Grief is…

“Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. I was cold.”

Grief feels multi-dimensional, concrete, and terribly familiar. I am cold. Always cold.

“But, I thought, in support of myself, everything has changed, and she is gone and I can think what I like.”

Yes, everything has changed. He is gone. But I can’t think what I like. I don’t know what I like. Sometimes I like the things that I used to like. I feel the way I used to feel. Sometimes I don’t like anything. And I feel I can’t like anything. Not the same way. Maybe more, maybe less.

“The house becomes a physical encyclopedia of no-longer hers … She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone.”

The world is a physical void it-used-to-be hims. He was full of life, limping when he couldn’t walk, rolling when he couldn’t limp, swallowing when he couldn’t chew, smiling when he couldn’t laugh. He didn’t know how to die, so he was living. When he couldn’t breathe, he was gone. Leaving behind a detritus of pain.

“I will stop hearing her breathing.”

I liked to listen to his breathing. I always had difficulty sleeping – I couldn’t sleep without ear plugs even when I was sleeping alone. I didn’t need ear plugs when I with him. His breathing was soothing. Hypnothizing. Not that day. It wasn’t even him breathing. It was the methadone. Slow, rhythmic, artificial. I wish I could have put my ear plugs in. I couldn’t for we were waiting. Then the methadone stopped breathing.

“I want to be there again. Again, and again. I want to be held, I wanted to hold.”

But I know that I can’t be there again. He would never hold me again. No one can ever hold me like that again. Will I ever be able to hold someone the same way again? Will I ever hold someone again?

“I missed her so much that I wanted to build a hundred-foot memorial to her with my bare hands. I wanted to see her sitting in a vast stone chair in Hyde Park, enjoying her view. Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.”

I miss him so much that I want to rip the whole world apart with my bare hands. Leave no memorial behind. Leave no living sould behind. I would take their eyes out. So that they don’t see anything. Not my missing. Not me. Not the world as it is. That is how brutal my missing is. I miss him so much I can’t even remember him. Picture him. Hear him. A dark hole. Full of crawling bugs. Climbing on me. Flowing through my cavities. Suffocating me. Blinding me. Slowly. Killing me. The whole world is killing me. Life is killing me.

“We used to think she would turn up one day and say it had all been a test.”

I would have liked to think he would turn up one day and say it had all been a bad joke. But I know he won’t. I know it’s not. He is in a green urn. Buried under a beautiful stone. A stone nonetheless. On the right-hand corner of a yard. In a cemetary. Behind the chapel. In a now-so-ugly, oh-so-ugly city.

“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain that is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.”

Moving on? I haven’t even started to move! Am I stupid? Am I normal? Am I sensible? Do I know grief is a long-term project? Did I say project? Is grief a “project”? How does one do that project? Do grief? The pain that is carved into my soul, my whole being will never leave me, so how can I speed, or slow, or fix? How do I live with it? How do I move with it?

Move on? Come on!

* All quotations are from Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Faber and Faber, 2015. This piece is originally published in Ahval News.

In Liverpool

I remember saying in one my posts, I guess in Black, that I will keep going back to writing about, or getting help from music. Particular songs. The song of the day, of that day. Sometimes the song itself is the source of inspiration. At other times, I have something to write about in mind, a theme, a feeling, mostly – always? – when I am feeling bad, and a song magically finds its way into the theme, capturing the feeling better than anything I could write.

That’s what happened today when I took myself forcibly off of the bed to take a stroll in the empty streets of Vienna, with the vain hope of drenching my solitude in strangers’ eyes, furtive looks and improbable encounters. As always, I looked for “cafés nearby” in Google Maps and decided on one, some Luxor-Bar on Grünentorgasse 19B, which seemed promising for someone in search of “eyes, looks and encounters”.

The weather was gloomy, the streets emptier, the café more woeful than I expected. Cheezy music, uncomfortable chairs, and one customer, a middle-aged nice-looking guy with messy hair (the proverbial “artist” or writer), taking notes on his laptop while sipping his cafe. I could have chosen any chair as the whole place was mine and his, but I chose to sit across him. Maybe I was trying to attract his attention, to exchange a smile.

