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by snaggle at 05:04 PM on October 01, 2003

We all have those family friends who are just so close to you and have been a part of your family's life for so long that sometimes it's easy to forget that you're not actually related to them. My family used to live in Chicago for a while before and after I was born. We lived close by another Indian family, the Shahs, who had two sons close to my brother's and sister's ages. Our parents became close friends and their kids grew up together, remaining very close even after we moved to Iowa. It's traditional for Indians to address any older person as "uncle" or "auntie," but in this case they really almost were an uncle and aunt to us. Since most of our relatives still live in India, they were in fact closer to us than our actual family.

Nalini Auntie was quite a character. Standing about four-and-a-half feet tall (maybe a little more on a good day) she had the strongest, most grating voice you'd ever heard. It was always that voice that would wake you up at seven in the morning, carrying through multiple floors and walls from the kitchen where she and my mother would sit and chat over their morning coffee, piercing, nasal Hindi phrases echoing down the hallways.

She also used to tease me incessantly. She was especially fond of a story from when my parents were still living in Chicago, which would have made me probably about one or one-and-a-half years old. Apparently I would always run to her (crawl? waddle? what do kids do that young?) whenever she would come over to our house, and hang on her legs when she would leave. She felt like I really liked her. Strangely enough, I wouldn't do the same thing when we would go over to her house. Turns out I just was hoping she'd take me with her when she left my house; no excessive fondness there.

One of the best things about her was that she would never hesitate to straight-up tell you what she thought. She would come right out and say it if you were doing something wrong or such. She had the strongest personality and really, no one could stand up to a diatribe of heavily accented English coming from her. You just had to give in to whatever she was saying. (I think that's how she always got me to eat more vegetables.)

Two years ago she began a bout with cancer. At first it wasn't much of a big deal, but eventually it started spreading everywhere, especially over the past two months. She was in and out of the hospital, on many different treatments, and things looked up for a while, but eventually there just wasn't anything to do. They put her on the hospice floor and she wasn't expected to last more than a few days. True to her form and stubborn nature, she got a little better and eventually went back home. However, eventually the cancer spread to her brain and her body began shutting down, one system at a time. Last Friday night I called her house and spoke to her. By that point, she could no longer talk, but only mumble a little bit. I talked to her for a little while, just telling her about how my life was going and how much I was enjoying Rome and school. I told her that the plans for my sister's upcoming wedding in November were right on schedule. I wasn't really prepared to say goodbye, but I knew that I was when I told her that my sister would be very happy and that her fiancé is a great guy and I really like him. I can't count how many times I said that everything is going really well for me and that I'm happy. I told her that I would see her when I came back to the States for the wedding. But by the end of the conversation, I was choking up and it was all I could do to not cry while talking to her. I'm told my those that were there with her that she was smiling and happy to hear from me. After I hung up I broke down crying. I hadn't expected it to hit me so hard, but it really did.

Last night as my brother was driving home from work, he had a sudden thought that he should call her sons, Rubin and Sumin, which he usually doesn't do on the weekends. My sister, half the country away, did call at almost that exact time. Turns out that it was right about then that she left us, almost as if they could feel the hole left by her passing. My brother sent me an email today that I received while I was in class. I pulled my friend Chris aside and cried on his shoulder for a bit, then left class and stumbled through the streets of Rome, winding my way back home.

comments (9)

Well, there's nothing witty I could say about that. I am just sorry to hear about your loss. BTW, go to Washingtonpost.com and read the lead story in today's style section. It's all about this Canadian-Indian mother who ordered her daughter's throat slit for marrying a rick-sha driver. Something about family honor, but I couldn't really follow it.

by anna at October 1, 2003 5:29 PM

Snaggle, I'm so sorry. It's especially terrible when loved ones pass away somewhere far from you, and you don't have that chance to see them one last time. But I'm sure that she faced this final challenge as bravely (and with as much spunk!) as she lived her life.

by jean at October 1, 2003 7:02 PM

Those that smile just before passing led the best lives.

by Jon at October 1, 2003 9:54 PM

I'm sorry, Snaggle. It's good you had friends around you.

by MrBlank at October 1, 2003 11:06 PM

It's such a wonderful thing that you had this strong, outspoken character in your life, such good memories, you'll always have those. So hard to deal with so far from home though, like MrB said, glad you had friends there for you.

by lizard at October 2, 2003 12:29 AM

I'm sorry Snaggle... you told her story beautifully. I'm glad the two of you got to say goodbye to each other.

by Linz at October 2, 2003 8:06 AM

Snaggle, I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I have lost two Grandmothers, a Grandfather, and my Mom to cancer. The hole that is left never gets filled sufficiently but you do learn to deal with the pain. It's good that you got to talk to her before her passing but saying goodbye is such a difficult thing to do. I got the chance to spend two weeks with my Mom, while she was still coherent, and we'd lay in her bed and talk the entire day until my Dad came in from work. We left nothing unsaid and told each other things we'd never known about each other. It was a very tough but needed experience to go through. I wear my emotions on my sleeve so I would break down quite a bit and tell her I wasn't ready to lose her. She would cry with me and tell me she's not ready to go but God had plans for her. She was a very religious woman and I think that helped her. I was in Utah when I got the call from my Dad. When the phone rang I knew what it was before picking it up. I hadn't thought that about any of the other calls I received that night so I'm not sure what to think about it. I was very disappointed that I wasn't there when she passed but I think even that was a force of her will. My sister Brenda and I are the emotional ones and my Father and sister Beth deal with these things better. It just so happens that Dad and Beth were the only two present. I think Mom had a hand in it preventing one more unbearable wave of pain for my sis and I. The thing I do know is that my Mom died knowing, without a doubt, how much I loved, admired and respected her. I lost a piece of me that day but have her with me forever in my heart. If you need a friend to talk to or want to vent mail me bro. I can't be there but have walked in your shoes and if I can help at all let me know.

by Ezy at October 2, 2003 10:15 AM

Sorry about your auntie, it always sounds crazy to say that one believes in these things, but I absolutely do believe that there are connections between people that aren't physical, but mental, spiritual, psychic, what have you. I think it would be impossible for us to feel anything for other people if we didnt have that connection. I also think she will always be with you too, at least some part, the best part.

by eff at October 2, 2003 11:04 AM

i think these connections that eff speaks of are more like different people vibrating on similar wavelengths. it comes down to the way our minds work. whether electrochemical or psychospiritual, when you meet someone humming along on the same path, you connect. our similarly, sometimes you meet people that live at an alternate frequency that you just admire, or jives well with yours. keep in mind i'm no 'new ager'.

snaggle, most of my solace about people lost doesn't come from memories, nor does the idea of 'loss as inevitable' comfort me. to me, the part most full of grace, is when i realize how lucky i was to have been 'right there', 'just then' and in a position to get to know them. then it fills me up with joy.

by lajoie at October 2, 2003 12:50 PM

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