In the event of their demise

Eds. Note: Guest columnist Na’aisha Austin returns with a beautiful follow up on finding love again after loss. Read her first piece, Memoirs of the Beautiful Widow, here

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Surely on that Day, the residents of paradise will be busy with their joy; they and their spouses will be in shady groves reclining on soft couches. They will have all kinds of fruit and they will get whatever they call for, they will be greeted with the word salaam from the Lord of Mercy.  – Sura Ya Seen (Qur’an 36:55-58)

Bimillah.

I awake in a sea of confusion, body quivering, chest heaving. I glance over to my left. There he is, sleeping, lightly snoring. Apparently, we succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep mid-conversation last night.

Neither one of us is under the covers, but I’m sweating profusely.

“My phone, my phone. Where’s my phone?” I whisper in the obsidian darkness.

One press of the button on my smudged iPhone reveals that it is 12:37 a.m. As I stare at the regal and romantic wedding photograph of us set as my wallpaper, it hits me that today is September 8th.

Qaadir, my first husband, died seven years ago today.

With the newness that fills my environment, heart and surroundings lately, it can be easy to forget, or at least to not anticipate a resurgence of trauma. Sometimes I’m filled with the grateful knowledge that I’ve transformed my pain into growth; sometimes my heart skips a beat, knowing that death can happen to any of us at any given time.

Even though I’m known for my extraordinary memory, I open my Google Docs app and re-read the precise details in the janazah obituary I wrote for Qaadir in 2008.  Every year, I awaken at the same time that I watched his death transpire. I sit back up, glancing at my husband sleeping peacefully across the bed. Our bodies make a  “T” shape on the comforter. This is a crux, a crossroads, and a detour.

This is my first day remarried, spent remembering my first husband who passed away traumatically from metastatic gallbladder cancer. I will have to remind my children, as a newly remarried woman, “Today is the day that daddy died.” The look on their faces? Somber, but also excited. My daughter Zayna, wearing her skinny, navy blue uniform pants and grey blazer, with granola stuck between her chatty teeth, yells upstairs to Shu’aib, who is probably in the mirror sprucing his coif.

“Shu’aib! Shuuuuu’aaaaaiiiiib! Today is the day that DADDY DIED! It’s September 8th!”

I’m trying not to rush them, but we’ve overslept. I was unable to get back to sleep again last night for hours. But it also seemed like I was in a dream state, beta and theta waves surging through me like purple lightning bolts. Just remembering. Just pulsing to a new beat of life. By the time I collapsed back into sleep, I’d convinced my groggy husband to join me under the cool comforters, side by side.

It’s foggy, rainy and crisp – just like the day Qaadir died. This type of weather has been customary for this day. I always wonder about other families who have lost loved ones. How was the weather? What pattern were the clouds in? Does the same weather pattern return every year? Do you think it’s a coincidence, or a recurrent miracle from Allah, like I do? Does it hold significance for them?

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Grief is interesting. It can be cyclical and linear, looped, or dotted akin to ellipses – it seems to pause and then your life begins to move on. You are put on life support in the spiritual ICU. You begin to forget the pain of how your heart was once ripped open and stomped on brutally. You slowly heal. Your heart begins to beat again, though still calloused and scarred. But it only takes a moment of something triggering a memory of him for it to start all over again.

Honestly, it’s not very often these days that I recall my past life with Qaadir. But it’s hitting me now. I’m a bit stronger, tougher, more resilient, even more understanding, but the pricks of the past are filling me with growing, flooding memories now.

My new husband and I rose in love in autumn of last year. I met him at the right time, just when I felt open enough in my heart to accept the divine birthright of love again. Honestly, the experience of losing Qaadir was paramount in my growth, but also in my own personal destruction. Grief can pick you up and drop you off at a very ugly destination. (And that’s okay.) So long as you don’t purposely stay there and linger for longer than your mind, heart and livelihood need you to. I know that I stayed for many years longer than I should have.

For the grieving naysayers (I’ve been there) entrenched in depression, and for even the well-meaning supporters espousing the “no time frame, take as many decades as you want” belief system, I’d say for myself, it wasn’t always healthy to dwell there simply because I could. It was not advantageous for my spirit to linger or cling there. I didn’t enjoy living in the emptiness of intense sorrow or holding the containers full of the misery of widowhood. I didn’t enjoy the anger at not being able to save him or sitting at the back of a closet smothering my ear splitting, howling dua’ to Allah swt into a pink silk pillow. For too long, I suffered on that island.

Watching my first spouse sicken two weeks after our honeymoon until he died, gruesomely disfigured, nearly 7 years later is forever stained in my memory. There were times when I purposely stayed down, because it was comfortable, even though joy was right outside my door. All I had to do was turn the damn doorknob, but no, the darkness of cancer, caretaking for years, being lonely in our marriage, and the stress were comfortable reminders…of HIM. I could maintain whatever the hell kind of image I had if I stayed and lingered, wallowing in the painful past. There were other factors and reasons, but I believe I did it to survive my new existence as a widow.

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Qaadir and I documented his cancer journey with notes, videos, and hi-res photography, telling our story on Facebook and wherever else friends would listen. The Na’aisha of today – ha! I don’t dare look at those images for fear of the nightmares returning (which happened a few years ago), and neither would I share every blip and twinge of pain with the public.

