The Brightside

In the midst of all the sadness over Melanie's death, we had her daughter Aalia Sabine to raise our spirits. Melanie and Khurram had given a lot of thought to their daughter's name. Aalia is a derivation of the name Alia. It means "To ascend; to go up" in Hebrew and "Noble; Sublime" in Arabic.
Sabine is from the trilogy of novels by Nick Bantock. They are both bibliophiles. So, it was no surprise that they chose a middle name from a book character. In honor of his wife, Khurram decided to add Melanie to their daughter's name. For a child so small, she's got a quite a few names. According to Khurram, he'll let her choose which names she prefers when she gets older. With all those beautiful names choose from, she's likely to want to be called "cutie" or "shorty".
Aalia Sabine was born 4 weeks early, but is doing remarkably well. Thankfully, she did not have to spend any time in the neonatal intensive care unit and was discharged after only spending 2 days in the hospital. She is only a whooping 6 lbs. 8 oz., but has plenty of personality to make up for it. At only 1 week, she already knows that when she's hungry she wants her milk IMMEDIATELY and that she's happiest when her arms aren't bundled.
She has also met a multitude of people. From her dad's immediate family, her Auntie Seema (Dad's sister), Uncle Faisel (Dad's brother), and Cousin Serena came all the way from Canada. From her mom's immediate family, her Lola Lilly (her grandma), her Uncle Geevee (Mom's brother), her Auntie Rachel, Cousin Kammi, and her Auntie Marnie (Mom's sister) came from the Philippines, Singapore, and Canada. Of course, she also met her Uncle Nate (my brother) and many, many of her parents' friends. Some of these friends have known her dad since they were children. Others knew her parents from medical school. Still others knew her parents from their residency program. Some were people that lived in her home of Florence. No matter how they knew Aalia's parents, they were there to meet her and offer their support.

edited 05.02.09: Tita Mackie, Lolo Bert's (Aalia's late grandfather) cousin from LA, who also stayed a few days with us

Aalia with Lola Lilly


Aalia is not happy about Dad's Blackberry usage

Aalia with Uncle Nate
Aalia with her cousins Serena & Kammi

While we were all together, Aalia had her Christening. There was a short ceremony after Sunday's mass.
Aalia with her dad


All of the guests who attended Aalia's Christening

Auntie Rachel, Uncle Geevee, Kammi, Aalia, Dad, Lola Lilly, and Auntie Marnie

Aalia, Dad, Cousin Serena, and Auntie Seema

Auntie Marnie with Aalia

Aalia meets her new friend Dashell.

If the photo onslaught isn't enough, here are some short video clips.

Aalia & Daddy from Anne K. on Vimeo.

Aalia & Daddy 2 from Anne K. on Vimeo.

Aaalia & Lola Lilly 2 from Anne K. on Vimeo.


With Much Love and Appreciation

I don’t believe the spirit of community is limited by geography. I’ve been reminded in the last couple of days that a community can be formed anywhere and by any means. Just after receiving the news of Melanie’s passing, I posted on Facebook and Twitter. I’m not sure of what possessed me to post on those two places. I believe it was the cyber equivalent of running the top of a mountain and screaming in grief. Looking back on it, I am a bit chagrined that I posted such shocking news on such public forums. I do not, however, regret it.

I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that I have received. Old friends who I have not seen in years have offered their comfort and support. Virtual strangers helped me book my flight and offered to buy clothes and gifts for my late cousin’s daughter Aalia. This blog was flooded with comments. All these things have been made a tremendous difference. During such a difficult time, it’s good to know that so many people care about my family and me.

To my twitter friends, thank you for listening and making me laugh in the midst of the madness.

To my facebook friends, I know I haven’t seen many of you in years, but your kindness is still much appreciated.

To the readers of this blog, thank you all for your wonderful comments. I am touched by your thoughtfulness.

