We all coexist with the idea that the people we love might disappear at any moment, though this idea, in the every day life, only occupies the fringes of our minds. But when someone you love has cancer, the idea becomes central, and it moves to occupy the entire space. Managing your emotions while going through this is one of the hardest things a human being has to do.
February 2015, my sister, at 27, passed away from cancer. December 2019 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. The haiku below is a memory of mine from my first day of school. I remember crying as my mother left me to the care of the teacher, and I remember looking at her through the window while she left me there and wondering why she left me, and where she is going without me. Fitting for this situation. Only now I’m much lonelier than before. Only now it’s darker and colder around me. The warmth and care of the people I loved most is gone. And so I’m left with…
First day of school… through the window glass my mother looking at me
I remember the fear in my sister’s eyes as she laid in her deathbed. I felt so helpless and powerless, and this feeling kills me to this day, cuts into me with a pain I cannot describe. It haunts my dreams at night. I could not ward off death and save the being I love most in the world. They tell me to get over my guilt, that the responsibility was not my own, and though that is true, you cannot not be or feel responsible, and hence powerless. I do not know how to get over this feeling, this incredible pain, but maybe I do not need to…
I also remember the light in her face, a light that became so clear to me towards the end. I don’t exactly know what this light is or why it shun with such clarity, or why her dreams became bathed in white as death approached. Was it her soul, getting ready to leave her body? Was it the beauty of her heart, a beauty that was there her whole life but that became more visible to me as I saw into who she truly was, beyond and inside the flesh and form. I don’t know, but this light! God, this light. As though I was beholding her essence, and it reduced me to tears.
I remember being haunted by this question (and I still am): Will I ever see her again? I will see her again and again as I bring her to life through me in my daily life. I will meet her around the corners of my life, as I live out more and more my own heart, love, and essence, as I become truer to the great love that bound us, that will forever bind us. But the question remains: Will I ever see you again, Sarah? You will come to me in the moments of my life, but at the moment of my death, will you be there with me? Will I feel the press of your hand in mine as you welcome me into the eternity of light of which you are now part.
Cursed be this life! Yet infinitely blessed for having allowed us to share this love even if for such a small period of time.
Once, soon after my sister returned from a coma from which no one said she’d survive, we went to watch a play at the theater for a very famous Lebanese artist. She always wanted to watch him. It was so painful and difficult for her to walk down then back up across all the stairs. She had completely lost her muscles from the coma and the chemo and the radiation and the cortisone fallout. Anyhow, she made it. Her will as well as her joy were unbreakable. We watched the play, and I can still remember her face. I sat next to her, all anxious and fidgety about something going wrong, something happening to her. I couldn’t relax. Every now and then she’d turn to me and smile. I can never forget her smile. On our way back we had the windows of the car open and an smell from the street was wafted in. So I noted, ‘what an ugly smell.’ But she, she sat next to me glowing, literally lit, and she told me ‘no, the scent is beautiful.’ The appreciation of someone who truly tasted and to the marrow the fragility of life, and learned the true taste of living. After her coma she thought herself reborn, and believed it was for a purpose. No one hanged on to life more than Sarah; no one with more hope, strength, and joy. And yet the odds were so terribly against her, in spite of how much we loved her. And boy the infinity of the sky knows how much we loved her, how much we love her, and what Sarah means to us. Once, towards the end, she was in such horrible and unending pain that she started screaming her lungs out, asking God Why? Telling him that ‘I’m such a good person, that I never hurt anyone.’ ‘Sarah is such a good and loving person. Sarah never hurt anyone.’ And I and her mom and her husband stood there, helpless, eating our hearts out, massaging her, telling her it will be okay, that she will pull through, and will have the daughter she wanted. Sarah didn’t pull through, though she hanged on to life to a point where the doctors did not know any longer how she was alive. Sarah loved life, and she loved her life. It still feels unreal that she is gone, and it always will. I still feel that at any moment at night she will come and knock on the door and I will open and hug her and cry to infinity. I still feel uneasy and guilty locking the door at night, as if I’m locking her out. But Sarah will not come. Sarah will not come. And so I will go to her, I will join her, one day. How can such a pain exist on the face of the earth? How much can a heart take?
year after year waning,
autumn’s waxing moon.
It was my birthday yesterday, the first birthday you’re not here. I’m still lost and confused, and your absence is still growing, all around me, in my heart. You were my balance, and I still don’t know what to do without you.
Your painterly eyes…
the world a canvas
born of your sight,
a fluid river
of shadows and light.
Sarah’s last painting and the only one she dedicated to me. It was left unfinished, as all the other paintings gestating in her. Her presence transformed the world around her, transmuted it into art — this by her presence itself which was radiating, and by her fondness to transform everything around her into art and colour.
You once told me to live and be happy every day. Ah, to be Sarah-Joy, Sarah-Laughter.