This was exactly when Suzanne Vega’s angelic voice broke into my reality, kidnapping me from myself and the present:

In Liverpool
On Sunday
No traffic
On the avenue
The light is pale and thin
Like you
No sound, down
In this part of town
Except for the boy in the belfry
He’s crazy, he’s throwing himself
Down from the top of the tower
Like a hunchback in heaven
He’s ringing the bells in the church
For the last half an hour
He sounds like he’s missing something
Or someone that he knows he can’t
Have now and if he isn’t
I certainly am

I knew it was coming. I knew he was coming. I knew I was missing something, or someone I knew I can’t have now, at least not in the reality I inhabit.

Maybe he was still here with me as mamma keeps telling me. “When you cry he’s by your side, hoping you will see all the good things in life”, she recently reminded me, when I reached out to her in one of my many breakdowns. But if he was here, why wasn’t I able to see him, to feel his presence as she could? Why couldn’t I even look at pictures of us, laughing, playing, having fun (living is fun, dying is boring, right my son?)?

Maybe I had to change my reality to be able to see him. Not the way I perceive reality for, as I said above, this wasn’t possible, but start thinking about inhabiting another reality, his reality, the place I could find him. This required a huge sacrifice, not for me, but for those who love me, and maybe for him too. “He wants us to live in all the ways he couldn’t”, said mamma. For that, I had to stay alive. I had to persevere, endure the breakdowns. But how could I know that this is what he would want? He wasn’t old enough to know the meaning of altruism. This is us imparting ideas on him, to make his departure from the world of the living more bearable. We all suffer in different ways, and we are all:

Homesick for a clock
That told the same time

And yet, there is no such clock. Clocks show different times; it is 13:51 in Vienna, 06:51 in Guadalajara; it is Suzanne Vega here, the Little Mermaid over there. But what time is it where he is? What song is he listening to? If he were here, we would be listening to Despicable Me. But he is not here. And sometimes, most of the times, I don’t want to be here either.

The guy sitting across me packed and left. I am still here.

Happy Father’s Day Sweden…



“The five stages of grief”, developed by the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”, is one of the most well-known analytical frameworks of modern psychology. Based on Kübler-Ross’ comprehensive fieldwork on terminally ill patients, the model originally aimed to understand how people cope with death, and not grief per se. In later years, Kübler-Ross extended her model to the process of grieving as well, to correct widely held misconceptions about the model, showing in particular that these stages are not consecutive stops in some linear timeline in grief . This was indeed the main thrust of her book “On Grief and Grieving” that she co-authored with David Kessler in 2004.

Noting that, “there is no correct way or time to grieve,” Kübler-Ross and Kessler begin by exploring the notion of “anticipatory grief”, which they describe as the “beginning of the end”. During this initial phase, one operates in two different worlds at the same time; the familiar world in which we feel safe, and the unfamiliar world, deserted with the death of the loved one, where we no longer feel safe. Anticipatory grief, the authors say, is one of the mechanisms the subconscious deploys to prepare us for a new, uncertain world.

Anticipatory grief is more silent than grief after a loss. It is experienced introvertedly. It is impervious to external reactions. It does not like to talk, and often it cannot be verbalised. For that reason, a person experiencing anticipatory grief prefers silent interactions, such as being comforted by a gentle touch or silently sitting together.

The person facing death starts grieving “in advance” so as to prepare herself for the inevitable end. The people who love her grieve with her, sometimes without even being aware of it. The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – help us understand anticipatory grief as well. Grief is not only experienced after death; it may precede death as well. Kübler-Ross and Kessler note that going through these five stages during the period of anticipatory grief will not make the process of grief after death easier. Anticipatory grief has its own dynamics; it takes its time.

The five stages in question are not chronological and neatly separated from each other. Not everyone experiences these stages in the same way and in the same order. These are all ways of coping with the loss of loved one and learning how to survive without her.

The first stage, denial, does not necessarily entail the repudiation of death itself. We know that the loved one has died. The feeling of denial is more symbolic in this sense. It is about not being able to accept that the loved one is not going to open the door and greet us again when we come home.

Denial is a state of being paralysed, of numbness. It helps us to survive the loss, and the shock of death. At this stage, life is meaningless. Everything is “too much”; everything annoys. We do not know whether we can go on living or how we will go on. Our sole purpose is to get through the day. Denial is the mechanism that makes this possible.

People who have lost loved ones often find themselves telling the story of their loss over and over again. This helps us to cope with the trauma of death. As denial fades, acceptance creeps in. Slowly, we start asking “how” and “why”. As we review the circumstances that have led to the loss of the loved one, we try to find an answer to the question “could it have been different? Was there another way?” Asking those questions means that we begin to accept the reality of loss and its inevitability. She is not coming back. She won’t open the door to us again. This time she couldn’t make it and defeat death. As the feelings of denial fade away, other emotions we suppressed in that process spring to mind.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross passed away on 24 August 2004 at 20.11 after a prolonged period of struggle with disease, without seeing her book “On Grief and Grieving” published.

