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Life

Loss of a good ear
... and a big heart

By N. Azadeh
July 1, 2003
The Iranian

My brother and I just came back from a two week trip to Heidelberg, Germany, and London. My brother, Pouyan, is six years younger than me (he is 18) and we are very close and always manage to have tons of fun when we are together.

We went to Germany to visit our 13 year old cousin, Arman, and his dad. Arman is my pesar Khaleh . His mother, Ashraf, was my mom’s older sister. She died of cancer four years ago and that is sort of the reason we went to Germany. You see, we were very close to our Khaleh Ashi and Arman is like a little brother to us, so we try to visit each other as often as possible to keep close and make sure that he is doing alright.

I was really nervous going on this trip, because I hadn’t been there since my aunt died. As a matter of fact the only other time that I was in Germany was when we were coming to the US in 1995 and stopped in Heidelberg for about 12 hours. After we came to the US Khaleh Ashi and Arman visited us for about ten days in Christmas of 1998.

I was seven-years old when Khaleh Ashi left Iran and I only saw her for a total of twelve days until she died in my mom’s arms on February 18, 2000. She was 50.

I still remember the night she left Iran. She had a room on the very top floor of my grandmother’s house in the Daryano neighborhood of Tehran. I remember going to her room the night before she left. She was packing and my other Khales and a few of their friends were there.

I asked Khaleh Ashi: "Khaleh, Haalaa nemisheh nari?" (Auntie, is there anyway you could stay here?) She hugged me and said, "Khaleh joon, mitooni beeyaayee aalmaan mano bebini." (M dear, you can come and visit me in Germany). When I woke up the next day she was gone.

I grew up in my grandmother’s house and so I was and still am very close to my mom’s family. My grandmother’s name was Iran and so we called her Maamaan Iran. She died of liver cancer when I was ten. I remember every single minute of the day she died.

It was a Thursday and my mom and Khaleh Manijeh picked me up from school. My brother Pouyan was in the back seat. We stopped by the store to buy some bananas, because that was pretty much the only thing my Maman Iran could keep in her stomach at that point.

My uncle Masoud (Khaleh Mahin’s husband), who had been a political prisoner for eight years was being released that day, so the whole family was at Evin prison. When we went to Maman Iran’s house, she had made ghormeh sabzi. She went into the bathroom to wash her hands and all of a sudden we heard her fall and she called out for us. We called an ambulance, but it was too late; she was gone.

It was chaos in her house that night. Masoud had come home and relatives had come to visit him, not knowing that Maman Iran had died that same morning. The massive group of happy relatives and friends had turned into devastated mourners. It was much like the wedding scene from Bahram Baizaie's "Mosaferan". Anyway, Maman Iran was buried the next day. I cried my eyes out. Even several months later, I could fully feel her absence, but I was not old enough to sense the big gap that her death had left in my life.

Khaleh Ashi and I had always been particularly close. She used to take me to the theatre and movies all the time. There is a park in Daryano and it seemed like my summers were spent there with my Khaleh and my cousin Arash, who is six months younger than me.

I am the oldest grandchild in my mom’s family, and so I was always spoiled rotten by my aunts and uncles. When Khaleh Ashi moved to Germany, we would talk on the phone all the time and once I was old enough to write letters, we wrote to each other every couple of months or so.

I had so much trust in her. I used to tell her things that I would not tell my mom. She was always so patient and rational and always tried to be objective. We became especially close during the last four years of her life. I was older and more mature and we could talk about so much more.

I knew she was sick, but I didn’t know that her cancer had metastasized until about six months before she died. She always sounded so well on the telephone and told me that she was doing fine and was planning to visit us in the spring of 2000. Even when my dad told me that there was no hope for her, I didn’t want to believe it, because she herself gave me so much hope and was always optimistic.

On February 17th I came home from the university and found my mom at home. I immediately knew something was wrong, because my mom should’ve been at work at that time. She told me Khaleh Ashi had gone into a coma and that she was trying to get a visa to go to Germany. We were not citizens at that time and we still had to get a visa to travel to Europe.

My mom had talked to the German Consul in Chicago and he had told her that she could pick up her visa as soon as she was able. So, my mom went to Germany, held her sister in her arms for 15 minutes until she died. We got the call at 3 in the morning.

My dad and Khaleh Ashi had been best friends before my mom and dad met and I knew my dad would be devastated. I went out to the living room, held my dad and he broke down and wept like a baby. I had never seen my dad cry before then.

I was in a state of shock and devastation for a long time after that. I could not believe it. I cried myself to sleep every night for a week and just as I was starting to feel better my mom came back from Germany and rooz az no roozi az no -- things went back to how they were before.

I think I was so crushed because I had and still have so many regrets. When Khaleh Ashi and Arman visited us that Christmas, I wasn’t very nice to them. We had only been in the States for three years and were trying to put our lives together. I hated my major at the university and was in a cranky mood all the time.

Khaleh Ashi asked me to play the tar for her (I have been playing for 10 years now). But I only played for ten minutes, because I wanted to watch a stupid show on TV. She tried to talk to me about what was going on with me and I completely shut down on her. I was a total bitch and I will never forgive myself for that.

We got along better after they left and we even became closer. But I miss her so much. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. Before my mom left for Germany, I played the tar and recorded a tape for her. I also wrote a letter to her and tried to be as cheerful as possible. She never gained consciousness and my mom said that they played my tape at her funeral. That was such an honor for me.

I wish she was here to see me go to medical school and play in concerts in Cincinnati. I wish I could pick up the phone and talk to her and bitch about my mom and friends. She loved Barbara Streisand and Googoosh, and I wish she could go to a Googoosh concert.

Sometimes I feel very selfish. Here I am feeling such a loss and wanting my Khaleh all to myself while her son Arman misses her every day. When we went to Heidelberg with my brother we went to the cemetery and visited her grave in a beautiful place surrounded by flowers and trees.

I cried and cried in my brother’s arms for a good ten minutes while Arman washed the grave and kissed the picture of his mother on the gravestone. Arman told me he feels very angry that when he wants to visit his mother he has to go to the cemetery. I would be angry as hell, too.

I try to focus on the positive things I learned from Ashraf. She was a midwife who helped women with special needs give birth. She always helped those in need, both in Iran and in Germany. She loved life. She traveled to Europe a lot and had many friends. She was beautiful and had a sweet voice. She was always there when I needed her and she was like a mother to me. She loved her son and they were very close.

The devastation I felt and still feel over her death made me come to the realization that I want to try to live my life so that I won’t have any regrets when the time comes for me to go. I will let my loved ones know how much I love them and how much they mean to me. I will try to enjoy my life and always look at the bright side.

If I am diagnosed with an incurable disease, I will let my loved ones know how I am doing, so that we will have time for goodbyes and for the things we want to say to each other and the things we wan to do together.

Sometimes I dream about Ashraf, and every time she is happy and smiling. She was right about one thing; I did go to Germany to visit her. But I was wrong about her leaving me. She never has. She was and will always be with me no matter what I do and where I go. I can only hope to live my life half as well as she lived hers and be loved half as much. I think that would make her really happy.

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