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When emotions take over unexpectedly

Image credit — Google images

Having an ill parent often means that your emotions are on tenter hooks. Regardless of how much you’re accustomed to the illness, its side effects, its pain, and its outcome; the anxiety never ceases to exist. It becomes a greater challenge to hide those emotions when your parent is watching you. You cannot show that you’re getting weak in the situation, as it might break your parent down. At the same time, holding those feelings inside can suffocate you, and render you incapable of thinking straight.

In the past few weeks, there have been times that have tested my family’s capacity in staying strong as Dad would break down into bouts of worry, fear and tears. Sometimes, Mum has held Dad’s hand firmly reminding him that this too shall pass. Sometimes, my siblings have cajoled him to not think of negative situations. Sometimes, I have bolded up and spoken in a matter-of-fact tone, telling him he’s better than he was earlier. We all have, through our own strange, independent coping mechanisms, tried to uplift Dad when he’s down.

But what happens when one of us is faced with an unexpected emotional situation? How do we experience it and release it, without falling into pieces?

It happened yesterday. As Dad and I reached the hospital to get his MRI scan done. It was pretty procedural. Show the pathology reports, make the payment, sign the consent form, remove any metallic object, change into hospital robes and wait for your turn. Dad was alright, waiting his turn. I went on to check in with the medical assistant to hand him the old scans, when I caught a glimpse of the MRI machine. The sight of that room send a chill down my spine. I had seen it earlier, but suddenly I was scared of knowing that Dad would be in that room getting his imaging done through that giant corpus. Dad was called in and he left.

As I sat down in the waiting room, tears started rolling down my eyes and my hands went cold and started shaking. Every two seconds, I would glance back at the MRI room and hear its vibrations like girders rubbing against each other. Each sound reminded me of Dad inside and another bout of sobbing would begin. I had no control over those tears, and I did not know what was causing them. Dad was getting a procedure done like previous times, I knew how it would go. I was crying and dabbing my eyes and soon enough blowing my nose.

In that one moment, I felt like talking to someone. I had to get my thoughts out. Or else I would keep choking again and again. So I texted my best friend and told him, I needed to talk. He called up immediately, and for ten seconds I simply sobbed, telling him that I had no clue why was I crying. And all he said was, “It’s okay. It’s Dad. You’re bound to be worried. It’s fine. You don’t have to explain.” But, I did. I had to speak out what I was going through.

And so I did. I told him, I was scared. The MRI would indicate if the past eight doses of chemotherapy have helped shrink the tumour at all. Throughout the past two months of chemotherapy, we have held our hopes on its efficacy, and it’s been a routine. As long as a medicine is being administered, you keep your hopes up. But now, the coming Monday would be the long dreaded discussion with the doctor. And the MRI was its initiation.

My crying was the outcome of the fear of knowing the truth. Had the medicine worked or not?

As I repeated those lines to my friend, he listened patiently, did not say anything for a long period of time, and in the end said, “Take one day at a time.” There were no false reassurances, nor unrealistically positive assertions, just a practical advice.

Take one day at a time. Make it count. All was well. And soak that in.

Worrying about the outcome would only ruin the present. Regardless of what the oncologist would tell us on Monday, Dad was alive today, hale and hearty. And that shouldn’t be clouded in worry. We can reserve that for Monday. But not today.

Dad was out in almost an hour. We signed the remaining documents, and drove back home. On the drive, Dad and I discussed his first tractor purchase in the 1970s pre-liberalised India. A tractor for his family’s farms, imported from what was then Czechoslovakia, for a sum of almost Rs. 15,000. And that was a rare commodity to have in those times, in Dad’s ancestral district, only two families owned tractors then. We discussed the mechanisation of agriculture, the thrill of driving tractors and the changing times, then and now.

The remaining day turned out okay. Noted, as a day well spent.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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