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July 2020 — The phone rang and amid Covid lockdowns and travel restrictions my mother informed me that the cancer had spread to her brain and would require urgent brain radiation.

Today, I have finally found the courage to put my feelings to paper …. not because I want sympathy but because I hear people complain about what a terrible year 2020 has been because they have not been able to travel or been able to socialise. This is my story.

My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in the year 2016 which had already spread to her bones. Never in all these years of her chemotherapies, radiations and hospital runs, did I ever see her complain or even wince in pain.

I was unable to fly for her brain radiation due to Covid travel restrictions. A week after her brain radiation I noticed in our phone conversations that her speech became slower, she would get her night and day confused as well. My younger brother and I being the only children, discussed it was time for me to go see my mother.

When I informed her I was coming to see her, I remember her exact words “No, if you are able to take leave from office, go travel somewhere else, follow your passion, I’ll be OK.”

I spent two weeks with her and each day I felt her grow weaker till the day she was completely unable to walk or talk. At the same time I could not afford to lose my job in UAE as it helped me finance my mother’s chemotherapies. As my leave ran out, I applied for my ICA approval to return back to UAE. It was declined. I was worried and stressed, however I now realise it gave me time to spend the last few weeks of my mother’s life with her.

There is nothing more painful in life than watching your own parents in pain. I am still haunted by images of my mother screaming in agony. First few days I would cry myself to sleep at night but then I thought my mother would have never wanted me to cry. So I registered for an online Leadership Certificate Course with Harvard University and kept myself distracted with studies and exams. To be able to tell my mom I had a Harvard Certificate gave me a sense of motivation. It saved me from drowning.

August 2020 — I received my ICA approval to fly back to the UAE. Upon landing I had to complete a 24 hour self-quarantine. At the same time my mother was also admitted in ICU. Every minute I spent in the quarantine felt like torture.

I was blessed with seniors in my office who were understanding of the situation and allowed me to again fly back home the same day.

As soon as I landed back home, I rushed to ICU. As I saw my mother with an oxygen mask, struggling to breathe, flashes of how I saw my father came to my mind and based on the experience of his death I knew it was time …. The doctor informed us it was a matter of hours, however we were not allowed to stay in hospital due to Covid. An hour later my brother and I reached home we received a call asking us to come back to hospital.

The few seconds in the hospital elevator felt like eternity. As I rushed into ICU I saw the curtains had been pulled closed for mom’s bed … But I could see the ECG machine on top blinking red and it had flatlined. In that moment a part of me died too. I kept calling out to her but that was it. I would never hear her voice again. The most important person in my life was gone.

Every moment, every word shared with our parents counts and stays on as a beautiful memory. Today I have completed my online course with Harvard University, but the day I received my Certificate, my mom was not around.

Coming from someone who has lost both her parents, believe me when I tell you, not a single person in this world, will understand your pain or happiness like your parents will. Keep your loved ones close to your heart because in the end that’s all that matters.

Nojeba Haider is a Dubai-based professional