The death of Kübler-Ross leads David Kessler to go through the five stages of anticipatory grief and grief himself that they have written about one more time. “I have to say that if I hadn’t seen it for myself, I might not have believed it, “he said in the preface to their book. “Many people agreed that in some way they thought she was immortal. She always said that when she ‘transitioned and graduated’, it would be cause for celebration since she would be ‘dancing in the galaxies among the stars.’”

He, on the other hand, did not know the meaning of death. Or the death he knew of was something that would happen in games. Only “bad guys” died. Good ones never died, and even if they died, they would come back to life with a blow. Sometimes in order to continue playing, it was required to blow the bad guys back to life as well. All in all, death itself was a game.

Real death was boring. Life was fun. That was what he said to mamma one night. But to me, he said he was afraid of death. His grandmother was with us too. She had come all the way from Turkey to see him, to kiss him one last time, despite a healing broken hip and an injured knee. The Swedish and Danish police were mobilised to make it possible for her aging, worn-out body to meet her grandson.

“Baba”, he said while playing with his Lego. “What if the cancer becomes 100, 1,000? Wouldn’t I die then?” I could not answer. Me and mamma never lied to him either, so I replied his question with a question, like mamma used to do. “Why oğlum? Are you afraid of dying?”. “Yes”, he said. His eyes were full with tears. I started crying as well. “Don’t be afraid. No matter what happens, mamma and baba will be with you, you know that, right?” was all I could say.  “Yes”, he replied in a certain and confident tone. I was relaxed somehow.

But now, I cannot relax. Yes, I was by his side, we were by his side until the last moment, and even after that. But he is gone. He is not with us anymore. All these clichés, “He doesn’t suffer anymore”, “He will live in your hearts forever”, “He is watching over you from the sky”, they are just empty talk. You know it; they know it. They are trying to share your pain as best as they can. This the only thing they can do. If I were them, I couldn’t do any more either.

But I am not them. I am the one experiencing the loss. I am the one suffering. In this sense, I am alone. And I am not ready to accept it. Not yet.


A note to readers: I know you are bored with that story. Your life is hard, with the dollar rising and the lira falling capriciously, people languishing in prisons for no reason. Evil is everywhere. At least on the weekends, you would prefer to read something light, something beautiful. But I don’t let you. The editors of Ahval are complicit in my crime as they continue publishing my morbid tales. And yet I am not going to apologise, for this is my reality, at least for the time being. In this reality, in this parallel universe, there is no dollar, there are no prisons. There is only cancer and death. I am trying to get through the day, and I do it by writing. I will however stop writing about this once I write about all five stages of grief. The real grief will not end. I don’t know whether I will be able to write on other, more mundane, topics for death has transformed me. But I am sure I will give it a try. I will give life a try. The show must go on, right? Or… Should it?



It doesn’t feel like anything else. I feel like someone who has been unconscious for years and has suddenly woken up to another reality, another world I am unfamiliar with. As everything else is so new, so alien – and since I cannot remember the past – I don’t now know what to do, or how to handle that strange feeling of emptiness inside me.

It is not similar to what I felt after the death of my father who passed away in my arms at the end of a protracted struggle with another illness. Yes, my father died at a relatively young age; still, he had lived life to the full. We knew why the illness chose him; he had called it upon himself. He had turned a blind eye to doctors’ advice and opted for a prolonged, slow suicide. But he wasn’t five-and-a-half years old. The life he had was probably longer than the life he would have had.

Luca, on the other hand, was not there yet. As the famous Turkish poet (indeed a close friend of my father) Cemal Sureya said, “every death is an early death”, but he has not had enough of life to be able to say “keep the change”. Not to mention the fact that he did not give up on the future voluntarily. There was no known cause for his disease. The angel of death, who selects one among 1 million children every year, had decided to fill his annual quota with him.

Thus, what you feel doesn’t look like what you would feel when you lose somebody you love, even one of your parents. Since the memories you have collected are limited, when you close your eyes, what punctures darkness is not happy moments or memories. The last few weeks, the last day, in fact the last night – that indescribable, excruciating last night – creep through every single hole, like a lethal chemical gas, filling the void and asphyxiating every bit of emotion it encounters. It leaves only an eviscerated, soulless shell behind.

