Would you keep a promise at all cost? I was challenged with this excruciating decision during one the most devastating tragedies to affect my family. Perhaps you can help me answer if I made the right choice.
If you are reading my “Indian Trailblazer” blogs, you know my dad is my hero. He persevered under the most tragic circumstances. I know in my heart, I was able to survive my decision of pursuing my career in broadcast journalism over an arranged marriage because of his example.
One of the many lessons my father taught me was to keep my word. He said your word is more valuable than any money you would ever earn. That your word is a reflection of your character. I have held that close to my heart. But, who would have ever imagined how much it would be tested and how closely it would coincide with my brother-in-law’s death.
If you you read my latest blog, you know that my brother-in-law, Dr. Hasan Khan passed away from brain and lung cancer. He died in the very hospital where he made rounds in Chicago.
The disease so fast and furious, it ravaged his body, killing him in six months and leaving us, including his wife and three children with a lifetime of sorrow.
Months before cancer started taking a ruthless hold on my brother-in-law, I made a promise, I committed to emcee an event for the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce. I was humbled and honored when board members asked me to present the “Inspire Awards.”
The awards represented everything I stand for as a journalist, recognizing people who make a difference in the community. The awards go one step further not only spotlighting adults but also children.
Never would I imagine, the date of the awards, June 6th, would coincide so closely with my brother-in-laws death. He would pass away at 2:00 in the morning of June 7th.
The text message
It was Wednesday June 5th 2019. I will never forget the moment or time, 2:41 P.M. I was sitting in a meeting when the phone chimed. The youngest member in our family, Shan, an oncologist, sent me a message, “Can you come to Chicago, I will book your ticket.” My heart immediately started to sink and the tears poured out of my eyes. I could not hold it in, professionalism out the window. I apologized and excused myself. Shan told me, even though the battle only lasted a few months, it was ending. Hasan was in the hospital, and it didn’t look good. Hasan, only 56 yers old, was diagnosed with lung cancer in January, by April it had spread to his brain and by May he was on an oxygen tank.
Shan found a flight for the next day at 11:15 A.M. But, my commitment at the award ceremony was at 11:30. The chamber had announced I was the emcee, they were counting on me. My mind started to race, could I get one of my trusted fellow journalist to step in? The first coming to mind, Mike Deeson, one of the most respected investigative journalists in the country. I knew if he could, he would step in and do it without question. But, I was giving him less than 19 hours notice.
But, before I had to make that phone call, Shan texted back. There was a later flight one at 3:30. Shan reassured me and told me there would still be time.
The Award Ceremony
It seemed forever that Thursday would arrive. I had packed the night before. The suitcase was in my car and ready to go. But my mind was scrambling, how could I do this? Was it the the right thing? Should I be on that earlier flight? But, my dad’s words kept reverbating through my mind, keep your word. It is also what Hasan would have wanted.
I managed to get there, but not without some dear friends. One in particular who invited me to breakfast at a local South Tampa spot. He made me eat oatmeal, he said I needed the carbohydrates, that my mind wouldn’t not function properly. Reminding me it is up to each individual to set the tone, and at these times, strength is the ultimate fuel.
I walked into that ceremony, I looked at the hundreds of faces, their warm smiles. They had no idea of my excruciating heartache. My mind on my sweet sister Shala and my two nieces and nephew on the verge of losing the pillar of their family. I did not utter one word about the challenge before me, but smiled, embracing my dear friend’s word of encouragement and strength.
Amazingly, I did find the strength from my friend’s advice and the beauty of the awards, reminding me that this time on Earth can be truly rewarding. The ceremony recognized people who changed lives for the better. Just like Hasan did. A doctor, who not only devoted his time as an internist to his countless patients, but mentored children and so many others seeking to make a difference.
To even my surprise, I found myself taking charge of emotions. Emceeing the best that I ever had in my twenty year plus career. Storing away in my heart these amazing stories of people impacting our community.
I left the ceremony with not only a sense of peace, but a sense of relief. I did the right thing. I belonged there to not only present the awards but absorb all the good around me.
The arrival at the hospital
Once I landed in Chicago, Hasan was already intubated. There were so many people there. Living proof of all the lives he impacted and how many people loved him. But, I needed some time alone, to let him know I was in Chicago. My beloved aunt, my mom’s younger sister who took us in when we first moved to this country from India, urged me to navigate the crowd, whisper in Hasan’s ear, and to make a promise. So, I did. I told him, I was there that I would always take care of my sister and their three kids. The eldest, Iman graduates from medical school this year, Jennah, the middle one will graduate high school and then there is Adam, only 11, he enters middle school this year.
And of course there is my sister Shala. I am convinced she is an angel walking among us. My belief was solidified after witnessing the last moments of Hasan’s life here on Earth.
Hasan passed away 5 hours after I got to Chicago. In his very last minutes, my sister and the kids held his hands, telling him they loved him.
I watched the heart monitors from just outside his hospital room with my brother Shan. My heart felt like it stopped beating as I watched those monitors flatline. I heard the sobs coming from my sister and my nieces and nephews. I questioned my faith. But, as I wiped the tears from my sister’s eyes, she told me she was blessed. That she had 25 years with the man she loved. She told me, she loved me and she thanked me for being there. That is the essence of Shala, always putting others before herself.
They say time heals all wounds, but I know her, she is my sister. She will never again genuinely smile like she did before. She lost the love of her life, her soulmate.
I am committed to trying my best, to bring some happiness back. I made another promise, to my dad, to take care of Shala and the kids. It is the most important promise I have made in my life and I have help fulfilling it. I am blessed with the greatest brother’s and their amazing wives. I know in my heart we will rally together, like families do.
I thank you for all your support through the years, and again, if I could ask a favor:
Please pray for Shala and remember Hasan.