“The problem with us is – we think we have time” -Buddha
I woke up this morning with my whole day ahead of me. I didn’t have much to do – no pressing deadlines because I had met them already Alhamdulillah. Just a plan to take the kids to the park with friends, the rainy weather being the most threatening thing in the horizon. The day was mine – to learn, to explore, to do things for myself that meeting deadlines did not allow me to do otherwise.
I also had a dim thought that I should get started as early as possible, because one never knows what the day can bring. It is always better to tick off what’s on the to-do list at the earliest, because life here is unpredictable.
And lo and behold, my mother-in-law called, with the request that we go see someone in the hospital as they were now admitted to the ICU. It was just 8:30am, and since I had to babysit at 10, we decided to leave right then. Social activities never take as little time as we expect. There are people to talk to, courtesies to show, and so the minimum required staying time is about half an hour. My husband’s aunt was also in the same hospital, but before we could go and see her, my mother-in-law called again.
My husband’s uncle had had a heart attack. We were not far from them, so we left the hospital for their home. At that time, all I could think of was “How many sick people today?” I didn’t know what to expect when we got there – the ambulance was outside, my father-in-law was already there, and so was the doctor. Turns out, there was no need for the ambulance. He was already gone.
“People may not remember what you said, people may not remember what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel” -Maya Angelou
I am very awkward with other people’s grief. I am terrible, at best, with my own grief. It is something I cannot handle. I sat there twiddling my thumbs, not knowing what to do, while all the time thinking about how we plan life. SubhanAllah, Allah plans everything so perfectly: even our thoughts.
Just that morning, I had been going through Asmaa Hussein’s Instagram feed. Her husband had gotten shot in Egypt a year or so ago while they were there on holiday, so it was just her and her child now. It occurred to me how blessed I was to have my husband, to hold close, to spend time with, to lean on. It reminded me of how grateful I should be. Looking at this new widow, I tried to put myself in her shoes, and it was truly depressing. After being so thankful for my husband, hours later I was imagining what my life would be like without him. That was hard.
The death was sudden. He had stood up to get from the chair to his wheelchair, when his heart had stopped. This image, of death happening mid-movement, haunted me. It waits for no one, truly. He was not ill, beyond the reason for him needing a wheelchair. All of this was very unexpected, and everyone was still coming to terms with it.
I had to make myself useful. While the family got ready for visitors – we raided cupboards for glasses and coffee cups, washed, dried, cleaned and arranged – it occurred to me how a simple thing like a loss of life turns your entire world upside down. Privacy was disregarded as family and help went through their things as they tried to orient themselves in this home. Other people were now bathing the deceased’s body, something only his wife would have previously had privilege to.
Despite my discomfort at the entire situation, when we were leaving at the end of it all, the new widow’s daughter looked at me and said, “Thank you.” “I didn’t do anything,” I said. “You were here,” she replied. That touched me. Even though I felt like I was avoiding everyone because I didn’t know how to respond, just the fact that we were all there – in our own capacity – meant so much to the family. Alhamdulillah!
“Be grateful for what you have, before you are forced to be grateful for what you had“
I thought about how everyone’s life stops when one person’s life stops. There were people there from work, at just 10 in the morning. They were helping out, standing around, offering a shoulder. Their meetings for the day would have been cancelled, all other pressing duties pushed aside. There was nothing more important than death, than family, than the life of those who were still there.
A famous ayah is: ﴾إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا ﴿٦
For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease [94:5]
A common misunderstanding is that ease comes after difficulty, but that’s not true. In times like this, when you’re still struggling to cope with what has happened, Allah gives immense ease. There are so many people to take care of all the mundane details, to take care of the grieving family, and to make the whole process so much easier.
It is my first big event as a daughter-in-law. I don’t know what is expected of me or how I will fare, but even though I thought about how much I hate being in situations like this, I realized it is a part of life. We used to tag along with my mother to pay our respects before, but now it is my responsibility to be a part of this family and to help out. How we grow.
“There is nothing quite like death to awaken us”
I have been thinking about death a lot recently. Before I sleep at night, I wonder if I will wake again. I wonder if this is my time, if I’ll stop breathing in my sleep and my husband will wake up to a cold body. The thought really scares me, and I think back to what I have done with my day. Was it enough, if this is my end? Did I make the most of my time that I can at least have a hope towards Jannah? The answer to that is always a ‘no’. I always feel like I wasted my day in mundane things.
I know I don’t necessarily have to die in my sleep, but given that sleep is a minor death, it does get me thinking. When I’m in the middle of doing something I’m not particularly proud of, I wonder if that will be my moment. Will I just keel over and die? Will my life stop in the middle of an action the way it stopped for him?
The knowledge that there is no going back, there is no stopping it, there are no last few moments when we can make enough repentance to cover every moment we have disobeyed Allah, is supremely scary. This type of thinking leaves me gasping for breath because my imagination closes in on me and leaves me in my grave, where there is no turning back. There is no second chance.
We need more moments like that. Moments of fright to remind us where we are headed. To set us straight when we veer off the path. Moments that push us to seek forgiveness, to repent, to beg the mercy of our Rabb, with the conviction that He will forgive us. We need moments like that when we get so lost in life, that we remind ourselves of our purpose.