I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.
Please welcome writer Eren Cervantes-Altamirano whose column Flirting with Fate and other Disasters of an Intersectional Muslimah will appear the first Thursday of every month. Her piece below, written in July 2014, sets the stage for her new column here at LoveinshAllah.com
Perhaps it is absurd of me to think that Ramadan will ever be a time of peace and refection. From the moment I converted, my patience, my love for Islam and my faith have been constantly tested. Beyond the struggle of belonging to a non-Muslim family, the reconciliation of new acquired identities and the challenges of trying to fit into mainstream Muslim communities, this year I started Ramadan off surrounded by death.
As the month of Ramadan approached and I prepared to fast, I lost my life partner in a sudden accident. He was planning to travel from Saudi Arabia to Canada to visit me after Ramadan. The news came as a shock to all who knew him. He was young, full of life and had many dreams.
Such an unexpected event brings the sudden awareness of the fragility of earthly life, and it also show us the best and worst of the Muslim communities that surround us. Saad’s death is something I had to think and rethink in order to rationalize completely. I can’t say that the process is over yet. But his death has also made me question my own place among Muslims as a convert, as an Indigenous woman from Mexico, and as a “sinner.”
The first time I walked up the sidewalk to the front door after “it” happened, I was surprised. I had expected my house to be covered by gloom, and fear of the oozing grief had pushed me away.
Through the shadow wrapping around my hung head, my eyes caught the bright orange nasturtium flowers lining the flowerbed in front of my parents’ rundown California ranch house. They were lush, ballooning into the green grass. I paused, feeling the stark contrast between what was going on inside my head and what was happening outside. How could the flowers be so bright? Didn’t they know what had happened? Didn’t they know it was time to shade their vibrancy, to bow their blooms? Why were they still blooming? How were they able to bloom if she was not here to nurture them anymore?
I looked up at the bright blue skies, the hummingbirds, the nasturtium, and the breezy trees. It was early June with that perfect Southern Californian weather that people write songs about. Oh, that’s right, I thought numbly to myself. It was the shock of real life. And life goes on. It just hadn’t for my mother.
Eds. Note: This beautiful piece is being posted in honor of the author’s grandmother’s first death anniversary. Ending the year with a moving reminder of the only thing that lasts, the bridge between life & death: love.
On Friday, I buried Muneer Unisa Begum, a woman who has lived with me my entire life.
Her capacity for love was like her appetite: large and generous.
Born in Hyderabad Deccan, India on April 8, 1925, she moved to Karachi, Pakistan during partition and then joined her two eldest sons in Amreeka in the late ‘70’s, where she rocked bell bottoms, South Asian bling, and a strange, enduring love for Tom Jones, The Doobie Brothers and Sabri Brothers’ Qawwalis.
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I hate writing about death. It brings up unpleasant family memories.
Mother died at the age of 62 in 1982 from a series of brain infarctions, which is like Alzheimer’s, only accelerated.
Dad died in 1994 at the age of 75 from pancreatic cancer. By the time he was diagnosed, it was so advanced the doctors sent him home after surgically opening him up. He died a couple of weeks later.
These were huge personal losses. But I could comfort myself with knowing that I still had my sister, Debbie. Debbie and I were not close, but whenever we met for lunch or a special occasion, the conversation would always move to our parents and what bratty kids we’d been.
Swapping childhood stories with her was the most fun I ever had with anyone.
She died at the age of 48 in the spring of 1999 from congestive heart failure. When I finished being mad at her for taking a radical position early in life to never ever go to a doctor, things started closing in. I began to realize how alone I was. I was the sole surviving member of my family!
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We don’t know Roxy personally, but we believe in the power of thought, prayer, and love from family, beloved, and strangers alike.
“Our sister Roxy, her wonderful husband, sweet baby girl and family need your prayers and light, please. Roxy is entering her final step in this life’s journey. She is now in home hospice surrounded by family and not suffering. Please send your light.”
I woke from deep slumber with the gray lights of dawn peeking in. I had fallen asleep in the middle of President re-elect Obama’s acceptance speech. Though the East Coast was celebrating, in California we were still waiting to see the turnout results come in on some heated statewide propositions.
I groggily snatched my bedside smartphone, and scrolled through my twitter feed. At 5am, the only people reporting were Obama-thrilled East Coasters or people overseas. I finally found what I was looking for. The local NPR station reported that we had won on Proposition 30. State government wasn’t going into crisis mode. Relieved and with a pounding headache, I buried my head under my covers and fell back asleep.
I found myself climbing a set of stairs inside a house with my civic engagement team from work. There was an atmosphere of elation, and bright pinks and blues. We were discussing going to an Election Day celebration party and I told them I’d meet them there – I needed to change. Still in campaign attire, I was in no condition to celebrate.
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