We used to have a next door neighbor once, a rather old man that we had known for over a decade. ‘Kaka’ we used to call him. As is apparently the norm in their families, Kaka lived alone after all of his children had been married off, and any visits from them or their children would last as much as 15 minutes. This was the way he liked it, apparently. He only had two known associations with the rest of the world: either his gathering of old peers at the neighborhood market, or us, his next door neighbors. If there was ever a wedding in the building, or a social gathering involving people in our flats, he would prefer it if he could come along with us. I distinctly remember the last time I spoke with him in 2003, when I arrived home late one evening from an APTECH class. As I pulled up the driveway, he was waiting downstairs, frailer than usual, along with one of his relatives as they were hoping to get a rickshaw to get to the doctor’s clinic. I volunteered to drop him off and asked him in the car of how he was feeling. He told me he wasn’t feeling too good and as I dropped him off, he told me to take care of myself.
The next Sunday, I woke up in the afternoon to find out that Kaka had passed away in the morning. Up till that point, death was a concept I used to consider something that happened to distant relatives, or people I didn’t know, or fiction. This one was one that really did strike that concept from my mind. It was closer to home both literally & figuratively and was in a way a sign. To quote Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”
A few months later, no sooner that I had applied for my National Identity Card after turning 18, my father had his first heart attack. I was with him when we went to the doctor and he told him to get to the cardio hospital asap. I don’t know why, but dad wouldn’t let me drive; either because I was still too young to drive all the way on a main thoroughfare, or maybe he thought I would panic and speed off like a raving lunatic. Just like him to consider all possibilities. He fought off traffic for 40 minutes till we arrived at the emergency room of the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, right before another emergency case was brought on a stretcher. Half an hour later, while they were taking my dad to the general ward, the other patient fell into cardiac arrest and died in front of us.
As someone who had only seen people die in movies or TV, this was too much to process. I will never forget that night, running around half a block to get that vital injection of Clexane just because the hospital chemist didn’t stock it, running five floors up the general ward just because elevators shut down after 11 PM, and running off again for the new meds the doctor just wrote down. It was then that I realized two things: one that for the life of me, I’ve never run this much for anything and two… *sigh* that times have indeed changed. No longer could I be that carefree idiot that never looked beyond, never planned ahead, and never imagined the worst case scenario. Before that, the only possible worst case scenario, to me, was that “dad would kill me if I screwed up again.” But right there, right then, I was THIS close to losing that mercy.
A year after his angioplasty, which we were assured would last for another 10 to 15 years, my father breathed his at the ICU in Liaquat National Hospital after fighting for 2 weeks. Describing the circumstances which led to this would be fruitless when looking at the resulting devastation at the end. How does one describe their world shattering to a million pieces? How does one relate the last time he heard his father was when he was walking out the door and telling you that he’d be back home soon? Even tip-toe-ing around the memories of these 15 days can only result in tears.
Grim as it all was, what followed must have been the universe trying to hammer in an already bludgeoned nail. A cousin died when he had just turned 16, another lady in the building breathed her last a few weeks after, and tragedy striking a distant relative in a road accident. I could only watch as devastation hit those closer to their loved ones, could understand full well what they were experiencing. But while Death had made its point, it was Life that had made me realize its true value. Life is, well, short and precious. And wonderful, and glorious, and painful. It just is. The thing about life is that it goes on, and has to go on no matter what. The loss of a loved one can only inspire you to follow their example, to continue onward and to not disappoint them. That is what they would want of you, that is what they would expect of you.
“The universe has to move forward. Pain and loss, they define us as much as happiness or love. Everything has its time. And everything ends.”
And everything begins…