Of course life goes on. You don’t want to stay in bed the whole day. You cannot sleep anyway. Alcohol, anti-depressants, or different combinations of these don’t work. You don’t want to stay alone, because whenever you do, the chemical gas returns. Just for the sake of living, you are obliged to get by. You try to distract yourself and build a routine that reeks of “the normal”.

And you do. You spend time with close friends who won’t make you tell the story from the beginning and don’t repeat clichés like “words fail us” or “there is no way to describe your grief” (not that they are wrong or you don’t appreciate them; they are a thousand times better than utter silence); you eat, drench your suffering in alcohol, watch the World Cup. Then, suddenly, while chatting about something trivial, you find yourself talking about him. “He loved football too. When he grows up, he’ll play football probably”, you say, and take a pause there. What did I say? Did I use past tense? “Loved football?” Did I say, “when he grows up”? But he won’t grow up. And you reach for another bottle of beer.

Even when you realise you are being emotional, in fact simply irrational, your compass is him. You want Sweden to be defeated by England for example. When they concede a goal, you rejoice. Then you remember that only a few days ago, you were rooting for Sweden – how you were explaining Swedish jerseys to him. “Like the Minions. They have the same colours as the Minions”. He laughs, feels a sudden joy. “Minions!”, he says. Grandfather, grandmother, bonus grandmother cheer for Sweden shouting, “Go Minions!” He wants to stand up, to jump. He cannot. Because he cannot stand up.

When that memory interrupts your fragile routine, your attempts to reconstruct a new “normal”, you collapse. You are instantly detached from the present, your surroundings, even the whole world. If your friends are close enough, they notice it and bring you back to the present, quietly. You return, until the next interruption.

Some time after, you start reflecting on some of the things someone you care about told you, “slowly, step by step”. Or the gentle reminders of his doctors, a mantra you have memorised over the years, “one day at a time”. That all sounds reasonable but weren’t we supposed to get rid of this when all is over, one way or another? Weren’t we going to be able to re-establish the link between the past, present and the future? Why can’t I still make plans about the future? Why don’t I want to remember the past at all?

The present? Well, it is the incarnation of Dante’s Inferno. I have already passed through the door upon which the words “Abandon all hope, ye who enter” (Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate) are inscribed. I have started travelling down the concentric circles of hell. I have been conversing with sinners and damned souls hoping to come to terms with anger and the feeling of injustice. Knowing of course that no matter what I do, I cannot bring him back.

As I know that I cannot go back home, that there is no home anymore, that I have lost my sense of belonging, the only thing I believed in, the deepest and most genuine love of my life.



Not think of God

“— What were you thinking about, child?
— I was thinking of heaven.
— It’s unnecessary for you to think of heaven: there’s already enough to consider about earth. Are you tired of living, you who have barely been born?
— No, but everyone prefers heaven to earth.
— Well, not I. For since heaven, as well as earth, has been made by God, you may count on encountering up there the very same evils as here below. After your death, you will not be rewarded according to your deserts, for if injustices are done you on this earth (as you will find out later by experience) there is no reason why, in the next life, you will not be further wronged. The best thing for you to do is not think of God, and since it is refused you, to make your own justice.”
― Comte de Lautréamont, Maldoror and the Complete Works


Salvador Dali, Les Chants de Maldoror, Albert Skira, Paris, 1934

In silence, poetry (re)unites…


the truth – don’t they say? – is painful

and needs, you know, your blood

needs your wounds

only through these will the life you sought in vain

pass – if it ever does pass through –

together with the wind’s whistling and ghosts



To the one stranded on an island, sharing a similar predicament…




Polluted by memories

Like everyone else, I have favourite movies, directors, writers, songs and song writers, and I keep returning to them in a cyclical way, not regularly, without following a particular routine, but often enough to discern a pattern.

If you happen to know me in real life or follow this blog, you must have already noticed that I am quite fond of Bergman (not so much as a movie director as what I would call a philosopher), Calvino (in particular his Invisible Cities), Bukowski (the poet, not the writer, a qualification most literary critics would deny him), Camus, and most recently Eddie Vedder – an obsession which is bordering on the pathological, but that deserves another post – to name but a few.

