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Her mother had died of cancer years ago making her the primary caretaker for our grandfather until he too passed away.

I remember her voice and the odd way she used to address herself when something excited her.  “Look at what it does to you” she’d exclaim.  While she did chores around the house, she sighed peacefully: “oh mother.”

When I close my eyes I see her vividly: thin, energetic and agile, always doing something.  The single aunt in the family she poured all her love into her nieces and nephews.

We moved to the States and it took me eighteen years to go back.

That was the last time I saw her.  Vocal cords frayed by the disease, had turned the timber of her voice from silk to sandpaper. A head bare from chemo, but nothing dimmed that radiant smile.

She told me how much she regretted taking life too seriously.   I hugged her fragile body to mine and managed only one question.  The one that as doctors we ask when we try to maintain our distance and sanity: “Is the pain controlled?”

Instead, I wish I had said: “you are not alone.”

I did not visit her as often as I should have, as often as she wanted me to.  The house she had moved to since my grandfather passed away felt too dark and cold.

So, I removed myself from the unbearable pain of watching her suffer.

I missed her funeral.  She died after my visit to Iran.

I still hear her voice…