“To lose one parent is misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” – Oscar Wilde
If I am to take Mr Wilde’s words to heart, I’ve had an extremely careless kind of year. Despite our utter devotion to our extremely beloved parents and our best efforts to hang on to them, my siblings and I still went ahead and lost them both about ten months ago.
A long-drawn-out, physically and mentally ravaging illness in which he (and us) suffered for over a decade, took my brilliant, generous, math genius of a laughing, twinkly-eyed father. Upon which, a day after his funeral, my wise, gentle, hostess in chief, caregiver-supreme of a mother promptly contracted a deathly cancer of her own and within a few rollercoaster months, went out like a shooting star.
In between, just to keep things interesting, I also unexpectedly lost a beloved khala (my maternal aunt), a dear long-time family doctor, and our pet cat, who in perfect health one day, dropped dead on our front door the next morning, without any warning whatsoever, completing what was certainly a most eventful year.
I like to think my sister, brother and I, we took all these losses with patience and resilience, in more or less stride…holding fast to the rope of Allah, understanding His qadr and accepting His will as better and wiser than anything we could’ve willed for ourselves. We did this not because we are unfeeling robots or super-mu’mins but because this is how our parents raised us. They raised us to be strong and smart and strong, smart people don’t crumble in the face of what life throws their way. Doing so would be a betrayal of who we were as a happy family and we loved each other just too much to betray.
At least, that is what I loftily tell myself during daylight hours, when the sun is shining and the business of living takes precedence over the philosophy of dying. Because at night, when the house is still and quiet, when my children are curled up in their own beds when the work is done and I put my head to pillow, it is a lot trickier to be so practical-minded.
Every night, every single night for the last 10 months, when I lie down in the dark, before I fall asleep, no matter how hard I try to not have it happen, my mind insists on playing a torturous film. First, I watch my dad die. I am catapulted, in the pitch blackness of my room, back to the night of him in his bed, his eyes closed, his chest slowly rising and falling, rising and falling. I see myself standing beside him, my hand resting on his heart. I see my mother sitting beside us, head bowed.
We are breathing with him, both willing and not willing each next breath. There is nothing different in his outward appearance to suggest the end is near, but the air in the room is holy and we know what’s coming. We don’t move from beside him for one hour, then two, then three. Somewhere past midnight, I see/feel/hear the absolutely deepest silence I have ever encountered. He is gone. So quietly, one would have missed it if they weren’t right there. I see myself exclaim through the tears, “All praise to Allah for He has rescued my Baba from pain.” and I hug my mother.
But my hug doesn’t last. Because, immediately after, it is my mother’s turn. She is in the same bed, the bright morning light flooding into the room. Everyone dear to her is assembled around her, praying and reciting, in aching disbelief that something so similar is happening so soon. Her eyes are wide open and she is breathing faster and faster. I am telling her “Allah loves you, I love you, you’re doing so great, don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine, straight to Jannah, Ma, straight to Jannah“. Suddenly, her whole face softens, relaxes, eases into a radiant smile. She recites the kalima, the room rings with Allahu Akbar and she’s gone.
Earlier, I used to always sob through this entire montage. Pity for myself, grief for who I had lost, the ache of missing them in every imaginable future that lay ahead, would fill my eyes and drench my pillow. The reality of our situation hitting me afresh in the gut: We are orphaned, the roof blown off our heads in a whirlwind of a year, wondering how exactly does one live without the people who taught them how to. Later, as a few months passed, I watched with a more grim, gritted teeth patience. I knew I had to get through this if I wanted to eventually fall asleep. More recently, and this is perhaps the evolution of grief, I have begun to watch with a tender fondness, a dawning understanding of how privileged I was to see the peaceful passing of two righteous people, how lucky I have been to be taught that to love someone, to truly love them, means to bear witness to their journey of becoming more and more human.
And is there anything, ANYTHING more essentially human than death? I bore witness to my parents’ humanity till their very last breath on earth. And because I am human, and I believe in being kind to myself, I finally know that I am not losing my mind or being weak when I keep revising and reviewing this film each night. Instead, I am taming and teaching my very human mind to accept, to submit. I know that all my mind is trying to do as it wrestles every night in the dark, is attempting to make the most beautiful sense out of a most necessary reality.
How do we love? How do we let go? How do we gracefully bear witness to the final moments of our beloveds? How do we prepare for our own final moments?
These questions will take a lifetime to answer.
Perhaps you, dear reader, are already facing these questions. If not, you will certainly face them someday. The truth is, we will all, each of us, one day lose someone we desperately love, despite our very best efforts and most valiant hopes not to. This is the reality of this world. It will not be misfortune or carelessness on our part…it will simply be Allah reminding us that we belong only to Him, that only He knows what is good for us.
If last year, for me, was the year of loss, then this year and all the years ahead are the years of making sense of this loss and deriving meaningful meaning from it. In losing my parents, I must find my self. That is the only thing that will help my parents now. Because, when they were alive, I think I tried my very best to do my due diligence in bearing witness to their humanity. Now that they are in their graves, I can only hope and pray that on the Day it really matters, I am able to bear witness for my parents again: “Oh Allah! Have mercy on them as they did on me when I was younger.”
This is what our loved ones need from us. Prayers, good works so that we may be sadaqa-jaariah, and a relentless testifying to He who listens to all aching, breaking hearts, both in day and night: They were good, Allah. They were good. Have mercy on them.
May Allah forgive our parents, elevate them and reunite us all in Jannah.