Friday, September 26, 2014

Facing Death and Cherishing Family

On Wednesday the 10th, my cousin informed me that my uncle was on his deathbed and could pass any day. I knew I wanted to say goodbye and be there for my cousins. I left Friday morning. Surprisingly, the five-hour drive to Fort Myers was painless and quick. I think because it was the first time in a long time I got to be alone with my thoughts and without the constraints of my calendar.

I arrived at the house at 3pm and realized that I had not actually seen any of the other guests in over two decades. One of the lovely aunties started interrogating me as soon as I arrived in the typical brown fashion asking questions like, who are you? What are you studying? Are you married? Startled and cornered, I answered nervously and looked around for a familiar face. After exchanging long hugs with my cousins, I went and said hi to my uncle. He responded with the biggest smile and it made my day. It was so great to see him react and respond and so sad because I realized how hard this weekend would be for me. Cowardly thing to say, I know, considering I wasn’t the one about to lose a parent.

It became apparent pretty quickly that some of the relatives there were dealing with the situation without actually considering what my uncle or my cousins would want. It was frustrating to watch. Everything from food to laying positions to medical treatment was up for debate. Everyone felt they were right. I don’t know how my cousins handled this for weeks at a time. They have been so brave and I admire their courage. I only hope I can be as strong as them when the time comes.

My uncle was a tenacious man and he wasn’t ready to go yet. The energy in the house revitalized him and he fought to remain with us. We had a great weekend with him, filled with laughter, inappropriate jokes, and delicious food. We even watched his beloved Gators play on tv. The weekend flew by. Sunday came before we knew it and one by one we all left to tend to life’s commitments. 

The following Saturday, September 20th, I got the text. My uncle had passed away peacefully in his sleep. The funeral would be on Sunday. I quickly rearranged my commitments for the weekend and hoped Ahmed could join me this time. When I approached him, I started crying thinking about my cousins and what they were going through. We left as soon as we could but the ride down was very different this time around. Both of us realized we had never actually attended a funeral for a relative or any Muslim funeral for that matter. It was also difficult to acknowledge that one day we may need to say goodbye to our parents.

Sunday morning was tough. Not knowing what lay ahead, we got up, came up with a game plan for the day and did what we know best, helped with logistics. I think, for me, it was a great way to distract myself from facing my emotions. I didn’t want to cry in front of my cousins. I felt I had no right to and so I tried to be an anchor for them. We prayed, said our goodbyes and laid him to rest. We were all so relieved that he was finally free of his pain and suffering and at peace.

Because of work the next morning, we left for Jacksonville right after the funeral. During the ride home, I came to terms with the fact that I need to improve relationship with both my parents. My mom and I speak everyday but I don't give her the time and patience she needs. My dad and I need to work on communicating in general. Life is so short. The things that irritate us or make us angry are fleeting and not worth it. Parents are a blessing despite how wrong we think they always are and we need to cherish every day we have with them. I know this is harder said than done but I am determined.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11

I was sitting my third period music class listening to classical music when the programming was interrupted to say the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. The teacher and all of us students were confused by the announcement. And then some of us realized our friend's mom worked in the towers. A few of us started staring at Hannah when she took out her cell phone hoping to reach her mom. But she couldn't because all circuits were busy. 

As I walked to the next class, everyone started comforting Hannah while trying to understand what just happened. And then second plane hit. Hannah was able to get in touch with her mom when we finally reached our Classical Greek class. She made it out ok. Those of us that had phones or beepers started getting messages and there was a calm panic all around. We were finally allowed to go home a few minutes after fourth period started. I remember going to Stefani's home with Zuhair and watching the news unfold on tv. I was shaking and had chills as I watched the towers fall. The three of us sat there with tears in eyes and were stunned by the images in front of us. Not knowing what else to do, I went home. 

That was also the first and only day my mom had to walk from Manhattan into Queens. She worked in midtown but she could see the dark sky and smell the burning towers. She walked from 49th and Madison to the Queensboro bridge and walked over the river with countless other New Yorkers. Once she made it to Queens, a kind man gave her a ride to her brother's home and that is where she heard his story. My uncle worked in lower Manhattan. He saw it happen. He was covered in ash. I remember my mom and him coming together as one that day as they shared their stories. 

It is a day I will never forget and one I never want to forget because it is important to honor the lives of those we lost. A wall in the 9/11 memorial says it best through a quote by Virgil, "No day shall erase you from the memory of time."