To everyone, if I have not yet acknowledged your note, email or call, please know that every gesture is cherished. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Finding Meaning

Melanie & Khurram at their baby shower

After receiving the startling news of Melanie’s unexpected death, I quickly booked a flight to Oregon. Her mother, my Auntie Lilly is very dear to me. Of course, I also wanted to be there for Melanie’s husband Khurram and their baby daughter Aalia. In a situation like this, I really didn’t know what I could do or say to help. What can you say or do for someone who has lost their wife or daughter so suddenly? This should have been the happiest time of their lives. Instead, they were planning a funeral. I just knew that I wanted to be there.

My brother Nate and I arrived in Eugene, Oregon at 9:30 on Wednesday night. We were fortunate enough to have flights that arrived at roughly the same time. Poor Nate had 3 layovers on his way to Eugene. In the process, the airlines lost his bag. We also ran into some problems with our rental car reservation. What’s a trip with me without a few snafus?
After much stress and anxiety, we were on our way to Florence, Oregon. We had no idea what to expect. According to Google Maps, this small, coastal town was 61 miles from Eugene and a 1.5-hour drive. We were a little perplexed as to why it would take so long to travel such a short distance. Then, we got on Route 126. It was dark and winding. We were in for a long ride. So, we talked. We chatted about how our cousin’s unexpected passing really shook us up. How could someone so young die just after having a baby? Our cousin’s death was the sort of thing that happened during our Great-grandparents era. We reminisced about Melanie and her time in Virginia with our parents. We also just caught up with life in general.

After getting lost in the dark, we finally arrived at Melanie & Khurram’s house. Despite all that they were going through, Auntie Lilly and Khurram were in relatively good spirits. We were welcomed and told that we could stay at the neighbors Ed and Marge’s house. We had originally planned on staying at a hotel, but after all the hiccups we previously encountered we took them up on the offer. At the time, I just assumed this was because Ed and Marge were Melanie and Khurram’s next-door neighbors. As it turns out, I was very mistaken.

At breakfast the next day, I discovered that nearly every out-of-town guest was being hosted at a neighbor’s home. 4 households had welcomed Melanie and Khurram’s friends and family with open arms. Some other neighbors had offered to stay at their vacation home so that their entire home would be available for out-of-town guests. The generosity of their neighbors was surprising, but did not stop there. When the news of Melanie’s death initially reached their small neighborhood, their neighbors quickly organized and mobilized efforts to help. A group cooked enough food to feed an army, bought groceries and snuck into Melanie and Khurram’s house to stock all this food. Others offered to shuttle people to and from the Eugene and Portland airports – both of which were several hours away. Many did whatever could be done to help without hesitation or anyone’s request.


This spirit of community continued at Melanie’s funeral service on Thursday afternoon. The funeral mass was held at Our Lady of the Dunes. Both Khurram and Melanie’s families were seated at the front of the church. We occupied two pews and were unaware of what was doing on behind us. The church had a seating capacity of 670. Extra chairs were brought in to accommodate people. With the addition of chairs, the funeral service was still standing room only. By many estimates, nearly 1000 people attended the funeral service. This is especially remarkable because Florence only has a population of 8,328. The funeral mass was thoughtful and heartfelt. The priest who presided over the service wrote a moving eulogy despite being a visiting priest from another parish. There wasn’t a dry eye in the church when Khurram thanked the congregation and the community for their love and support.


After the funeral service, there was a reception for family and friends. Again, members of the community volunteered and cooked a seemingly endless amount of food. I had read a short passage during the funeral mass. That coupled with my slight resemblance to my cousin, caused many people to mistake me for Melanie’s sister Marnie. I didn’t have the opportunity or the time to correct them. So, throughout the reception people shared with me how Melanie had been their doctor and how she had impacted their lives. From the many stories I heard that afternoon, Melanie had touched many lives in the 4 years she lived in Florence. Auntie Lilly and Khurram were also inundated with stories and offers to help with Baby Aalia. Melanie and Khurram’s neighbors also reaffirmed that they would continue to check on him long after everyone leaves.
Watching the sunset after the funeral service

Everywhere we turned, people were reaching out to help. None of us have ever seen this kind of community outreach. Although it does not fill the void that Melanie leaves behind, this overwhelming community support has been a great comfort to Auntie Lilly, Khurram, and the rest of our family. We know without a doubt that Melanie’s life, though short, made a difference and that she was well-loved. Sometimes, that is enough.

