Für meine liebe Lilia Felice Siede, die ich dank meiner liebsten Yasemin Ergün als Neugeborenes in meinen Armen als die “hülya Teyze” halten durfte: Meine herzlichsten Wünsche zum Geburtstag! For my dear Lilia Felice Siede, whom I was allowed to hold in my arms as a newborn as her “Auntie hülya” thanks to my dearest Yasemin Ergün: My most heartfelt wishes for your birthday!
I have written this poem also to honor the memory of my long-deceased cousin, Yasemin Ergün from her heart who was robbed by a fatal cancer of any opportunity beyond a mere one year to celebrate her daughter’s much sought birth.
To all cancer survivors: May you live long, healthy lives with your loved ones!
Lilia, *mein Schatz
you won’t know me
I left too soon
you were born of love and longing so strong
made me feel immortal by your side
merely a year, though, is all we had aside
you are a young woman now,
beautiful, bright and loved very much
no longer the tiny darling in my arms
precious but ever so fragile,
sending me beams for immense joy
shaming even the cancer of its call
it is your birthday today
I am not there for you again
but don’t be sad as you are not on your own
also the one with whom you locked eyes long ago
in my in-laws’ house, on the ground story
when we were cradling you, a newly born beauty
the one who probably mirrored me to you
for the color of her skin, hair and eye
whose both arms better secured you many a meal
before you glided into a sleep so deep and real
embraces you always with my and her love combined
whom I introduced to you in her mother’s tongue
you know, mein Schatz, you have met her online anew
the one who signs her e-mails hülya *Teyze for me and you
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* (German): my treasure; my darling; my sweetheart
His mother died when she was 48. His brother died, having been able to pass a mere 32 birthdays. His sister died also at the age of 48. He had to give his daughter to death when she was only 31. He had cancer before she was diagnosed with hers. Soon after she died, his body formed another type. A third struck him last week. Not metastasis of his first, or the second. A new one.
He is 82.
He practiced medicine right after his graduation from the medical university in Istanbul, Turkey. Having served for decades in Germany as the head physician in the hospital from where he retired years ago. He knows what must be done when, whenever medical interferences are concerned. He has led countless surgical procedures during his tenure. He has tended to post-surgery needs of his numerous patients of all ages and walks of life during his time.
The medical staff of the hospital where he has had two surgeries in short intervals, responded to his two calls for alarm after half an hour had passed. One was for dangerously low, the other for dangerously high blood pressure – both along with breathing difficulties. Half an hour of a wait! On the night of his surgery! Why not take longer to let the patient develop fatal post-surgery complications? He lived 82 years, after all, isn’t that enough?
Describing the ordeal she and her 55-year-old husband had because of his cancer and ensuing death, Cheryl Eckl makes a remarkable statement in her essay, Elder Grief: The Hidden Burden of Advanced Age. Why growing really old may be worse than dying young (Published on May 24, 2012 by Cheryl Eckl in A Beautiful Grief: “[…] what he was not suffering was the additional burden of advanced age.” Referring then to her mother’s declining health at a very advanced age, Eckl considers “that perhaps even worse than dying young is living to be very old, with little quality of life due to several serious ailments, but not being sick enough to leave this world.” Her mother, Eckl writes, knows several people “who would be very happy not to wake up tomorrow.”
On this blood-freezing sentiment, Eckl contemplates as in the following: “That is the cruelty being suffered in obscurity by millions of the elderly who are shut away in nursing homes and senior living centers across the United States. Bored, lonely, in pain, or so demented or sedated that they don’t know who they are, these are the forgotten mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunties, and uncles who deserve better attention than they are receiving.”
For the onset of her cancer and the metastasis of it, my mother was treated through surgical procedures in Turkey and in Germany. Three decades ago. My mother didn’t want to be advanced in age to the extent that she would no longer be able to live a life of quality. She got her wish.
My uncle’s “case” is happening in Germany. Today.
The United States, in other words, is not the only cultural entity where this “cruelty” goes on.
For people who are among those living beyond their expected age of death – whatever that may be, Eckl invites us to imagine how for them “the borders of daily experience narrow as distress grows and the ability to perform all but the simplest of tasks disappears.” What does Eckl suggest as a balm for a life having to consist of “a succession of doctor appointments and increasingly invasive and dehumanizing treatments”? Love and our presence in their lives.
He is 82. He has always been present in my life. And still is. In Eckl’s words, he has never deprived me of his “heartfelt presence” (Eckl) Or, of his love. Unconditional love. After my mom’s death, he told me he finds in me his mother – “Anamsın” and his sister (my mom) –“Bacımsın.” After his daughter’s death, he saw her in me – “Kızımsın.”
In him, I always found a fully involved father. I still do. I went through many ordeals. He was there for me during each one of them. I love him so.
Where is, though, my heartfelt presence when he needs it the most?
