Two days after my son Imran was born we were released from the hospital and we brought him home. I remember perceiving that car ride to be the scariest car ride ever. I was completely aware and conscious of every single car, truck, stop sign and stop light around us. My husband was driving at 20 miles per hour on a main road but to me it seemed like he was speeding. My husband being the most cautious driver I know kept on reminding me that we were driving on the same roads we always drove on. When we came home, we placed Imran in a playpen right next to my side of our bed and both my husband and I laid on our bed and breathed with relief like we just completed a marathon. I couldn’t imagine how I could go on with life if the ride from the hospital was this nerve wracking. My husband took a nap and I sat there and gazed at Imran. Something happened to me at that moment that literally felt like my soul went from my head to my toes and back to my head again. Imran had a 16-year-old cousin named Adam who was battling with cancer. For a moment I imagined Imran laying on the same bed as Adam and I imagined myself standing next to him like his mother usually stands next to him. This imagination was the scariest imagination I’d ever had in my life. I thanked Allah for Imran’s health and asked Allah to protect him. I realized at that moment how vulnerable my heart has become and how death was an inescapable reality that could take my son from me regardless of how much I loved him. I asked Allah to protect my heart and have mercy on me.
While death is a certainty we are all familiar with, it wasn’t until the past few years that I personally started to experience the death of people I knew and felt connected to. I’m starting to realize how this is perhaps a mercy from Allah to get me used to dealing with the death of someone I love. Why is that you may ask? The most recent death in our family was that of my mother’s brother and confidant in life. He came for a visit to the USA from Kenya and he suddenly got ill and passed away so quickly and abruptly. I still can’t shake it off my head how he went from an energetic upbeat person to being bed ridden and battling an illness that brought him to his end. I asked my mother at the janaza: “hooyo, how are you feeling?” She said: “I’ve experienced the death of so many loved ones so this pain is a familiar one, but I’m still traumatized and shocked!” My mom is in her 70’s so you can imagine how many people she’s lost by now.
Three days later, I asked my mother another question. I asked her if she loved me, an annoying habit of mine. My mother’s typical response is to annoy me back with a no, but on that day, her heart was still so touched by the death of her brother, her response was: “yes, a lot.” Then she added: “but everyone you love will leave, so we have to start loving a little less.”
But I can’t love any less. I can’t love my son less. I can’t love my mother less. I can’t love my husband less. I can’t love my family, friends and colleagues less. I learned about myself that my biggest attachment in life is people and the relationships that I have with them. Relationships that bring me happiness and comfort. And while the death or loss of someone you love is seriously painful; the way to prepare our hearts for an imminent loss is not by loving less; but rather by fully appreciating it as it is a gift from Allah. Jibreel peace be upon him said to our beloved Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him: “Love whomever you wish, for you will surely leave them… أحبب من شئت فإنك مفارقه”
Despite the pain of loss, I am grateful that Allah has allowed me to experience the death of close family because it taught me priceless lessons of life that I hope to live by. May I share some of these lessons?
- Be Present and in the Moment with People.
Adam, my husband’s nephew eventually passed away at the age of 16. He was such a profound and lighthearted young man. I visited him one day at the hospital when he was still able to talk and carry a conversation. After sitting there for a short period of time, I started texting and he said to me: “Eedo, auntie, tell me stories, get off your phone!” I was very embarrassed, but I am guilty of this mindless attachment to my phone that at times makes you forget you are spending time with people who might not have a long time to live.
At the janaza of my uncle, I couldn’t stop crying in salatu Dhuhr that was prayed right before salatul Janaza. I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for the two or three occasions in which I spent quality time with him and had quality conversations with him. I was grateful that I spent this time with him without prior planning but rather as a result of my mother requesting I change my work plans. Although I had things I needed to do on my calendar and errands to run, when my mother asked I change my plans, I made a conscious decision to say OK to her just to please her. Typically, I’m quick to name all the things I need to do and why I can’t do what she’s asking me to do. In my salah, my tears were those of gratitude that I had the flexibility in my schedule to spend time with my uncle and get to know him. I was happy I made a connection with the uncle I grew up hearing about and got to know him on a personal level. Even if these meetings were brief and few, he left a legacy that I experienced in those few encounters. Also, now when my mother speaks about him, I can, even if a tiny bit, understand the pain of her loss for having gotten to know him.
