Mom’s two-year tooth-and-nail battle with cancer has ended. No matter how tightly I shut my eyes and remember her loving hugs, bright smile, or warm lap, they will not manifest. But if I can learn from this loss, perhaps I can turn grief into something positive, and thereby honor mom’s memory.
Cancer and death have disrupted the calm of my life, creating ripples of change. Change for good. Alhumdulillah.
Death has taught me to live
My picture of life has often felt foggy. What is my purpose? It’s a tough question.
Contrast can create meaning. Take light for example; without darkness, it is meaningless. Subhan’Allah. In the same vein, I think to myself: how can I really live without understanding death?
When mom’s soul left her body and we began the preparations for her burial, I thought about death for the first time. Yes, I’ve heard lectures about the afterlife since I was a child. But, in all honesty, I had never contemplated it. Death was always taboo.
Exploring death has been liberating. It has helped me break the choking fetters of materialism in favor of something divine. It has helped me appreciate my responsibility to myself, family, and community. My picture of life has gained focus. The colors are vibrant, hues are crisp, and lines are clear.
Death is not morbid. In fact, I have never felt so alive.
Motherhood, martyrdom, and my motivation
In 52 years, my mom never received an award for her career. Because, as a stay-at-home mom, she sacrificed her career for us. She never wore high fashion clothes. Because, as part of a working-class family, she saved all of her money for us. She never complained about her circumstances in life. Because, as a compassionate mom, she never wanted to stress us.
My mom didn’t fight in a war, but I believe she was a martyr. At 26, I finally realize that she gave the world for me. Now, I want to be her award. I want to perfect my character, improve my world, and pleasure my God to honor her.
Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, and Johann Bach are part of a long list of artists who were finally celebrated after their death. Their work was ahead of their time. Perhaps, the same is true for the stay-at-home mom, an occupation that has unfortunately lost its luster in our American culture.
Cancer as a sheep in wolf’s clothing
When I realized the extent of mom's cancer, anxiety built in my chest. I saved my tears for God, a sort of ghusl that watered the parched soil of my heart. It softened my being and allowed faith to take root, giving life to a new understanding of patience.
Before Dr. King became Dr. King, he suffered intense depression due to child abuse and the untimely death of his grandmother. Before Einstein became Einstein, he had developmental disabilities and experienced serious poverty. Trauma, in all of its pain, can still have positive results. In fact, our Prophet (PBUH) exemplifies this. Before he was born, his father passed away. At six, his mother passed away. And two years later, his grandfather passed away as well.
In math, an inflection point is the point when a line changes direction. Allah (SWT) promises that each of us will be tested with loss of health, wealth, and life, but glad tidings are reserved for those who patiently persevere through such challenges (2:155). Perhaps these events can serve as an inflection point, catalyzing positive change in our lives. While we have no control over what happens to us, we do have control over our response.
It is difficult to say out loud, but much good has come from cancer. My picture of life has become clearer, providing me with a better sense of purpose. I am motivated to excel in good work to honor my mom. Our family has come together in a way that has never happened before. I have invested into my relationship with Allah (SWT), making him a close friend and confidant.
With so many things to be thankful for, it is difficult to harbor anger towards this disease and its unfortunate result.
A couple of quick asks that I have of you:
- If this reflection has sparked new thoughts, please spend five minutes to share the ideas with family or friends. Insha’Allah any good that results from your ideas will illuminate my mother’s grave.
- Recite Surah Fateha or any prayer for my mother, Shaheen binte Anwarali Bhanji, such that she receives blessings as a result of it.
- Thank your mother and father. Without them, you would not be reading this message today.