that came to see him and we hoped against hope.
Jan 17th, 2012, started like any other day, bright and sunny. Papa had had a temperature since the morning and we scolded the attendants that stayed with him for the night on why they didn't inform us so we could've come right then to be with Papa. We were sitting outside as Nadiya took her turn with Papa inside and her phone call to Mama from inside didn't feel normal. The rest of the memories all play in slow motion in my head but I still cannot put them in words, we waited outside, we cried, we prayed, they told us to stand outside, doctors nurses went in and out, and then just as suddenly as it had came upon us, it was over. Papa left us too fast and too soon, with so much that had to be said, and so much that he still had to finish, so much that we had to ask from him and tell him and show him, and so much that he had to tell us.
May Allah bless him and may that life be a source of eternal happiness and peace for him IA. And May we be blessed to be able to meet him again one day and hug him and tell him all that was left to say. Ameen.
FYI: Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan; Ayat ul Kursi: Verses from the Quran that are read for protection from all sort of worries; Dua: Prayer
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