Today I lost another family member to cancer...
Dad's brother - the one closest to him in age.
A death in the family is a jolt in multiple ways - you worry about the impact it has on family members, you wonder about the impact it has on those older than the one dead - its an alarm of your mortality too. No one wants to admit that death scares them. That unknown abyss that we plunge into leaving behind all our loved ones, our responsibilities, our dreams, hopes and aspirations.
This is the third member of his closest family that has succumbed to cancer. My grandfather on Dad's side, his oldest son and the second one - my two uncles- out of a family of 9, three deaths due to cancer is already an odd of 1 in 3.
My last meeting with my uncle was in April this year. As he gave me my Vishu kaineettam, he smiled as if he knew a secret none of us did and said he does not see much life left in him. He wasn't diagnosed then, I remember telling him to not think negatively. He smiled then and said I know. He was a good astrologer, perhaps he believed the planets were unfavourable. I find it difficult to live by horoscopes. But then his prediction rang in my head as I got the call this afternoon saying he's no more.
The day my uncle was diagnosed, I remember feeling a gut-wrenching fear. The patterns are the same, the writing is on the wall. Everyone in Dad's family has a weak stomach - they are prone to acidity, stomach cramps and living life on Gelusil and other antacids. Ulcers and stomach ailments are usually brushed deep into the medical charts as no one wants to compromise on the spice in their food or a change to their diet. Two brothers in two years - the pattern is a little too frequent for comfort. I have realised with a sense of disquiet that my young-at-heart father is now feeling age catch up with him - perhaps when you lose people you grow up with, that sense of passing time is inescapable.
Could we have done anything to keep my uncle alive for longer? The rational head says he died before the pain and suffering got the better of him. He died within three days of the realisation settling in that it was not chronic stomach ulcers that were the cause of his illness but cancer that had eaten into his stomach and liver.
Many in my family seek solace in leaving it all to destiny. Was there a way the cancer could have been detected at an early stage, giving him a better chance to seek cure? Death does not wait for anyone, sure it does not, but how do those that are touched by death but have to continue living embrace the finality of it? How do you learn to continue living a new life after thirty five years of togetherness? I fear for the living, the dead as they say are in a better place, where no suffering touches them.
For the living, the scars and regrets last their lifetime.
I wish there was a way of beating hereditary predispositions. I wish there was a way of not having to constantly brace for errant mutant cells that corrode organs and then slowly sound the death-knell. For a while at least, I know, every little niggle, every hint of pain comes with the paranoia of whether I'm ignoring warning signs from my body, whether Dad is from his.
We don't have a choice, do we?? We make the best of what's in our control - just cock our ears to what our body is trying to tell us perhaps?? And even as we do it, give our best to bringing that smile on the face of our loved one..leave a lot of happy memories that like helium balloons float around, bringing smiles even through tears.
Here's a toast to all those who have gone ahead, watching us from there.. Hope you all are together, hope that we have a home to come to, when we eventually make our way there some day.