I remember distinctly the one conversation I had with my sister, when we sat for 2 hours and just spoke about our lives. I asked her how she thought her diagnosis had changed her as a person. She very casually replied, “See Zeba, I could be in a car accident tomorrow and pass away. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen but we’re all going to go one day. Right now, I know what’s going to take me, provided nothing else takes me before it does.” That’s when I knew the cancer had messed with the wrong person!
I am so glad I had that conversation with her on that day, because after that, she and I never really spoke about the possibility of it actually taking her life. I was too scared to bring it up because I didn’t want to be negative, and I wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear it. In hindsight, I feel like I should have, because now I cannot imagine anybody being as prepared, and as brave, as she was about the events that were going to unfold in the future.
On the 8th of July 2015 (the morning after we spent one of the most important nights of the Bohri calendar staying up and praying to God for the good health and happiness of our loved ones) my parents received a call from one of dads best friends living in New Jersey, asking them to come down to Cleveland immediately. The cancer had spread and there was little anyone could do anymore. Mom and dad were on the next plane to Cleveland and that’s when we knew that our lives were about to change forever. My parents being there gave us all the optimism that we needed, especially Sam, and we were hopeful things would only get better from there on.
In between her checkups, tests, doctor’s appointments and surgeries, I would get frequent texts from my sister telling me how terrible she felt about not being able to take the parents out of the house. She would say, “I can’t drive them around because, you know, I’m not feeling too well.” I would tell her my parents are happy just being with her and are looking upon their stay in America as a much needed break from their routine lives in Mumbai. She would just shut me up by saying, “Come on Zeba, you and I both know better than that.” There was no way of getting around her. In August 2015, a little over a month before she left us, she drove my dad to the airport to catch his flight to Mumbai.
I spoke to her just before she was entering one of the biggest surgical procedures of her life and I asked her if she was nervous. She nonchalantly replied, “Oh no, I’m not nervous at all. I know I’m in good hands.” She immediately followed that up by asking me who was going to drop me to the airport the following morning to catch my flight to Chandigarh. That was her way of assuring us that everything’s going to be okay even when she knew it wasn’t. It was her attempt at making us believe that we had bigger issues to worry about than her health and that we should focus on those. It was her attempt at putting her brave face on like she always had so that we wouldn’t break. It was very little about her and mostly about us. That’s how she spent her last few months.
One of the bravest things she did, according to me, was create a living will. While the doctors would never give up on her and were always trying new treatments and methods, would pat her on the back for being so strong during the various procedures, Sameera had done enough research on the subject to know that things weren’t going to be hunky dory for very long. Her will stated her wish for DNR – under no circumstances was she to be put onto machines in order to live, and if staying alive meant she would be dependent on others for performing basic life functions, she was not going to have any of it. She was way too dignified and had too a large of a self-esteem to even think of living a life with her independence being snatched away from her. It was no surprise then, that when she was in the hospital, she would angrily flick away any gesture of help that was offered to her.
When my dad and I arrived on September 10th 2015 (unexpectedly for her), she saw us enter the room and greeted us with the biggest smile. She gave each of us a warm hug and her first question upon seeing us was “How much money did you spend to get here so quick?” We assured her that we, fortunately, are financially stable enough to afford such trips. Dad and I spent that night with her and sent mom back home to finally get some rest. Even from her hospital bed, she made sure she organized dad and me so we could get some sleep and ensured that we were comfortable.
To say that Sameera won her battle with cancer, is no exaggeration. She fought from start to finish – and she fought with dignity, with courage, with pride and most importantly, with love. Eventually, it is all these qualities that prevail when a person’s physical self is no longer around. A great example of the strength she displayed during her last few days was when the doctors would come in to check on her and ask her how she’s doing, she would reply, “Oh I just have a bit of a headache but other than that I’m fine!” My dad and I had this conversation one day at the hospice (where Sameera, and all of us, spent the last 7 days of her life), when we decided that we were not going to let her fight be unheard of. We had decided we were going to do justice to her life by serving it as a source of inspiration to anyone who is looking for some. Because Sameera’s life has been nothing short of that.