I know, a very eclectic list of strange bedfellows. There is thread that runs through all of them however, and countless others that I have not cited here. They are all haunted by loneliness and belonging, space and time (cities, past-present-future) and the meaninglessness of life. As I sip my Staropramen alone in one of Lund’s landmark bars, Ariman, I’ve been pondering about how we mark the places we live with memories, some good, some bad. Polluting them, so to speak – since good memories are more similar to butterflies than turtles; they never last long, in most cases leaving behind more misery than joy.

I remember the first time I came to Lund. It was 2007, as part of a research network established by a Swedish colleague who used to live in Turkey. We were staying at the good old Duxiana (Thomas had not gone bankrupt back then), having fika next door, at Coffee Break. Call it getting old or tired, I thought I could live here. For a while at least. And I did. I came back in 2009 and spent three months here. I loved my friends but I also loved solitude. I was in the midst of a protracted and painful process of making peace with it anyway. So I returned.

I soon realized that this was not a place to “die” if you are alone, without a family – of sorts. Then he happened. I did have a family “of sorts”. Then he became sick. I had to be there for him, no matter what. In any case, I had nowhere to go (back) to.”

Time to revisit Calvino I thought: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

I chose the first one. I adapted; acclimated myself; I “became such a part of” the Swedish way of life that I could no longer see the inferno I was living in. When I did, I compared it to the other infernos I lived in, and there was no comparison. My inferno was everybody else’s Eden. A promised land that took good care of me and my son, that appreciated my work, valued equality and freedom more than any other place I’ve been to.

And what about my part in the creation of the inferno, I also said to myself. Inferno is something “we form by being together”, wrote Calvino. He was certainly right. I had made choices, not all of them right or conducive to my personal Eden. So whatever the inferno was, it was also my own doing. I was the one polluting Lund with bittersweet memories. Yes, a life spent in between home and hospital was not particularly sweet either, but there were moments to enjoy, to cherish, before everything got worse. Have I made the best of those fleeting moments? I am not sure. As Eddie Vedder would say, “never been too good at happy endings” – or enjoying “happinesses”.

When the first strategy didn’t work, I opted for Calvino’s second suggestion, seeking and learning to recognize “who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno” trying to make them endure. He definitely was one – “the” one. There were others too; but they disappeared one by one. I found new ones; they weren’t enough. The city of my dreams was polluted beyond redemption. And the pollution was getting thicker and thicker; the air too difficult to breathe; the places I frequent too contaminated by bad memories to purify.

Yet “the” one does not let life go. The precious one who gave birth to “the” one does not let “us” go. Living (in) the inferno requires “vigilance and apprehension”. I have neither of them. I have nowhere to go either. I have no will to go and start over…

“So I imagine in a month… or 12
I’ll be somewhere having a drink
laughing at a stupid joke
or just another stupid thing
and I can see myself stopping short
drifting out of the present
sucked by the undertow and pulled out deep
and there I am, standing
wet grass and white headstones all in rows
and in the distance there’s one, off on its own
so I stop, kneel
my new home…
and I picture a sober awakening, a re-entry into this little bar scene
sip my drink till the ice hits my lip
order another round
and that’s it for now” (Eddie Vedder)

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Questions about dying

I have never heard of Cory Taylor, the Australian author who died of melanoma on July 5, 2016, until I read the excerpt from her last book, Dying: A Memoir in The New Yorker. I remember reading the excerpt about six months ago, mesmerized, and yet – or precisely because I was mesmerized – I have not even googled her name. I simply did not want to know more about her. The story she was telling was enough. It had its own twisted charm, some sort of magic that should have been left untouched.

I revisited it today. This time, I have bought an electronic copy of the book and read a little about her. I came across an obituary written by one of her friends, fellow writer Kristina Olsson, who beautifully expressed the feeling of “being robbed” prompted by death: “All the books Cory didn’t get to write, the books we won’t get to read, to hear her talk about. What they might have given us, revealed about us. The awards they might have won, the people they would have moved. An absence on our bookshelves and in our lives.”

While reading those lines, I could not help but thinking that the “absence on our bookshelves” could always be filled. Yes, none would probably match Cory or any other writer for that matter, but the bookshelves would remain filled by other writers who would move us in different ways. What about the void created by the loss of someone we love dearly? Could that be filled? A partner with another; a child with another; a parent with another? Even a friend with another? I don’t think so.

