There was a huge gathering in the church with no signs of joy or merry. There was sadness, more that the sadness, an emptiness in everyone’s face in the congregation gathered around the coffin.
She appeared calmer and prettier than ever. She was dressed in pink, at least now she appeared in the pink of her health. Except for her long battle, she looked like an angel descended from heaven. She wore a rosary bead and there was a genuine smile on her face. The family stood huddled together. Tears trickled down from her mother’s face. She looked ill and fragile in her white sari. Her brother stood next to her mother holding her in his arms.
Her coffin was made of rosewood with medium mahogany, rich colored, double molded furnished with gold fittings neatly lined throughout with interior bed in pink. It had elegantly engraved corner panels furnished with quality handles and screws. She felt more comfortable in her coffin bed. The priests prayed and read out verses from the Bible. The sad singing started again and they sang in chorus the same sad verse again. She lay perfectly in her bed. I could see her smiling charmingly at people, but nobody smiled back. Minutes later, her coffin was lowered into the ground.
I slowly turned back with tears in my eyes and walked to a little distance. Hours before she was alive, her dreams were alive, but now she was still. She had lived for more than twenty years and now she is now more. How could people be so shockingly rude to acknowledge it ? I wonder how someone who lived all her twenty years could disappear on a single day.
I stood there glaring into the woods to awaken myself into the past.
Two years before, we had a party in her honor. People brought gifts, laughed, sang, danced, and hugged the healthy girl. It was not her birthday; the party was given at a hospital to keep her spirits up. I was standing then by her side. She reassured me with the boldness dazzling in her eyes.
Her once athletic body was now swollen and exhausted, stricken by a vicious disease leukemia- an acute form of leukemia. Her white-cell count was 3,00,000- thirty times higher than the normal. A white cell count of 3,00,000 could prove fatal if untreated. More obviously, her bone marrow was manufacturing leukemia cells very rapidly. She was not concerned about her ill health. She just wanted to go home- home to her dog Leila, her friends, and her brother who could tease her out of the most serious mood and make her smile. Most of all she wanted to be with her parents. Her mom in a glance could read her daughter’s face. There was vulnerability and fear, but there was also a look she had seen many times when she was ready at the beginning of a race. She could feel her daughter fortifying herself for the ensuing battle with cancer.
I could see the fear in her face. I understood her prospect of leaving her family; her friends and her life, which scared her deeply. Even with all the trouble, she kept her uneasiness at bay and appeared fully energetic. She played sports, swam, went running in the early morning hours, greeted everyone with a charming hello, walked Leila regularly, took her to the vets and loved her more. Her inner voice didn’t help her in keeping up her faith and spirit. I heard her mom saying that she never complained in any of her chemotherapy sessions. I felt like asking “Didn’t that really hurt you?” or “You didn’t let out a cry!”
She never stopped walking and running – though each day, she fought back the exhaustion of her drug and radiation treatment, her walks grew shorter. She slept, woke, took up phone calls, visited the people she loved and never gave up reading till the end. The therapy exhausted her, bloated her and made her bald. The last day she complained of a heavy heart and that was the final sign that her cocktail treatment of chemicals and radiations didn’t help her. She suffered a terrible pain. She finally fell back to sleep, too tired to live. She breathed her last in her mother’s lap…
Hundreds of people rose to their feet, singing sadly to the music on November 8, the day of her Last Journey.
I walked back to her home. It looked like a deserted house with the sunlight streaming into the living room. I walked straight to her room. Leila followed me. The room appeared lively with pin-ups of her favorite personalities with whom she always lived. There was a photograph of her in a wedding gown. She had a great fascination for dresses. I remembered the words once she uttered to me in shyness. “I want you to be the ‘best man’ in my wedding!” Her table was covered with a stack of letters that she and her siblings wrote to Santa Claus. Her keyboard, her music-system, her PC sat idle. Except for her Bible all her books were set aside.
I walked out to the patio, sat on the ground. Leila came and sat between my legs, licked my face. I hugged her and kissed her head with tears in my eyes.
Life was good with her on a summer porch, endless days filled with sun rays, daydreams, books, music, movies, butterflies and bottomless pitchers of lemon juice. I could never forget the beautiful rendezvous we had, the warm friendship we shared and her twinkling dimple smile. The melody of her voice will echo across oceans and continents traveling through air straight to the hearts of people who knew her well. Let her smile speak merrily to the glow of a million pearls.
I wonder why God chose her for this. I know the drive back to my life will be an endless journey of hurting thoughts and emotions.
I stood there. I didn’t cry because I couldn’t cry. Suddenly all these strange feelings left and my face delighted at seeing Her. She smiled at me and we walked, talking to each other in thoughts….
P.S: To the one who taught me the healing nature of words and the never-tiring attitude of love. Turning twenty six today, No matter where you’re. You are alive in each of us, as Morrie tells, “Death ends a life, not relationships.”