The more that I processed my grief and moved forward, the more I realized and recognized when I was abetting myself in positive or negative directions of grief. I still shield my children from the images of their father in his last few weeks. My daughter asked to see those photos of him recently. I refused. It was sufficient for her to hear the story of his last two hours. My son had no interest once I explained how the tumors had spread EVERYWHERE. Zayna has been changing and expressing a new form of grief which I’d only previously witnessed in her brother Shu’aib. He still held memories of him; he was four and Zayna was under two when Qaadir passed. I’m sure somewhere in the recesses of their cerebellums are imprinted memories of their father during that time, but I dare not be the one to resurrect the visions to the forefront. They’ve been through enough.

The point of this is to say, that we have choices and options, and we are all given time. What we do with those 24 hours in a span of 365 days matters. Each year is a culmination and a conception of something. I don’t mean you should move at warp speed to free yourself from the heavy, rusty chains of grief, but you should be healthy and active in moving beyond it.

I remember two years ago, in the year five, I’d had enough. I realized how tiring it was – holding on. I had to re-evaluate WHY was I clinging so strongly, STILL? Was it for my children? Was it for myself? Would Qaadir want me to do this? NO. Similar to the story I wrote a year ago, I didn’t want to forget that I was a widow, but I also wanted to allow myself to exist as a WOMAN.

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Widowhood can take over your existence, overpowering the fibers of your being, staining your arteries, axons, dendrites and irises with an ink that seems to never be washable. But in reality, insha’Allah you can rise and you can be rinsed, though perhaps not 100% clean of the toxins of trauma. Maybe it will take a depression detox, play therapy and counseling sessions, active years of being gentle, merciful, understanding and kind to yourself and family, but by GOD you must TRY and DO. If all of this is a test, a journey, a game even, wouldn’t you want to believe that you can still WIN, excel and solve this in the best way possible? I did. I do. We did. We do.

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In order for my children and me to exist and exponentially grow, something in us had to change. It was belief. It HAD to grow, it had to be strengthened and fortified. Inna ilahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun; to Allah we belong and to him we return. Say a prayer or three for the deceased and those they’ve left behind, please. Death is not the end. It is the second beginning. From the cessation of ONE heartbeat, millions of cells in others can grow, oxygen molecules can revive, souls can connect, eyes can widen, joy can return, tears can fall, but life – oh boy – life, it still goes on.

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All of the recent happenings, the blissful, humbling experiences and amazing joy that we’ve come to know, feel and believe have manifested in such a magnanimous way for us, especially this year. There was once a point, a low trench under saline waters, when I didn’t believe that any of this was even remotely possible. But look at the miracles of Allah swt, look at the spirit of human resilience, look at the heart’s yearning to beat in love even more vibrantly than before, look at the glimmer in my children’s eyes today. I do solemnly believe.

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Perhaps this was the precise time for me to be healed and move forward. Perhaps by my lingering, I was able to reach a deeper emotionality and have an access to the inner souls of my children that needed comfort? Perhaps I can write and express myself from a vantage point that previously would have been uncharted and unknowable territory? Perhaps that time was essential to my becoming the woman I am today? Perhaps.

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Perhaps, without that time, I wouldn’t have known love again, the healing power of love with the husband I adore. I am humbled by his beautiful presence of healing love every single day. Perhaps. Allahu’Alim. Indeed He does know what specific, grueling and laborious trials humans must face in order to rise to the excellence we’re all created in. We may not have the power to prevent a final exhale, but we do have the kinetic and potential energy within our very beings to surpass any barrier, surmount any difficulty, to vanquish our fears and walk in the light again after being cloaked in darkness.

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WE do change, maybe even dramatically after experiencing a loss. “Death makes something in us die,” I was once told. Yes, I do believe that’s true. But if we don’t nurture and tend to our soils, the heart of humanity and our mortal experiences, how can we ever expect more beautiful life to grow there?

It is damn hard coping with loss and moving beyond trauma, but it’s not impossible. If there is anything that one can take from this, I pray it is to be inspired to continue, to not stop, to run to the farthest expanses of your mind and live your days out loving all that you come to know, see and do. It’s our birthright to live and to die. We cannot expect to have a life without death, neither can we die without having known the miracle of life.

Learn and love. Therein lies the key to all.

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Cross-posted by permission from the author’s site. Read the author’s first piece, Memoirs of the Beautiful Widow, here

Writer, mentor and artist Na’aisha Austin was born in Saint Louis, Missouri. Raised in a creative environment, she had a panache for the arts and literature from an early age. Na’aisha’s poetry has been published in literary magazines, journals, and in Azizah Magazine; her photography in Hycide Magazine, Elegant Cloth and the PBS documentary New Muslim Cool companion book islamerica.

In her free time she enjoys attending concerts, yoga, painting, dj’ing, giving back to her alma mater Agnes Scott College and raising her two wonderful children in Atlanta. Na’aisha also works as prenatal, LDR and postpartum recovery doula in her doula/concierge company Malika Maternity. She is planning to release her first two books – a non-fiction compilation on the diversity of American Muslim women and a compendium of poetry – soon.

To learn more visit her writing and fashion blogs, and join her on Twitter.