The entire idea of him was something completely foreign to her. He had an aura of contentment and dominance about him and though a part of her wanted to continue exploring, he intimidated her. He was, in his very essence different in every way possible from anyone she had met so far. Learning about his experiences was an exciting concept. Yet a sense of hesitancy still held her back from embracing him in his entirety. She was afraid. Secrets were only allowed when kept or revealed by her, and that untold past of his kept her under a blanket of mistrust, holding her back from happiness once again..
Disbelief, followed by complete denial and then shock; a wave of these feelings overtook me. My eyes burned as I willed myself not to cry “Nadia.. He’s gone”. The words echoed in my head over and over. But why so soon? And how so suddenly? He was supposed to be there to watch me get married and have kids. My mind began to yell questions but my mouth remained tightly shut. My eyes met my sisters and just like that we both knew as a steady stream of tears began to fall uncontrollably. Thirty days in and I still can’t begin to fully fathom the loss of my grandfather. The way my world stood still on that night of new year..
It was January the first and I had just come home from work. I received a call from my cousin as I was getting undressed. Her voice was frantic. Give your mum the phone. Nanajee (granddad) is having a heart attack. My mind went numb. I raced down the stairs screaming for my mother as I tried my best to shun all possible thoughts. Dinner was left untouched as my brother drove my parents over. That hour of waiting was one of the longest hours of my life.. A month later yet that day is etched into my memory like it was just yesterday. I cannot forget the look on his lifeless face as the medic’s stood by, finally giving up on their resuscitation attempts. I remember watching my mother kiss his forehead. The pain, the tears the cries in the room. A blur of activities; the ambulance, the flashing police lights, and the family friends who came in that same night, holding us while we grieved. The shock began to settle in..
A prolonged week of complications and uncertainty as we waited for the cause of death to be determined, followed by the funeral. It was an overcast day and the rain fell hard as we drove over to the mosque for funeral prayers. Sleep had eluded me for the past week as the thought of seeing him one last time dawned on me. I couldn’t let him go.. Not so soon.
As soon as I stepped inside and saw the brown box of his coffin, the feelings flooded back. I remember the mahogany colour of the wooden coffin, the golden latch and how the entire thing was draped in a green cloth, embroidered with golden Arabic verses..Details, I remember thinking, I can’t let myself ever forget. It was actually happening. He was moving on and leaving us behind…
I held back my tears long enough for the coffin lid to be lifted. I watched my father, grim-faced and moist eyed as he held my mother while she cried. Her pain was deep and etched into her eyes. As I saw my youngest sister stand up and go towards my mother, memories of my paternal grandmother flooded my mind. My beautiful daadi with her piercing grey eyes and warm hugs. I remember being the same age as my sister when I lost her, my first ever funeral.
It took me a long time to muster the courage to walk up to my grandfather’s coffin one last time. I held hands with my sisters and cousin. As soon as I laid eyes on his face, I was overcome by a loss so deep it felt as though the air had been sucked right out of me. I turned and buried my head in the closest available embrace, an aunty I had never seen before. She whispered words of comfort as I poured my heart out.
I received hugs and condolences from well wishers I hardly recognised. The mosque rooms were full. Soon it was time to take him to his final resting place. The clouds suddenly parted and I noticed the way the sun fell on his face. He looked so peaceful and distant lying there. The pain had finally left him. My brother, father and uncles closed the lid and pushed the coffin out of the room. Once again, we all broke down as the reality of the situation hit us anew.
We stood in prayer then, and I realised it was the first time I was offering a funeral prayer in congregation . People had travelled from across the city to pay their respects. I marvelled at the position my grandfather had held in the community. After we prayed, his friends and co-workers gave beautiful speeches about the role my grandfather had played, his effort as counsellor, his time as deputy mayor and the lives he had affected. Standing there, collectively mourning with strangers I had never before met, I felt blessed to have been such a close part of his life.
Just twelve months ago we celebrated his 81st birthday.. He had gathered us all and made a speech about how lucky he was to have us by his side, to have met two of his great grand sons. Thirty days since he’s gone and I still can’t make myself re-watch that video.
That’s the thing about loss. It’s so hard to describe. Only someone who has been through the ordeal of losing a loved one can truly understand and fathom the amount of devastation a person goes through. How your world is rocked from the very core. How things fails to excite you and mundane issues seem so ridiculously unnecessary.
Day’s pass and life slowly begins to go back to normal. You begin to smile again, laugh even. But then unexpectedly in the middle of a crowd you become overwhelmed by sorrow.The feeling of loss permeates your being and settles inside you. Always there, lurking just under the surface ready to drown you without a second’s warning.
Footnote: This has been one of the hardest posts I have ever written to date. Despite being such a private person, I chose to share this as a tribute to the amazing person my grandfather was as well as a source through which I can cherish his memory and remember that day. Nanajee,I miss you with all my heart.
I came out of the underground tube station and crossed the road to reach the bus stop. I noticed the bus was not due for another ten minutes and since there were already quite a few people standing around I moved off to the side a little. It was late afternoon, almost sunset and I had headphones on as I waited for my bus to arrive. There was a man, seemingly in his late forties sanding not far from the bus stop, beer bottle in hand, noticeably drunk.
