The Promise Fulfilled

Alan & Joan

Alan & Joan

Since writing my short story for the anthology Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, & Intimacy  – I have been asked many times what my story has become and how things have developed. It has been a hard road, but also one laden with lessons, hardships, and, finally, beauty.

It is bemusing to my family and friends how confused I get about how old I am. This may seem like a simple thing, but honestly I have lost the number. Why? When my wife Joan went into the hospital for the last time it was on my birthday. Obviously there was no celebration or acknowledgement of it. She passed away a week and a half later.

The year after her death I was numb. I do not remember anything from that year. I have pictures of my son during 8th grade, as well as of some other things we did that year – but it is a lot like looking at someone else’s life. Sure, I am in the photographs, but I don’t remember being there.

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Child of Loss

Alan Howard

Alan Howard

I have written a lot recently on my experience with caregiving and death both at my first blog and then the subsequent one on how to slowly wake up and live after the death of someone close to you.

But today I want to write about something else: how this experience impacts a child. I am not a child psychologist, but I can relate my own experiences and those of my son and show how it scarred and molded him, how he learned from it and, finally, how he now flourishes.

My son was 5-years-old when my wife’s cancer was diagnosed. I remember clearly the day that I took her to the hospital because her voice was slurring. He brought some of his toy cars and sat on the floor in the ER room and played, completely oblivious to the nurses coming in and out. Joan and I sat nervous and tense, trying to reassure each other, but also wanting to say as few words as possible. We knew something was wrong right away after her CAT scan because the nurses, who had been  joking that she probably just had a migraine, suddenly disappeared.
 
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Code-Switching/Matchmaking

alan

I recently decided to step back from actively searching for someone to marry. I’m serious and interested, but aspects of the Muslim matchmaking process are strange for me.

I lost my beloved wife, Joan, just over a year ago.  The prospect of starting over with someone new after sixteen years of marriage is daunting. I am a forty-year-old white American male, but I am also Muslim.  Some readers may respond, “So what?” But I’ve discovered that when you are a member of a minority, your identity markers have real impact. And, with 1.7 billion Muslims globally, a lot of cultural practices get mixed into love and (re)marriage.

As a Muslim convert, I have to navigate different cultural spaces to find a Muslim partner. On top of that, I have a biracial and transcultural son. These variables create a mix of opportunity and chaos.

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When the loss is forever

alan

I haven’t written much about the transition of my son J to our new life and existence after Joan’s death. He lost his mother when he was 12; it is something that will shape him for the rest of his life. He stood by her, holding her hand as she gulped her last breaths, he wept inconsolably as she faded and grew cold. I wonder what the impact of that will be as he grows into manhood. It will have an impact; there is a huge crater in his life.

My first action after the funeral and all the emotions that came immediately afterwards was to do……nothing. I decided to change nothing. It was dislocating enough to come home to a home devoid of the person you love deeply, without also uprooting the rest of our lives.

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Time For Changes, Time For Life

Eds. Note: Introducing our newest monthly columnist, Alan Howard, with his meditations on life after the death of his dear wife Joan one year ago. Look for his column the last Tuesday of every month!

alan

I haven’t written in quite a while.  I have been in mourning since my wife’s death last December, but also struggling for a sense of normalcy. The truth of the matter is that this new and scary part of my life – the part of my life that Dante described as being “in a dark wood” – is hard to explain verbally to family and friends. Putting it into writing is even more difficult.

The last year has been akin to learning to swim again.  Everything is the same, yet everything is also distorted by the water – the water of mourning mixing with the water of a new life.  I use water as an analogy for tears, but also because the sense of loss and being separate from the rest of the “normal” world is like swimming underwater.  Over the past year I have moved forward without making any major changes for the sake of my son. I believed – and still believe – that rapid change would make his sense of loss even stronger.  I have also used this “no change” year to get my finances in order, to give serious thought to what my future should be, and to make plans.

This next year will be a year of many changes.  I will be moving out of my home in the suburbs to a more manageable home in town – preferably into a nice neighborhood with lots of character.  I am applying for fellowships that may give me the opportunity to go abroad, including a Fulbright scholarship (if I succeed, it will be the second I’ve received).  And, to hedge my bets, I am actively looking at new roles and promotion areas within my existing company.  I am going “all in” this next year. I am intent on rebooting my life.

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