It will be Ramadhan soon inshaa Allah. This blessed month means a great deal to me and to every other Muslim – it is a month unlike any other. It is a time that is solely for `ibadah and for good deeds.
Ramadhan is also the month in which my father passed away. I still remember every detail of his final days and I remember spending my first `Eid without him.
You never forget the important people in your life… and you never stop loving them. My father was a devoted father and husband, always putting the family first. I used to tell him that he fussed too much, worried too much about us. I felt he needed to let go and not fret because we could take care of ourselves, but I suppose he was just that kind of man.
When I was growing up, he pushed my siblings and I to work hard at school, sparing no expense and effort. He would take us wherever we had to be – tuition, extra-curricular activities – no matter how busy or tired he was. When I started working, he would always drive me to the office. I often felt bad about this, but my father would not have it any other way.
The only time I was completely on my own was when I moved to the US after being married in 2000. It was tough because my dad had been diagnosed with cancer just before the wedding. I stayed there a year and gave birth to my daughter in September 2001 in Wisconsin. My father was beside himself – when my husband called him to tell him the good news, he could hardly contain his delight. It took three months before my husband was able to get a job transfer and we were able to return to Singapore.
I still remember the day we arrived – it was about 1 a.m. that January day when we reached my parents’ house. I saw as we pulled up the drive way that the porch and living room lights were on. The front door was open and my father was standing there, leaning on his cane. I rushed out of the car and took baby Marz to him.
He just smiled and truly, I had never seen my father so happy. He just stared at his first grand-daughter and positively beamed, eyes crinkled up with so much joy. He could hardly speak. He later told me that he was so overwhelmed with gratitude, for Allah had answered his prayers – for he had beseeched Him countless times to bring us back home. It wasn’t easy returning to Singapore, but seeing my father’s boundless joy, I knew it was more than worth it.
My father died less than a year later … to this day I thank Allah for giving us the means to return before it was too late. To this day, I thank Allah for giving me Marz because I think she was my one and only real gift to my father.
During that time, we would visit my parents often – he loved Marz’s company. Marz and I would spend afternoons at their place and my husband would drop by after work. We would have dinner and then go back to our place just after Isha prayers. He always insisted on driving us home – he would do this even when his body ached from the effects of the chemotherapy. He would drop us off at our block and we would wave at him as he pulled out of the parking lot before we made our way to our apartment.
My father had to go back and forth to the hospital over the year, but always returned home looking well on the road to recovery. Some of his friends used to jokingly remark, “Are you really sick? This is not the face of a sick man!” He always managed to look well … my aunt told me Marz had given him a new lease of life, a reason to fight.
Our routine and hospital visits went on for several months until my father took a turn for the worse in October 2002. This time, Allah decreed that his admission to the hospital would be his last. He had had a third cycle of chemotherapy and a second bone marrow transplant, but every effort the doctors made led to more complications. His kidneys began to fail and then his heart weakened so badly that he could hardly breathe without his body heaving painfully. His body could no longer take the beating of the illness and the drugs.
Word got round and friends and relatives rushed to see him. They had all just seen him a month earlier and were shocked and shaken to see how his condition had deteriorated. Many – grown men even – burst into tears upon seeing him. One said, “He was FINE last month! What have they done to him?”
One Friday in Ramadhan, the doctors told us that my father’s heart was just not doing its job. He was not getting enough oxygen and he needed to be put on a life support machine. They tried to be as kind as they could, but we were really grasping at straws. Without the machine, he would surely die and with it, he had but a five percent chance of survival. We did what we thought he would have wanted – we went with the machine. Five percent was better than nothing.
We were all given a few minutes with him before they sedated him. Deep down inside, we must all have known that this was going to be the last time we would see him conscious. We asked the doctors to allow us to bring Marz in to see him – children below 10 are not allowed into the Intensive Care Unit and she was barely over a year old.
We all stood around my father giving him words of comfort and encouragement, telling him not to be afraid… telling him all would be well. We brought Marz in to see him and they held hands for the last time.
Then we had to go.
Saturday came and he showed no signs of improvement. After iftar, at my mother’s house, my husband, brother and sister went back to the hospital. I had to go home to the flat to put Marz to bed.
I had just finished giving her her bath when I received a call. My cousin told me that I had to be by my father… he was slipping. I dropped my daughter off at my mother’s house where my mum’s helper would watch her and, dry-eyed and feeling completely numb, made my way to the ICU.
I entered his room and saw a crowd of family and friends. When I went into my father’s room, I saw my sister, eyes red, sobbing uncontrollably as she tried to read from the Qur’an. My mother, calm and composed told me to read and to say shahadah in my father’s ear.
The minutes passed and I saw from the machine that my father’s heartbeat was decreasing, slowly but surely. I stepped back and looked at the people in the room – aunts, uncles, cousins and a few close friends, faces taut with grief.
Then I caught sight of a brother, Muhammad, whom my father cared about a great deal. When his first child was born, his wife had experienced complications and it was my mum adn dad who cared for little Aishah in her early days. It seemed as though Muhammad wanted to go to my father, but could not as my aunts were close by. I gestured briefly at him and he nodded. I told my aunts to make way and then he took his place by my father.
He bent down and said the shahadah several times and then raised his voice, reciting Ayat ul Kursi. I remember thinking at that moment, “It sounds so melodic. It is as if he is lulling Abah to sleep.” Brother Muhammad repeated the shahadah and then stepped back. It felt strangely calm.
I looked at the machine and I saw my father’s heartbeat falling, this time drastically… 48, 34, 28, 20…
I felt everyone stiffening. The air was thick with tension. I heard my sister catching her breath.
Then the line went flat. My father had passed away.
It took a while for it to sink in.
I remember thanking Muhammad.
I remember my mother briskly tell the my husband and brother to take over the arrangements with the hospital… she had to get home as her iddah had begun.
I remember her telling all the ladies to make their way back to our house to prepare for the funeral the next morning.
I remember asking her who would stay by Abah.
I remember her saying that Abah was gone and that his body was not him. It was just his body, a shell.
I remember not shedding any tears.
Later that night, I gave up trying to spend the night at my mum’s. Marz could not sleep – she wanted only her crib so I had to go back to my flat. My uncle took my dad’s car and drove us home. It was a quiet journey… what was there to say at a time like this?
Then we arrived at my block and said salaam. I got out of the car and stood by the car park, just as I used to when my father drove us home. As my uncle pulled away, he turned to us.
I waved at him and he waved back.
My heart went cold as the hurt came rushing in. It was then that it really hit me.
My father was never coming back.