Last year, Habiba’s dad broke his back whilst cutting down trees for his and Habiba’s mum’s new house. It was a very traumatic time for Habiba and we flew over to America to see Ramana. He was very weak and suffered a heart attack while we were there. Towards the end of the year he recovered some strength and started doing rehabilitation, but he still had serious problems to contend with: very bad bed sores, a fistula between his throat and windpipe, his kidneys threatened to fail.
Within the last week or so, these problems came to a head – the bed sores had led to blood and bone infections and Ramana’s kidneys finally gave up. His family realised that he would not be able to survive without some very painful and intrusive treatment – and even then he would not live long. So they decided to make him as comfortable as possible and not to treat his conditions.
Habiba received this news towards the end of the week and we knew that we would have to get over to the States as soon as possible. Habiba was able to get time off work and we got tickets – eventually, after trying lots of online options and having credit card problems, from a Korean travel agency (I had to go there on Friday afternoon with my and Habiba’s credit cards; we paid separately because I didn’t have enough of a credit limit to pay for two tickets, so I needed to forge Habiba’s signature for her payment).
We left on Sunday morning, getting an early and very quick airport bus from near our home. Annoyingly, we were subjected to a security interview just after we checked in. The Korean woman who quizzed us was confused by my account of not having a permanent address and currently travelling in Asia as well as living with Habiba – but she passed us.
Our first flight was at 10:40 to Tokyo Narita Airport. Getting on board was a little stressful. Habiba, while taking her bag off her shoulder for the additional pre-boarding security check, broke her necklace – beads went all over the place, and I got the honour of throwing the remainder away. I had a nearly full cup of coffee that I couldn’t take on board; I endeavoured to drink it, but Habiba was cross and impatient, so I ended up throwing half of it away, too.
Last year, when we went to America, we had to throw away three bottles of water at the same stage, so we didn’t make that mistake this time. However, boarding for the 13-hour flight to New York JFK involved no extra security, so we could have bought water for that flight. As they say hereabouts, Go figure. We took off at about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon, flew through a night (what had been Saturday night in America and would be Sunday night in Asia) and landed at about 3 o’clock on Sunday afternoon.
Before each of our flights, Habiba spoke to her family on Skype and was told that her dad was still alive and seemed comfortable – so it seemed hopeful that we would be able to get there in time to see him alive. Sadly, though, when Ramana’s first wife, Carol, picked us up once again at the airport, she told Habiba that he had died. She said that we had passed him in the sky.
After a short stop at Carol’s apartment for food and showers, she took us to a Yonkers railway station to catch a train up to Albany, the closest city to Habiba’s mum, Noorunisa’s home. Noor picked us up at the station, and then we drove an hour and a half east to Springfield, Massachusetts to the rehabilitation centre, Kindred Hospital.
While Noor napped in the lobby, Habiba and I were taken to see Ramana’s body. He was on a trolley in a plain basement room with a dozen mortuary refrigeration compartments along one wall. He was wrapped up in white plastic and a white sheet; on his head was a beaded hat or skullcap. His face was damp and icy cold, but he seemed to be smiling slightly.
Habiba was in tears; I felt emotional, too – perhaps more in response to Habiba’s feelings than anything else. She spent a while stroking his face and hugging him; then she asked me to leave while she spoke quietly to him. The nurses that had prepared Ramana for our viewing were out in the hall and we waited in silence for a couple of minutes. Finally, I went back in and we took some photos for family and friends to see.
After that, it was another long drive, all the way back past Albany to Noor’s home; then bed.