You know what else came to my mind at the janaza? If death took me abruptly like it took my uncle, I would regret not having an open conversation with a family member that meant a lot to me. I knew right then that I needed to find much courage within me and bring up a difficult conversation.
- Celebrate their Legacy and Be Grateful for Their Presence in Your Life
Recently at a private small halaqa I am a part of, one of the sisters shared how she handled the death of her mother. It was the deepest reflection I’d heard about death. She said that when her mother passed, she was so sad, but all she could think of was how grateful she was to have had her mother. Let me repeat it, the emotion she experienced during this difficult time was gratitude for her mother’s presence in her life! Two days after this reflection is when my uncle got suddenly ill and that phrase kept on playing back in my mind. My uncle, may Allah have mercy on his soul was a wealthy man who not only took care of his immediate family but also cared for his extended family. If you are Somali and are familiar with our tribal system, then you know what I mean. People came making dua for him because on a day they were struggling, he was thoughtful to eliminate their financial stress. A man told me how right after the Somali war they came to Kenya and his brother got ill and hospitalized. He told me that my uncle had heard about him, but didn’t really know him, he came to the hospital and paid off the entire hospital bill. The Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him said in a lovely hadeeth: “Allah is in the support of His servant, so long as the servant is in support of his brother… والله في عون العبد ما كان العبد في عون أخيه” When we stood at his grave, my dua for my uncle was that Allah forgive him and have mercy on him for the sake of all of those that praised him for being their support system. If we live in this world, we won’t die without sins. We will not meet with Allah with a perfect scroll of deeds. The efforts we put to please Allah and how we impacted others shall be our appeal for mercy.
I have to share this legacy reminder since I am passionate about teachable moments. My husband’s step-mother also passed away in the past few years. She was a strong woman that I personally admired for her love of Islam and all things Somali. When the process of washing her body was over, my sister-in-law brought the kids to their grandmother and gently guided them to say their goodbyes. Her gentleness and mindfulness to give these children under the age of 12 closure with their grandmother moved my heart. But what was so much more beautiful is when she asked the kids to tell their grandmother for the last time what they will do with all the Quran and Deen she strived to teach them. Later I met a number of young women who all said Eedo Fadumo was their first Quran teacher. What a beautiful way to be remembered right?
- Assess Your Own Life: What Message is Allah Sending You?
What a loss if we encounter major life experiences and walk away with emotions that don’t leave an impact within us. I say this to myself because I realize Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has been teaching me important lessons by witnessing the illness and deaths of family members. When a person dies, their life and legacy is celebrated in an incomparable way. The values they lived by become clear to all those that knew them. It reminds me of the statement of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him in which he taught us that the soul of the believer is carried by the angels and as it ascends to the seventh heaven to meet its Creator, the angels call it by the best of names and titles that it was known for during its life. As I observed the death of Adam, my husband’s step-mother and my uncle, I couldn’t help but think about what will be said about me if I were to die? What values do I live by that will have impacted those around me? What names and titles will the angels call me by?
One important principal I strive to live by in life is to work backwards from that image. Steven Covey in his popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, emphasizes the importance of living a vision based life. In his attempt to get you to see this vision, he asks you to imagine your 80-year-old self and visualize your accomplishments. As Muslims, we know that we have not been guaranteed life; rather death is an unplanned certainty. We are also certain that the best of accomplishments is success in the hereafter and the angels of mercy will be our first encounter with that success if we have earned it. The question I prefer to ask myself when drawing the vision of my life is, what do I want the angels to call me as they ascend with my soul?