This was what Cory had to say about “questions for her about dying”:

“Yes, I have considered suicide, and it remains a constant temptation. If the law in Australia permitted assisted dying I would be putting plans into place right now to take my own life. Once the day came, I’d invite my family and closest friends to come over and we’d have a farewell drink. I’d thank them all for everything they’ve done for me. I’d tell them how much I love them. I imagine there would be copious tears. I’d hope there would be some laughter. There would be music playing in the background, something from the soundtrack of my youth. And then, when the time was right, I’d say goodbye and take my medicine, knowing that the party would go on without me, that everyone would stay a while, talk some more, be there for each other for as long as they wished. As someone who knows my end is coming, I can’t think of a better way to go out. Nor can I fathom why this kind of humane and dignified death is outlawed.”

“Yes, I’m scared, but not all the time. When I was first diagnosed, I was terrified. I had no idea that the body could turn against itself and incubate its own enemy. I had never been seriously ill in my life before; now, suddenly, I was face to face with my own mortality. There was a moment when I saw my body in the mirror as if for the first time. Overnight my own flesh had become alien to me, the saboteur of all my hopes and dreams. It was incomprehensible, and so frightening I cried.

‘I can’t die,’ I sobbed. ‘Not me. Not now.’

But I’m used to dying now. It has become ordinary and unremarkable, something everybody, without exception, does at one time or another.”

“Yes, I have regrets, but as soon as you start rewriting your past you realize how your failures and mistakes are what define you. Take them away and you’re nothing. But I do wonder where I’d be now if I’d made different choices, if I’d been bolder, smarter, more sure of what I wanted and how to get it. As it was, I seemed to stumble around, making life up as I went along. Looking back, I can make some sense of it, but at the time my life was all very makeshift and provisional, more dependent on luck than on planning or intent.”

“No, I am not unhappy or depressed, but I am occasionally angry. Why me? Why now? Dumb questions, but that doesn’t stop me from asking them. I was supposed to defy the statistics and beat this disease through sheer willpower. I was supposed to have an extra decade in which to write my best work. I was robbed!

Crazy stuff. As if any of us are in control of anything. Far better for me to accept that I am powerless over my fate, and that for once in my life I am free of the tyranny of choice. That way, I waste a lot less time feeling singled out or cheated.”

“I shall miss you so much when I’m dead: Harold Pinter, dying of cancer, speaking of his wife. I know exactly what he means.


“I wanna wake up and know where I am going.”

“I wanna wake up and know where I am going.” Tracy Chapman

“…our world today is a world of “too much” … this too muchness creates a wilderness of spirit, the everyday anguish that shapes the habits of being for those who are lost, wandering, searching.” writes bell hooks in her beautiful Belonging: A Culture of Place. “Like many of my contemporaries I have yearned to find my place in this world, to have a sense of homecoming, a sense of being wedded to a place.”

Precious words for someone who has spent a good chunk of his life without belonging. Not to a place, not to a person, not to a belief system. In the sense of complete, permanent devotion of course. “The sense of being wedded”, to use hooks’ words. I could always criticize, see the flaws and walk away. Not easily to be sure, yet inevitably if circumstances so required. Ironically, I have almost always been harsher towards myself than anything and anybody else. Those who know me well are familiar with my guilt trips, self-torture and the like. So in a way, I have not felt a sense of belonging to my own existence either. I did not matter. Sounds awful when put this bluntly, with a probable implication that I lack self-confidence. To the contrary. I have felt self-confident mostly, secure in my capacities, in what I can and cannot do, avoiding things I knew I cannot do (OK, I have failed miserably on occasion, still…). But I have never had this sense of self-aggrandizement. My being was not more important than others’.

And that feeling gradually shaped the void. Created it, molded it. I’ve changed places, friends. I’ve stuck to some of course and returned to them – my “homecoming” – when I felt bad. But the real love, the real sense of belonging came with him. Unconditional love. I can write several posts on this but I won’t. That’s not what I would like to talk about.

The precariousness of belonging, now that’s what has been preoccupying me for several weeks now. The unbearable thought that the object of your belonging can disappear at any moment (life, right?). And the more unbearable thought, or sense, that even when he is around, you may temporarily lose the sense of belonging. That there might be things that cloud your unconditional and permanent love. A veil; a thin, colourful curtain. You could see through it. Yet you cannot reach to the other side.

Then you understand what bell hooks means when she says “If one has chosen to live mindfully, then choosing a place to die is as vital as choosing where and how to live.”

I thought I knew where I was going to die. No more.


My father and a calendar diary

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!”