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.)