I won’t deny that my initial feelings were one’s of being hugely let down.I felt betrayed. Day’s later, as I have had time to reflect upon it, I have come to feel annoyed at your general aloofness and your unwillingness to explain yourself better. Your lack of complete absence of any form of comfort could in part be owing to my enormous effort at trying to make the whole thing seem so ridiculously minor. But the truth is, I’m only human and no matter how brave a front I put up, at that moment I was hurting just like you once were.But the brokenness I feel is temporary and along the surface, and with time that too will fade. Above all though I respect you,and your decision. I see your good heart and your courage and I know you will go on to grow into much much more. I carefully savour our shared moments for nothing,not even this can tarnish those. You may not realise it but you have always been exceptionally special in my eyes,despite your many short comings, I admire you. And know that no matter where life takes us, you will always find a friend in me..
Removed, far beyond the reach of human touch or contact she lay dying. Her chest heaved with the sigh of her laboured breathing, while her body remained motionless in the pile of rubble surrounding her. The pain was continuous and unlike any she had ever endured before. Her breath came in short gasps as she willed herself to keep going.She knew her end was near, it would not be long now before her body would bleed out..
Her thoughts were filled with the memorable sound of laughter, the chatter of her big family and the crazy amount of noise that had always accompanied them. All of them had been scattered like dust, leaving behind nothing..
Cautiously at first but then readily, her mind wandered to him. A sigh escaped her lips as she recalled the touch of his arm securely around her shoulders. The sound of his powerful voice as he had whispered jokes in her ear. How she had blushed a bright red with the swell of happiness erupting inside her. That sense of contentment and relief, it felt so reassuring. The feelings so vivid, that none of the chaos caused by the war had been able to erase him from her memory.
But for the present she had come to accept the inevitable. A harsh reality had come to rudely interrupt her perfect life when the fighting within her home land had begun.
She had watched so powerless as the war had taken over, not only her county but the very essence of all she was, her family that completed her and the beauty of nature surrounding her, leaving chaos and destruction, rubble and human remains.
So she had chosen to continue living in the only way she knew how, in the little bubble of her thoughts, in the fragment of her imagination and in the remembrance of her past.
The beautiful memories formed her realm of dreams and it is here where peace prevailed and all was right with the world. Her last breath escaped her and with these thoughts she set off to the next world, beyond the grasp of all ugliness..
Afterword: Her story, like many others I have written previously, is in relation to the wars waging around the world.She is a twenty-one year old just like me who once had a life full of hope and happiness, viciously taken from her.
Relating this is but a fickle attempt to raise awareness of the plight of children of war. The situation in Gaza (Palestine) and Syria (as well as all other countries under siege) is shocking, brutal and inhumane..The true accounts of captives there and their suffering are enough to reduce grown men to tears.
These are people just like us who have no say in what is happening to their home, innocent children with big dreams now lying dead in the streets of Aleppo and Damascus never to see those dreams through. All I ask of you wherever you are in the world is to keep these people in your prayers.
Even if you are unable to help financially, simply raising awareness about the situation is the least we can do. I have always believed that no matter how small, even the tiniest bit of effort can help make a difference.
Please keep them in your thoughts tonight. While we will be safe and warm in our blankets, there will be many just like us who will be freezing to death just across the ocean through no fault of their own.
Please click the link below to view a short but sweet clip highlighting the third anniversary of the war in Syria on March 15, 2014. Benskey, the famous graffiti artist has created the paintings in the video in response to the bloodshed :
Sitting in the corner of the market, on a dirty abandoned street once so full of life she closed her eyes. She had been walking for many days now, passing by ruins and dilapidated houses always in shambles, mostly unoccupied. Her journey had been long and arduous with no destination in sight. All she saw were reminders of the atrocities committed by other men. Men who claimed to come bearing the name of peace. The reminders were painful, bringing with them memories she had long before tried to forget. They clung to her like a disease, growing in weight as the days slowly dragged on.
A flood of memories hit him causing him to inhale deeply. He closed his eyes as a storm of feeling threatened to overwhelm him, drowning him within their depths. Flashbacks of moments once thought of as fickle, fought through the chaos and resurfaced old feelings. Feelings and emotions he had long before buried and sealed shut, vowing never to intentionally dwell on again. It was a hard battle, one he fought everyday while constantly living in the present yet dreaming in the past.
He often wondered what it was about that year and her in particular, that had caused such a huge impact on him. He was unable to shake off the constant feeling of being haunted. Haunted by a past so beautifully perfect yet so embellished by his imagination.
How time had played him and life had tested him, ultimately moulding him into the man he had now become. He was no longer bitter. His past was something he had learnt to live with treasuring those who had been part of it all.
Somewhere through the rush of thoughts and the ache and longing of people he could no longer bear to be parted from, he lost himself in a void; empty of all emotion. He had been robbed of his chance of true happiness. He allowed himself to float through, finding contentment in the bliss of nothingness, even if but for a moment.