Love you forever, Rajen.
Losing someone close to you is hard.
Losing someone at a young age when they still had a full life ahead of them is painful.
Losing someone that you considered a big brother, and having to say goodbye to him after battling one of the most painful cancers, is life changing.
Two and a half years ago, I had to say goodbye to my cousin, Rajen who died at the age of 37 of gastric cancer. It was around Thanksgiving 2007 when we got the bad news from the doctors. They said that the cancer had returned and had taken over his body and there was no way to treat it. They estimated that he had about a month to live at best. They said that his body would just start to deteriorate and all the systems would start to shut down, including his memories.
It was Rajen’s last wish to die in San Diego where his sister resided. He had fallen in love with San Diego after his numerous visits and was planning on moving there someday. So, his parents put both houses on the market and packed everything up to move to San Diego. They moved to the West Coast around Christmas.
He loved computers and was very tech savvy. When he had left Minnesota, he made sure that his laptop was right beside him in his bed. As weak as he was, he wanted to stay connected. We would chat for hours and hours via messenger everyday. Some days the conversations were shorter depending on his strength. I’m not sure why I did, but I started gathering photos and sending them to him in various albums online. I would send him old family photos, dog photos and even took photos of random things like the snow outside. Even though he was a thousand miles away, taking photos gave me a deep connection to him and was a coping mechanism for myself since I couldn’t be there with him all the time. There were things that he would never see or experience again but I wanted him to somehow still experience that emotion by seeing it. I remember the very last email I received from him. There was no title but in the body of the email, it said “Keep taking pictures…”. I later found out that he was looking at my pictures along with his own in a constant slides show each and everyday. I think deep down he was forcing his memories from fading away. By looking at the photos daily, it was always fresh in his memory. This was my motivation of why I decided to take my hobby of photography and develop it into something more. It was a life changing experience for me.
In early January 2008, I got a call from Sandra, Rajen’s sister. She said that Rajen was not going to make it through the week and to come to California if I wanted to see him alive. So, I got on a flight and went. I vividly recall the last days I spent with him. He was frail, weak, thin and in so much pain. But he fought each day to live, and struggled through the pain in order to give his loved ones more memories. That last week that I spent with him was amazing. Although I was devastated by the inevitable outcome, I was happy that I was able to be there to say goodbye and show him how much I loved him. I remember one of the nights I layed beside him; I told him that I never considered him just a cousin, that I considered him my brother. It was the first time I saw him cry. He said he feels the same way too and he has always considered my sister, Mandy and I, his sisters as well. A few days later, I said goodbye to him and headed back to Minnesota. It was the single hardest and painful thing that I’ve endured. I gave him a gentle embrace, and told him that I will always remember him. I knew that was the last time I would see him alive.
Two and a half years later, I still think about him every day. Some days are harder than others. Some are filled with joyful and silly memories like him hanging me upside down and tickling me until I cried, or him teaching me how to slow dance but I always kept leading or the nuisances of stamp collecting. Others are filled with sadness like seeing the excruciating pain he endured during his last days or remembering the look in his eyes as we said goodbye forever. But I forge on to make the most of each and every day.
Today I want to wish Rajen a wonderful 40th birthday. Here is a video I’ve created of photos (not all are mine) taken of Rajen throughout the years.
I will love you forever my cousin, my brother, my hero.