The door, shut behind me with force from the draft of the windy, early May air breezing in from the open window in to my mother’s lonely, sterile room led me out. To what seemed to be the longest corridor of the hospital, one that was to take me out of that ice cold building into the train station, on the first leg of my overseas trip. With Alaz, my husband, a man whom I barely knew, whom I had married after being introduced to him by one of his colleagues a mere handful of months ago. Having since known him in a highly restricted man and woman exchange.
The sound of the door. A recurring reminder of profound sadness but also confusion. If only I had known that evening was going to be the last time for me to hear my mother’s voice, smell her, hug her, caress her rapidly disappearing hair, touch her still amazingly beautiful face, kiss her, take in the undecipherable look of those remarkably beautiful dark green eyes that always knew how to find my soul. With my mother being able to respond to my embrace in full consciousness one last time, that is. Her hand in mine and her inquisitive eyes on my face and demeanor, seeking an answer for the level of my happiness in my few days-old marriage.
Against the orders of her surgeons, my mother made sure to make her appearance in the cocktail salon where the so-called happy celebration happened. I preferred not to recall any details of that night, or any other nights following it, with her or with anyone else. Yet, I pretended to be happy. Especially, whenever with my mother, during the time slots the hospital allowed me the short visits: I would put on my happiest possible facial expressions. My preference was to stay behind as the fiance, until after Alaz settled in the States to make sure it was there he would want to pursue his doctorate degree. He could always come back for us to get married – was how I tried at different times to convince my mother. She just wouldn’t listen. Avranos had still been living in the flat right across from ours. As with my mother, it was common knowledge in our closest vicinities how much in love the two of us were, regardless of how final our separation had been.
“You are not a man, if you leave your fiancé behind,” is how my mother had confronted Alaz, as he told me the year she died. Only then, did he reveal to me how she convinced him to go against my wish and decision in order to make sure the wedding took place before anyone would leave for the States. It was that day when I discovered the other reason, or better yet, the reason, behind my mother’s insistence for me to marry and leave at once to begin my own life far away from my unachievable love’s home. Her prognosis had in reality been far worse than she pretended to be the case. Worse than anyone in my family pretended to me to be the case. Before my wedding date, specialists had known she would have less than a year to live – barely a month before her first surgery.
Then came the second surgery. Before the final one. Without any of the grueling specifics reaching my ears. For my mother made my father and my uncle promise not to interfere with my newly formed marriage by telling me how serious her condition was. I would find out after it was too late for me to unite with her one last time. She had made them swear by her life – a demand too many in my family took way too seriously – to keep their promise under any and all circumstances. When I finally gathered my courage years after my mom’s death to question their decision, they both spoke up about her iron will – a trait of hers I, too, was very well aware of. Their eyes, welled with tears, voices trembling, and their faces, etched with permanent lines of pain. Whenever they told me that they had to honor her last wish – sometimes in elaborate details, at other times, in what seemed to me to be a cruel matter-of-factual brevity, I wanted to know more. Hear more. Find out more. To be able to pretend I was there with her as long as they had been, all along her final year. She must have also calculated in the importance of my studies, I had no doubt. She was so very proud of me for having attained not only admission to a highly respected U.S. university but also for having been hired as a full-time teaching assistant.
It was near the end of my first semester in my doctoral program when the phone call came. My uncle, still active as the head of the hospital he entered years ago as an intern in Germany, was now telling me to come for a visit, if I could. While my mother was being treated under his care for something quite routine, as the word was. She had just undergone another surgery to relieve her from water collecting inside her abdomen due to “a non-alarming reason,” was the fleeting summary. Feeling faint, I immediately thought back, remembered how her abdomen looked like back in Doluca, before the wedding. How stupid could I have been all this time to believe what everyone told me back then: “she is suffering from a rare case of arthritis”? How uninformed was I to settle for such an idiotic reference to her diagnosis? About two years prior to her first-time hospitalization, my mother had, indeed, been diagnosed with a severe case of arthritic rheumatism, with an unset of stiffness and swelling of her joints suggesting that diagnosis to her doctors. But, the swelling of the abdomen?
After my brief phone exchange with my uncle a sharp pain settled in me, all over my body. My head, in a swimming sensation. My breath, hard to take in and let out.