My cousin Melanie

Disclaimer: Long, rambling and emotional post ahead. It's taken me 4 days to write this.

Cousins at Grandma's 100th Birthday

I am fortunate to belong to a close-knit family. Whether you’re a relative through blood or marriage, you are family and welcomed with open arms. We make no distinctions between 1st cousin, 2nd cousins, or cousins twice-removed. This is especially true of my maternal grandma’s branch of the family. She hails from a large clan that has always had frequent reunions and get-togethers. This closeness has continued throughout the years.

Although, my immediate family and I lived in Virginia, we were in close contact with our relatives in the Philippines. Even though I rarely saw them, I knew most of my cousins. I had several cousins that were around the same age as me. Our visits with one another were few and far between. However, whenever I got to see any of them it was as though no time had passed.

One of these cousins is Melanie. Melanie is only 9 months older than me and is my second cousin. (Her grandfather and my grandmother were siblings.) In 2001, Melanie moved to the U.S. from the Philippines to apply for physician residency programs. My mother had announced that Melanie was going to be staying with them while she studied for various board tests. I was excited. At the time, I lived in my own apartment nearby. Being so close in age, I was sure we would become good friends.

Melanie arrived with her mom my Aunt Lilly. As part of her initial settling in, we took a Girls’ Trip to DC. She, Aunt Lilly, my mom and I spent a weekend in D.C. We had a wonderful time. We had dinner at some nice restaurants, shopped, and saw some museums. Melanie and I even attempted to go to some Georgetown bars, which was disastrous. We got hit on by a bunch of weirdos and called it a night.

I wish I could say that during that time Melanie and I connected and became close, but unfortunately we didn’t. We were both in the midst of incredibly stressful junctions in our lives. Melanie was studying and applying to various hospitals for residency programs. I was back in college trying to finally finish my Bachelor’s degree while working my way through school. On top of it, I was going through a particularly rough patch emotionally. Both of us were at different points in our lives– points that did not coincide or give us much in common. She was trying to further her career. I was trying to start mine. So, we did not become fast friends like I had hoped or thought we would.
Khurram & Melanie

Shortly thereafter, we both moved away from Virginia. I moved to Southern California. Melanie moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Melanie quickly began to reap the rewards of her hard work and it was impressive. In that intervening time, Melanie completed her residency program and began practicing Internal Medicine in Oregon, which she initially did on her own. Also during this time, she met and married her husband Khurram, who was in her residency program. I was unable to attend their wedding celebrations (they had two!), but I was incredibly happy for her.
Khurram & Melanie - Pakistani Reception

I did not see Melanie again until 2007 at my Grandma’s 100th Birthday Party. Many of our relatives had come from all over the globe to celebrate. This brought many of the cousins in my age group together again. It was at this event that many of us reconnected and bonded. Despite the geographic distances that separated all of us, we found we had many things in common. Melanie and I were finally at similar places in our lives. Our careers were in order and we were both settling down. Melanie and Khurram were newly married. Rob and I were soon to be married. This time we connected. We exchanged invitations to come visit and promised to keep in touch. Although it was unlikely that their work schedules would allow them to attend, Rob and I invited Melanie and Khurram to our wedding.
Cousins at Grandma's 100th Birthday - 2007

Cousins at Grandma's 100th Birthday - 2007

Melanie & I - 2007

We continued to share links to photo galleries and short messages. Unfortunately, because of conflicting and busy schedules plans to visit never quite came to fruition. At least, the advent of Facebook brought the level of communication to a new level. Random, witty quips were shared along with photos and general updates.
This past Christmas, Melanie and Khurram posted ultrasound pictures on Facebook to announce they were expecting. I was overjoyed for them. (Truth be told, Aunt Lilly had already been spreading the good news weeks beforehand while we were in New York.) Their baby was due to arrive on May 15th. After their announcement, I anxiously and frequently checked their respective Facebook pages to keep up with the progression of Melanie’s pregnancy. I watched the progression of Project Baby as they called it through the updated ultrasound pics and the various photos of Melanie and her expanding baby bump.
Khurram & Melanie - December 2008