Dear Reader, on November fourth of 2012, I had created this post for the first time. I am re-posting my entire reflection because this Sunday comes only a day after the birthday of my cousin’s daughter whom I had talked about along with the love and death story of my cousin. Lilia, her daughter is always in my mind, so is Yasemin. Yesterday, I wrote a poem on the occasion of the lovely Lilia’s birthday, and today, I am having my old post honor both, mother and daughter here once again. But I am also reminiscing with the importance and immortality of love in our lives.
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Sometime between 43 BC and AD 17, Publius Ovidius Naso is claimed to have made the following statement that I take to the heart: “Happy are those who dare courageously to defend what they love.” The “what” in Ovid’s assertion leaves, to me, open doors for us to interpret in a way that is most befitting to our own lives. For me, it also equals the “whom”. Whom did we love, or do we love and will love? Before I get into a deliberation, though, on the love concept of my choice today – love for a man, I must mention how fortunate I have been all my life (thus far) to have experienced thoroughly the love of my parents, my extended family members, true friends – dost, the singular form of a gender-neutral noun, dostlar in the plural – as we distinguish them in Turkish from good-times-only-friends, and that of my one and only child: my daughter. Oh, have I been ever living that love to my limits!
Today, though, my thoughts take me back in many years. To my first love. A mere scanning of a few examples of the world art – in poetry and music alone – and philosophy, will remind us how much emphasis the unexplainable transformation process we call “love” has received over the centuries in the human psyche. In those brilliant individuals, whose words on the subject appear in a myriad of citations. Time and again.
I count as one concrete example of an anti-thesis to those in Ovid’s claim. Having been unhappy for several decades for not having ‘dared’ “courageously to defend what” I loved with my first love. Having nurtured for too long my conviction that such happiness will never come my way ever again. Devastated. In despair. In chronic pessimism. Waiting. All along building a life that resembled to me the action behind the use of the sticks in the Mikado Game: Bundled and dropped, re-bundled and dropped, re-bundled again and dropped again (and so on). That lost love was beyond restoration for me.
Drifting to another first love… That of Yasemin.My best friend, my sole confidante, my beloved sister, my guide… before my daughter. My cousin, fifteen years my junior – yes, not a biological sister but a sister nevertheless.
“He is too young for you,” her parents told her – the way my parents had spoken to me about their “he is no-match to you” conclusion… “He has too much of an outgoing personality; you will be left behind,” her parents also said to her – almost echoing my own parents way back when. She was confiding in me, seeking my advice. I encouraged her with passionate confidence in my articulation of every word: “Stand by your own decision. Otherwise, you will regret giving in for the rest of your life.” She did stand by her own decision. Unlike I, she achieved happiness with the one she loved first, for she ‘dared’ “courageously to defend what” she loved in him and the who she became with him. Her courage didn’t stop there. She also insisted on going through grueling emotional turmoil to have her baby, Lilia Felice, now an eleven-year old.
Less than a year after her child was born, cancer had invaded Yasemin’s body. It had been living and growing inside her all along during her pregnancy. A fact sheet that came in too late.
I am more fortunate. Not for living beyond her. Living without a meaning in one’s life only delivers emptiness to me after all. Love for a man – as I have started out my reflection today, eliminates such void in me on the personal level. We all embody distinctive levels about us, as we have different roles and functions in our lives. The mother, the father, the daughter, the son, the husband, the wife, the spouse, the companion, the partner, the aunt, the uncle, the grandfather, the grandmother, and so on. But then, there is the “I” we take with us everywhere at all times. At the deepest personal level. I see it as not only our privilege but also our right to fulfill any emptiness inside that unsubstituteable “I”. In order to achieve happiness in what we have: one life, and one life only. One life that can cease to be for us in any split-second. As it had for Yasemin at the age of thirty-one. With her having to leave her one-year old child behind. Before her life ceased to be, however, she dared; she defended; she achieved what to her was an extra-ordinary cause for happiness.
Late, too late or not, I realize and admit one fact about myself at last: The more I aged, the more I feared leaving life without a similar experience. I fear no longer. One outstanding feel has come my way. One that continues to enable me with a fundamental transformation toward bettering myself through intellectual, psychological but also emotional growth I had not known before. I have not refused it. For this or for that reason… I have not been able to refuse it, neither have I wanted to: A late love.
Unlike my first time, I no longer lack the courage to ‘defend what I love’. I finally also know my “what” in Ovid’s pronouncement: My love not only for him but also for myself in this love.
Whenever I allow myself to ask, if my love is returned, and thus, lead myself to doubt, one outcome leaves no room for a question: Love’s beauty has been real to me. It is being real to me. Of utmost importance, though, is the fact that the spectacular knowledge of this unique life experience is a vital part of my existence and will nourish my soul for my remaining time.
Like Ovid’s conviction, a collection of words on love by Lao Tzu is also subject to many quotations: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” May your days meet and embrace ‘deep love’ of mutual nature and may that experience lend you strength.
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