She embraces me like she’s receiving me for the first time every time I come home. Says ‘Ah! It wasn’t nice without you!!You went away for sooo long!’ Hugs me tight and lets me in. When actually, I had only been out for a few hours…I thought it wouldn’t matter, as I’ve been out of country for four years now. But no, I was wrong. Every time she receives you, is like the first time she ever had you back.
She wakes up and tells me she’s feeling tired and lazy today. My immediate reaction: “Yaaay! Let’s order food! And sleep a bit more!! 😀’ But no, that’s exactly when she battles herself, and takes all the clothes from the laundry and drops them off for cleaning, cleans her room, and goes to the kitchen, prepares our breakfast, and lunch for daddy, says ‘don’t tell dad what am doing, let’s surprise him with his favourite lunch’, leaving me standing there in awe, wondering, what did she mean when she said she was tired?
I tell her I have a headache, and she leaves all that she does to apply a cologne, massage my head until I fall asleep, no matter how numb her hand feels, how swollen her feet gets, she feels my pain more than her own. She asks me so humbly ‘could you massage my arms for a while?’ I’d finish all my work and sit by her for it, only to hear ‘alright dear, enough. You’ll get tired’
Every time she looks at me, she smiles. Like really. She gives me her attention, even if I’m terrible at keeping away my phone. I tell her ‘I love yu ma’ a hundred times whenever I feel like no matter where she is or what she’s doing, so I asked her once ‘Doesn’t it annoy you?’ ‘Never’ she replies, ‘it means so much to me’.
She displays her innocence, so admirably. ‘Knowledge is in asking what you don’t know’ she says. Slowly slowly as she learns to type, replies in English on facebook or whatsapp, learns her spellings, she looks at me with so much excitement when she receives a reply from my sisters or their children. What she once taught me, now I teach her. But she doesn’t mind. She pushes me to pray. Every night, while I pull an all nighter, she tirelessly and patiently says, ‘goodnight! Sleep early Sameera. The night is for rest. Don’t tire yourself and just work during the day’ .There is NEVER a ‘How many times should I tell you to sleep early?!!’
Every day, father calls her after the afternoon prayer, even if they have nothing to talk about. It’s a simple ‘I miss you dear’ gesture disguised in their tete-a-tete. She’d stop what she’s doing, even if it meant to switch off the stove half way through cooking, and give him his time. ‘What’s up’ he asks. ‘Good news always’ she says. Every single day. More than thirty years in marriage and it’s still like a new bond every day.
She’d always leave the best piece of bread, chicken or apples or anything, for me, and take the one less sweeter. I finished making my tea, and when it smelled good, she said ‘pour me some too’, instead of a ‘sure ma!’ I said ‘why couldn’t you say yes when I asked you if you wanted!!? I didn’t make enough now’ … ‘ Okay okay noooo problem at all sweety, enjoy your tea. I didn’t want it really. Just suddenly thought I’d taste a bit’ I knew I hurt her, but felt so ashamed to even say sorry. I couldn’t sip my tea. How she hides her feelings, like as if we can’t take her pain. Actually, in reality, we can’t. If this was just onereaction that she hid, how many times would we have done this to her?
I lay by her side, cuddled her huge tummy. I saw pictures of her beautiful youth. Once she said ‘this happened after I gave birth to you and the last one’ (she gave birth to five girls by the way). It never became smaller after the last one, she said- her tummy. I didn’t understand, but she said ‘it was worth it’
If I try to do something new to make it all up for her, I fail. I know I fail.
My mother. Our mother.
Sa’id ibn Abi Burda said, “I heard my father say that Ibn ‘Umar saw a Yamani man going around the House while carrying his mother on his back, saying, ‘I am your humble camel. If her mount is frightened, I am not frightened.’ Then he asked, ‘Ibn ‘Umar? Do you think that I have repaid her?’ He replied, ‘No, not even for a single groan.’
PS- she is very beautiful by the way, mashaAllah.
Mom’s two-year tooth-and-nail battle with cancer has ended. No matter how tightly I shut my eyes and remember her loving hugs, bright smile, or warm lap, they will not manifest. But if I can learn from this loss, perhaps I can turn grief into something positive, and thereby honor mom’s memory.
Cancer and death have disrupted the calm of my life, creating ripples of change. Change for good. Alhumdulillah.
Death has taught me to live
My picture of life has often felt foggy. What is my purpose? It’s a tough question.
Contrast can create meaning. Take light for example; without darkness, it is meaningless. Subhan’Allah. In the same vein, I think to myself: how can I really live without understanding death?
When mom’s soul left her body and we began the preparations for her burial, I thought about death for the first time. Yes, I’ve heard lectures about the afterlife since I was a child. But, in all honesty, I had never contemplated it. Death was always taboo.
Exploring death has been liberating. It has helped me break the choking fetters of materialism in favor of something divine. It has helped me appreciate my responsibility to myself, family, and community. My picture of life has gained focus. The colors are vibrant, hues are crisp, and lines are clear.
Death is not morbid. In fact, I have never felt so alive.
Motherhood, martyrdom, and my motivation
In 52 years, my mom never received an award for her career. Because, as a stay-at-home mom, she sacrificed her career for us. She never wore high fashion clothes. Because, as part of a working-class family, she saved all of her money for us. She never complained about her circumstances in life. Because, as a compassionate mom, she never wanted to stress us.
My mom didn’t fight in a war, but I believe she was a martyr. At 26, I finally realize that she gave the world for me. Now, I want to be her award. I want to perfect my character, improve my world, and pleasure my God to honor her.
Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, and Johann Bach are part of a long list of artists who were finally celebrated after their death. Their work was ahead of their time. Perhaps, the same is true for the stay-at-home mom, an occupation that has unfortunately lost its luster in our American culture.
Cancer as a sheep in wolf’s clothing
When I realized the extent of mom’s cancer, anxiety built in my chest. I saved my tears for God, a sort of ghusl that watered the parched soil of my heart. It softened my being and allowed faith to take root, giving life to a new understanding of patience.
Trauma, in all of its pain, can still have positive results. In fact, our Prophet (PBUH) exemplifies this. Before he was born, his father passed away. At six, his mother passed away. And two years later, his grandfather passed away as well.
In math, an inflection point is the point when a line changes direction. Allah (SWT) promises that each of us will be tested with loss of health, wealth, and life, but glad tidings are reserved for those who patiently persevere through such challenges (2:155). Perhaps these events can serve as an inflection point, catalyzing positive change in our lives. While we have no control over what happens to us, we do have control over our response.
It is difficult to say out loud, but much good has come from cancer. My picture of life has become clearer, providing me with a better sense of purpose. I am motivated to excel in good work to honor my mom. Our family has come together in a way that has never happened before. I have invested into my relationship with Allah (SWT), making him a close friend and confidant.
With so many things to be thankful for, it is difficult to harbor anger towards this disease and its unfortunate result.
A couple of quick asks that I have of you:
- If this reflection has sparked new thoughts, please spend five minutes to share the ideas with family or friends. Insha’Allah any good that results from your ideas will illuminate my mother’s grave.
- Thank your mother and father. Without them, you would not be reading this message today.