The ticket had to be bought right away. I finally realized the situation must have been grim. No other phone conversation with my uncle before had any mention of me going there for a visit, if I could. Everyone knew my semester was approaching its end with all its high demands of papers to complete in addition to the classes to finish teaching. Of all the people in my family, my uncle wouldn’t ask me to come, if I could. Also, knowing how difficult it was to attain an entry visa as an entire process, let alone in such a short amount of time? Impossible, I concluded in despair. Yet, one urgent appointment request over the phone to that wonderful man – whose name I thought I would not forget, ever, but did – in the German consulate on a Saturday morning nevertheless, made my sudden trip to Germany possible. I had to ask for two incompletes. One of my professors had decided to give me an extremely difficult time. Preaching to me about the sense of responsibility one should possess when involved in such serious academic endeavors; the honor in abandoning them altogether, if one were to take family matters first. I didn’t care less then. I couldn’t care less.
Our financial situation was not of great standing. Our salaries as first-year students were rather miniscule but our friends pitched in for the money to get me in to the earliest, hence, very expensive flight. Only the business section had seats available. For the first time in my life, I was now going to travel “business class.” What a nonsense, I thought. At a time like this. I would of course have much rather flown in the baggage section, if that had been allowed. Instead of having to travel among the financially privileged, only to end up facing what I felt deep inside me to be a dire reality. Throughout my trip of grueling length, I tried to shake off from my mind’s staging powers the fatally sick image of my mother. Trying to picture how carefully I would be hugging her at the airport. After all, she would be weak and fragile for certain, after having force her doctors to travel regardless of her condition, in a wheelchair nevertheless, to greet me herself as soon as I landed. Smiling at me and telling me that all is fine. That all will be fine.
My flight had taken me only to the company of my aunt and a long-time family friend. No sight of my mother. There was quite a bit of distance to drive after we left the airport. During the ride, my aunt told me about my mother’s most recent surgery, one of late yesterday. Once again, the word was “to relieve her from water collection in her abdomen.” We finally arrived in the hospital. Leading my mother’s surgeons’ team, my uncle gave me a brief speech about what to expect in an IC unit. I had never been to one. His colleagues didn’t appear comfortable with the idea of a young, unsuspecting female to enter the area. Since the patient was her mother. One whom the daughter was known also there to have worshipped her for her entire life.
When I entered the IC unit, my mother seemed to be just waking from her anesthesia. Barely recognizable, noticeably weak and pale. She looked up. As soon as she saw me see her in that horrible condition she became severely agitated and began to struggle as if to fend off her daughter’s image there – what she knew to be her deathbed. Of all her loved ones, I was not supposed to see her like this. What about the promise her husband and her brother had made to her? Why was I there? At the ending time of her life? With her looking the way she looked? Helpless. So very helpless. In a matter of what I remember to be a few minutes, my mother’s attending doctor added more sedative to her IV bag. If not asleep, she could harm herself beyond any more help, against his efforts to lessen her pain, he told me; for, her suffering would only increase very soon.
Before the sedation took its effect, or, maybe even after – as my mother was an extremely willed individual, she signaled for writing items with frantic hand and arm movements she barely had any strength to control. Everyone in the room was startled. Seeing her fight off what we were told was a heavy sedative that she was under. Paper and pencil were gathered from the nearby office of one of the doctors. Not being able to move much with all the vital sign hooks and various needles and bags and whatever else was attached to her I had no idea about for what reason, and in what must have been great physical pain, she scribbled something on the paper, on her lap, without being able to look down much. My father lifted her plea up: “Please. I am dying. Let’s end this. I want this to end.” Almost every letter crooked but legible. When she took in the lack of any movement on behalf of her physicians, she signaled for another paper and repeated her words. When also her second effort did not do what she hoped would be the outcome, she lunged her fingers at all the life-prolonging foreign items on and around her body. More sedatives were added to her IV bag in an instant. A short while later, all her movements stopped all at once. The life machine had overruled her will to die right then and there. She was muted.
Ovarian cancer. Once again. It had now taken three mothers in my family out of their daughters’ lives too soon. All at or close to the age of fourty-eight. My mother’s aunt – my grandmother’s older sister. My grandmother herself – my mother’s mother, that is. And when my mother had found out her pregnancy with me, at that…
For years, I didn’t and couldn’t stop blaming my father and my uncle – however in silence – for keeping a fatally flawed promise they made to my mother. I felt betrayed. Being robbed of the time I should have been given the opportunity to spent with my mother. For not ever being able to say my final goodbye to the person whom I loved the most before I became a mother myself.