The Mom

We used to laugh together, his mom and I. In that apartment of ours, we laughed and learned to appreciate the tiny pleasures of life, because laughter was the only cure to everything else happening around us.

She is and will always be one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. In the face of everything she’s had to endure throughout her life, she’s always kept a smile. She’s always found a way to somehow continue on, in spite of everything she wished she could change.

Sometimes, I’d watch her in awe as she took care of her pregnant daughter-in-law, her ailing husband and her cancer-ridden son. And then when my daughter came along, she took care of her too. She moved in with us, to help me deal with the downsides of pregnancy and to take care of her son. But really, she took us under her wings and comforted us as we rode through the unexpected struggles that were thrown at us.

It’s been a while but I can still see us in that apartment, trying to figure out how to schedule the day between doctor appointments, chemo, errands and sleep. And then when Safiyah came along, we had to plan around her as well. But when I say we, I mean her. It was all her. She willingly gave up time with her son, so I could spend it with him. And she willingly gave up her time with her only grandchild, so that I could spend it with her. And in between it all, she made sure that I was taken care of and that I was happy. She used to tell me that my happiness was her son’s happiness.

I can’t even imagine what it must have done to her, to watch her beloved son slowly succumb to the side effects of cancer. But you’d never be able to tell, because she never cried in front of anyone. All of her tears were saved for her conversations with God.

On the day of his funeral, she chose to stay behind to take care of Safiyah so that I could have my last moments with him. When I came back, she hugged me and with tears in her eyes, she told me that she was happy that I was able to say good-bye. She told me her son had it all before he left this world: a good job, caring friends, a beautiful daughter and a good wife.

Those few years may be some of the hardest years of my life but as it is said,  fa inna ma’al usri yusra (Quran 94:5). Surely with difficulty is ease. And she was my ease.

And after he passed away, with just the two of us in the room with him, I told her that we had a special bond: she was there for the birth of my daughter and I was there for the death of her son.

(People often ask about his family’s whereabouts. His mom, dad and brother are in NY, considering why I visit often. And his sister and brother-in-law are in Toronto. The rest of the family is scattered throughout the world. The Khan clan is what it is because of them.)

Head in the clouds

One of my best friend tells me that I always have my head in the clouds. I tell her it’s because heaven lies above it. When things get rough or I find myself struggling with some hurdle life has thrown me, I have to remind myself that life on earth is temporary; that on the other side, there lies a life that is beyond my wildest dreams and most vivid imaginations. That on the other side, there lies a life where no one has to struggle and we are consumed with eternal bliss

But meanwhile on earth, struggles happen. We finally pick ourselves up and another hurdle is thrown. And we are left with two options: we can stare at it as it continues to grow bigger and consumes us or we can have our head in the clouds.

I choose to have my head in the clouds.

Last words.

That last day replays itself in my head from time to time. Sometimes, the memories are so vivid that I almost forget that it’s already been 3 years. And as more time passes and I continue to heal, I recall things or share things that were too painful to do so before.

Like that last conversation we had when he finally became lucid for just a few minutes.

We’ll be fine, I told him. I can take care of everyone. Your daughter will be fine. And I’ll make sure your parents are doing okay too. No worries. Just go. We’ll join you later.

And he just looked at me and without saying a word, said it all. He smiled at me, as he had done so many times before. And simply nodded. And then, for the last time, drifted into a semi-state of consciousness.

And then, when I felt his heart slowly stop beating, I leaned over and whispered: Go be with God. 

It used to be…

that it pained me to see whole families, a mother and a father and a handful of children, an image of what I couldn’t be. But then, I changed my perspective on what it meant to be whole. And now, that pain has diminished.

It used to be that it pained me to attend weddings. To see a smiling bride and a smitten groom, an image of what I once was. But then, I learned to wipe my tears and pray for them, wishing a happiness that surpassed what mine once was.

It used to be that I blamed myself for leaving my daughter home, day after day, to make ends meet. But then, I realized that this was my therapy and giving her the best of what I could was better than giving the worst of what I couldn’t.

It used to be that when parenthood got difficult, I thought to myself that if only he were here, things would be easier. But I was reminded that God knows better of my needs than I do of my wants. Life will always have its challenges and the only thing I can do is control how I react to them.

It used to be that I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle it. But somehow, He gave me the strength to bear. It used to be that I wanted what I didn’t have. But then, I realized that I really did have it all—all of what I needed. It used to be a lot of things. But slowly, things changed. What I had then, I don’t have now. And what I have now, I won’t have then.

It’s no longer about what it used to be. It’s more about what it can be. A sweet daughter. An ever-supportive family. Amazing friends. An education. I may have wanted what seemed a dream but to others, I may have the dream.

Dear God, thank you.

Remembrance

Two days before he died, I was by his bedside, silently making duaa for his ease. I could tell that he was in immeasurable pain. The toxins from his repeatedly failing kidneys were filling his body, overtaking his brain.

And he turned to me, with a confused look on his face.

“Where’s your husband?”, he asked me, confused as to why I was holding his hand.

Everyone suddenly looked at me, wondering what I’d say. But I knew this was coming.

I smiled at him. “You’re my husband.”

I am?”, he asked. “Oh, sorry. I’m so silly.”

“It’s okay”, I comforted him. “It’s okay.

That moment was agonizing. I can replay it in my mind, as if it was yesterday. But it was also a moment of truth. Even the most beloved person in your life can forget you.

But Allah(SWT)…He never forgets those who remember him. There’s been countless times since then that I have felt lost and disconnected from Him. But somehow, He’s always shown me that He hasn’t forgotten me. As if He’s thrown me a rope, guiding me back to Him. Alhamdulillah.

“Remember me and I will remember you” (2:152)

Not always greener

Recently, I met an older auntie from the Houston Muslim community. I’ve known about her for awhile and have been looking forward to meeting her. Decades ago, she lost her first husband and child due to a tragic accident. “It was instant”, she told me. “It happened, it was over and I was fine. But I really don’t know how that was even possible.”

I can’t imagine what it must feel like to receive a call and being told that your spouse and child had just passed away.

But still, I smiled at her, knowing all too well the confusion that came along with the feeling of being “fine”.

And so I shared my story with her, briefly. And at the end of it, she winced   and asked me : So you had to watch him slowly die and now you’re a single mom.” As if she couldn’t imagine having to go through that ordeal.

At the end of that conversation, I think we were both overcome with emotions. I just hugged her and told her that jannah awaits.

We always think that the grass is greener on the other side, but sometimes, the rocks are rougher too. We all have our struggles and our triumphs. But if they don’t humble us and make us grateful, then what will?

Ding!

“Are you my mommy or my daddy?”

She asks this often, my ever-inquisitive daughter.

“I’m both”, I tell her jokingly. “Call me maddy.”

“No, you’re mommy. Mommies are girls. You’re a girl.”

Well, then. 

“Okay, you’re right. I’m your mommy.”

I pause for a second, wondering if I should ask the next question. 

“So if I’m your mommy, where’s daddy?”

“With Allah, remember?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

And then comes the plethora of questions.

“Is he coming back?”

“No honey, he’s not. But I have pictures of him.”

A light went off in her head. Oh, I should’ve seen it coming.

“Can I see pictures of him?”

“Sure”.

And I pulled out my phone to show her. It was the one of him in the hospital bed, looking at her with pure love.

“Oh, so my baba’s at the doctor’s office. Is he sick?”

How do I answer this?

“Not anymore.”

“Well, is he all better?”

“I believe so.”

And then, the biggest question of them all.

“So now can I see a picture of my new haircut?”

Ding!

Too wise, I tell you. Too wise.