I lost my father on 22 January 2005. He was sick for a long time. A heavy smoker for 36 years, he was told several times to quit; he was even hospitalized once, for two weeks, during which time he was able to (should I say, forced?) to quit. He walked out of the hospital he came into with a wheel chair and an oxygen tube.
I started staying at his place to basically keep an eye on him. Things looked fine for a while until I discovered that he was secretly smoking in the balcony at the back of the apartment. Yes, like a high school kid. We gave up. He smoke for another 2-3 years. By the time, he quit for good, thanks to a med called Zyban, his lungs were almost completely gone. 30% on one side, 5-6% on the other. He was a stubborn (and grumpy) survivor. No cancer, no heart attack, just KOAH. He wasn’t mobile of course; he moved next to my grandmother who, despite her old age, took care of her. Along with my uncle, me and a few odd friends.
One day the inevitable happened. Following a mild flu – if you have KOAH, flu is not something you should have – he developed a severe pneumonia and had to spend three months at hospital. He was getting weaker by the day. Miraculously, he was sent home for the new year but he couldn’t last there for more than a few days. Back to hospital. Ramadan was ending, a long holiday looming; I overheard his doctor warning the nurses before she left for holidays that my father “could become X”. She saw I heard, but she probably didn’t know I was aware of the meaning of the term.
She was right. Things got worse quickly. My uncle, a friend (Halil), and myself, we were taking turns taking care of him. One day, I was too tired and went home to sleep, only to be called back by my father that he needed me, that my grandmother who was there couldn’t take care of him. I was pissed off! He was a difficult man, more so in his later years, shouting at everyone, mostly for no reason.
I went to hospital, fuming. I asked, “Why are shouting at everyone? They are here to help you”. He avoided eye contact and remained silent. I wasn’t ready to give up: “Ok, you are shouting at everyone, why aren’t you shouting at me?”. This time he looked straight into my eyes and said, “because you would be hurt”. I was ashamed, drenched in guilt.
Two days later, he passed away. We were waiting to take over his body for the funeral with my uncle. He asked me, “have you seen that orange calendar diary that his roommate gave him on new year’s day?” I had. He was writing down his med times on it. But my father hated calendar diaries, especially the company ones. This one was from Renault. The roommate who had a terminal lung cancer passed away in another room a couple of days later. My father threw the calendar diary to a corner of the room.
“Why are you asking?” I said to my uncle. “Because he was scribbling something on it. Not med times. This could be the last thing he had written.” I panicked, because I remembered that he asked me to throw it into the dustbin as we were changing rooms. I felt terribly sad. “Well, how could you know?” said my uncle.
A week later we went back to the ward he was staying to donate the excess meds we had at home. We thanked everybody. As we were leaving, a cleaning lady ran towards us, shouting “wait”. “Aren’t you the relatives of the uncle who was staying in room …?” We were surprised. She said, “wait, I’ll fetch something”. She came with the orange calendar diary at her hand. Apparently, the lady who was distributing food found it in the dustbin; seeing that it was hardly used, she gave it to the cleaning lady who had a daughter at primary school. Needless to say, they weren’t well off; they needed all the help they could get. But the cleaning lady, who was “illiterate”, saw that there were some scribbling on the diary and thought “maybe his relatives will come back one day, looking for it”.
That we went back to the ward, that she was on duty that day, at that very moment, that she bumped into us in the ten minutes we spent there… Well, you pick a word.
And yes, my uncle was right. My father had written something on the eve of 31st December. (My clumsy translation)
“Another year went by. This time at hospital. Alone. The lungs are gone. My heart is empty. Lonely as ever. What a fate!”