3 weeks ago Melanie was put on bedrest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Their baby was due May 15th. However, because of complications, they had planned to deliver their baby on April 23rd. They did as they were told and even rented an apartment that was close to the hospital. On Easter, I sent her a Facebook message asking how Project Baby was going. She replied back that she was doing well, but was bored.

Last Saturday, Melanie gave birth to Aalia Sabine in the afternoon. Mobile photos were posted on Facebook. Melanie held and nursed Aalia. Then, she felt weak. I'm unsure of the exact complications. I only know that she was rushed to intensive car where her heart stopped. For 1.5 hrs, the amazing hospital staff valliantly attempted to revive her to no avail. Melanie died later that evening from an embolism.
Aalia Sabine

When my other cousin Rhed called to tell me the news, I was in such shock that I had to play my voicemail over and over again. Even now, I still don't believe she's gone. I regret not having made more of an effort to visit or to chat more often. However, I am thankful for the time that we did have together and the relationship we developed in the last couple of years. Like the rest of the family, we all intend to be a part of her husband's and daugther's lives. After all, we're family.

Portrait of a Lady

Photo taken by Cicely

I had mentioned in my Piper post that I was working my way up to people portraits. On Sunday, I dipped my toes back into the water. Aside from taking photos of Willie and Cicely together, I wanted to take some portraits of Cicely. She'd recently lost a significant amount of weight and deserved to have photographs that celebrated her success. Not to mention, she tried to do some self-portraits and they did not do her any justice at all. {They were bad, really bad}

It was a beautiful day. It was sunny and warm and a tad bit breezier than I would like. You'll see why in a bit. We headed off to Memorial Park after a very late Brunch. The place was packed. So, we found a less traveled area on the fringe of the park.

It took me a bit to get warmed up. I had forgotten how to pose people. Thankfully, she was very patient. I didn't get as many good shots as I would have liked since I forgot my flash and my reflectors. {Doh!} Most of my portraits were taken with natural light and some on camera flash usage for fill.

Here are a few of my favorites:





While I had the tripod out, we decided to take some portraits together. We've been friends for nearly 10 years, but don't have any decent photos together. I had my trusty new remote. I thought it would be simple. What ensued was pure comedy. Trying to figure out how to flatteringly pose myself turned out to be a Herculean feat. I would setup the shot, position myself, trigger the remote, and run to check how the photo turned out. Lest I forget, all this had my color commentary, which kept Cicely entertained. Most of these photos turned out like cheesetastic, High School friendship pictures. I did get one frameable photo. So, I won't complain too loudly. For laughs and in the spirit of honesty in artistry, here are some of the photos of us together.





Before anyone asks, yes, it really was that windy. I didn't not bring a wind machine with us on the shoot. I got some workable shots, but I definitely need some practice. Any volunteers?

In a blur...

After Cicely and I took Willie to the vet, the rest of my trip sort of blended together. Thankfully, when Cicely and I visit one another, there are certain things that are constant.

1. We lounge around in our pajamas and watch DVDs.

2. We have a few libations.
Mango Margarita - Molina's Cantina

Presidente Margarita & Strawberry Margarita - Chili's Bar & Grill

3. We go shopping.
A trip is not complete without a little outlet shopping. Cicely's friends Sheri and Becky joined us.


Me - I was feeling anti-photo

4. We have a nice meal.

Raw Oysters, which were in season


my fave Shrimp Etouffee with dirty rice

5. We have cupcakes.






Strawberry, Red Velvet, & Coconut

I added something new to our to-do list. Here's a hint.
I'll reveal it in a separate post.