It was on the night of September 20th when all of us were preparing for bed in the hospice room, that I lost my cell phone. My mum, dad, Abi, Lubaina, you and I spent a good amount of time looking for the phone but just couldn’t find it. Even though Sameera was lying asleep on her bed, I could hear her telling me about how unbelievable she thinks I am for losing my stuff all the time. My sister never tried her hand at subtlety when it came to chastising me for being careless with my things. We’ve also had some major fights on the topic, with me telling her that I don’t lose my things on purpose and she lecturing me on how I don’t value my stuff. After looking helter skelter for the phone, including turning beds upside down, we finally gave up and figured it would show up some time in the morning. Just as I was creeping into bed, I saw Sameera’s eyes open (for the second time that day) with her gaze fixed on me – almost as if she was saying, “Zeba, you’re unbelievable!” I let everyone know she was awake and all 6 of us gathered around her bed. She looked at you, held your hand, squeezed it tight, looked around at everyone in the room, and slowly took her last breath. In typical Sam fashion, she ensured she said her final good bye to all of us, to you especially. About half hour later, I found my phone sitting pretty on the couch, right opposite Sam’s bed. It was almost as if the phone had mystically disappeared for a little while just so we could get a final chance to bid farewell, because had we not spent those extra minutes looking for it we probably would have slept through it all. Such was the aura of your mother.
Cheese pizza will never taste the same again, carrot will no longer be the healthy fruit we always made it out to be, America will never be the land of dreams anymore, Scandal will no longer be the best show ever made, Bandra will no longer be the coolest hang out spot there is, shopping won’t be as easy anymore, family vacations will no longer be the much awaited events they always were, peach melba ice cream will no longer make our mouths water, Friday nights will be very different for a lot of people – in short, life as we have known it will never be the same again. But you my baby, are making this journey of ours so much easier, we cannot imagine getting by without you. Where you found the strength to be so strong through it all, in spite of the fact that you were but a 3 year old little bundle of mischief at the time, is beyond all of us. You grew up all too fast, even while retaining your childlike innocence. You did for us what we should have done for you. You shielded us from falling prey to the after effects of something this tragic, you made us roll over the floor laughing while we played with you, you showed us how much you loved us, you showed us that the world has not come to an end but instead, there’s so much more to look forward to by you just being in it. You showed us that Sam, truly, had not gone anywhere – she just chose to be a part of our lives through you. I cannot imagine anybody but Sameera’s daughter being this strong.
Longevity is not about how long a life you live, it’s about how you live it. It’s not about the number of years you live, it’s about the number of lives you touch. Armeen, this was one of your mom’s favourite quotes and she’s used it in pretty much every essay she had to write in school / college. No one exemplifies these lines better than your mother. She may have been taken away from us at a very young age but she definitely lived more than most people we know. As one of her friends very nicely put it, she may have had few years in her life but she definitely had a lot of life in her years. From cracking jokes and having everyone around her in splits before being taken into the ER, saving her last meal for her mum, attempting to build her business in between hospital visits, rating her pain a mere 4 on a scale of 1-10 because we were all sitting in the same room and she didn’t want us to worry, making herself up to date on her vitals every time the doctors checked in on her till the very last day, to spending every available moment with you, taking you to the jump yard and the beach and capturing some adorable videos of you, singing nursery rhymes with you, tucking you in bed and making sure you were warm just before leaving for the hospital the last time, working on a plan with your dad for you to be able to spend your birthdays with your cousins in India, preparing for your college education – you’re mum had it all together at every step of the way. We all only hope that you are able to imbibe every quality of this beautiful young lady who has touched so many lives and, just like her, you continue to spread joy to the world like you have been so far.