On the morning of my seventeenth birthday, I ran down the stairs to hug my mother while she was cooking. At that moment, in that hug, in the way that she looked at me and tried to memorise the details of my expression, we both believed that was the last birthday I was ever going to spend with her.
In January 2011, my mother became deaf in her left ear. Doctors unable to understand what had caused it, that April she had an MRI scan. This scan turned out to be extremely crucial, as it revealed the fact that she had an aneurysm. The doctor clarified in more detail that it was a cerebral aneurysm, located in front left side of her head. If it were to rupture, because of where it was located, it would result in death.
There was another crucial verdict given by the doctors – something my parents did not disclose to my three sisters and I until later, they described her as a ticking time bomb; at most she had six months left.
I don’t remember what day it was when my parents told us, but I remember the moment. In all honesty, I don’t believe I fully understood when they first told me, I didn’t grasp the severity of the situation. Not for a while at least.
I will never forget the way she looked at us, her four daughters and said,
‘If something happens to me, you’ll keep on being happy like this won’t you?’
The tears came later, and so did the anger, the bitterness, and the fear. I would lie awake thinking about losing her, imagining my life when I lost her, trying to picture a life without her in it – I couldn’t. I lived in fear for many years. I would awake in the middle of the night, and rush to my parent’s bedroom to check that my mother was still breathing. I developed a phobia of being alone – any periods of time when I was alone by myself, caused bouts of extreme anxiety. I became severely ill, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I developed a prolonged sense of guilt about the situation – I began to see all of my flaws and my faults and my sins. I found many reasons within myself that could have caused this upon our family, everything was my fault – I wasn’t a good enough daughter, a good enough person, a good enough Muslim. Over the next couple of years, I became extremely distant and developed an inability to trust people. Once a naïve carefree and joyful person, my heart hardened – I became a beacon of bitterness, sadness, anger, and negativity.
My world had turned upside down – with the upbringing my parents had given me, I had never really seen or experienced hardship or sadness. This news was a blow to my very existence. But the hardships and struggles didn’t stop there, they continued to pile on upon our family throughout the next five years.
I chose to write this reflection after coming across a piece that I wrote in my first year of university about this period in my life – two years since my mother had been diagnosed. It was a heavy piece so full of sadness and resentment. It’s amazing to see the change within myself through my own writing.
I believed God was punishing me; but what I didn’t see was that God was actually shaping and preparing me to face life over the course of the next few years. I didn’t realise he was pushing me to get to know my mother better, beyond her relationship to me as my mother, beyond her duties in the kitchen, and towards the rest of my family.
He pushed me to show more affection to my parents, to let them know I loved them more often. I began to cherish every moment I spent with them; I eventually stopped fretting over the day when she left us and concentrated on looking after her now. I realised I was holding back my true self from her and began to open up to her more, and we developed a close friendship, beyond our relationship and duties to each other.
I started the process to stop lamenting my life and start appreciating it. It was only then was I able to connect with God. The key to connecting with God is to start being grateful and thankful for every single thing in your life. Once you do that, you will finally see all the signs you’ve begged and pleaded him for, the unseen blessings he has provided you with, the many ways he saved you again and again.
It’s hard to be grateful without hardship – hardship makes you grateful. If you only receive the good in life, you cannot and will not, fully and truly appreciate the blessings you have been gifted with. Gratefulness will take you through hardship. Life has been a bit easier to get through recently, now that I keep reminding myself that I am being taken care of, whether I see it or not.
In fact, in a strange way, I am grateful for this hardship upon my family – because it has taught me a lot about myself, and my own inner strength.
What I have learnt is that when everything else is crumbling and weak, somehow it is possible to gather pieces of strength and support each other to carry on living. This is the grace and blessing of Allah (swt), he does not forsake you, even when you feel like he has. He provides you with the strength to carry on; it has been there within you from the very start.
Alhumdulilah, against all odds, even in the face of extreme stress, my mum lived past the doctor’s prediction – another example of the miracles Allah (swt) provides to us. She has grown weaker, and she is not able to do things the way she used to anymore – but Alhumdulilah she is still here.
I was supposed to lose my mother six years ago, but I didn’t.
Israa is a Creative writing and English literature graduate, and currently volunteers for a few charities. In between her routine of nerding out over Dungeons and Dragons, and obsessively eating strawberries, she spends her time writing as much as she can.