Sometimes it can be the most devastating circumstances that create the deepest bonds. Waheedah’s experience of losing one of her most loved family members twice almost broke her, but she’s back on the train of life and enjoying witnessing the growing bonds between her own daughter and father. Here Waheedah shares her story of love and loss for our next publication ‘Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress‘ …
My sister was my best friend and although we were four boys and two girls, the eldest three were like a triangle support for the siblings. We played, fought, argued, and loved each other tremendously. My father and mother brought us up to love, value and respect one another. We knew the importance of family and did everything together.
On December 2007 my sister got married and moved to England from Germany where we all lived. I was 12 years old and I did not realise what was happening. Not only because everything happened so fast, but also because I had an important soccer game on that day. I remember it like it was yesterday. The wedding was in my aunt’s beautiful garden, everyone was saying goodbye. We hugged, my sister entered the car and shut the door. As soon as we started waving, she began to cry. We also started crying. I still remember her driving away. At night I realised that she had gone for good when I noticed her side of the bedroom we shared was empty. Her cupboard was also empty, I felt her absence. She was already missing.
The first years after she left, we talked every day for hours. I told her about my school, I shared with her my fears, my hopes and my dreams; most importantly, I always asked her opinion about everything. She told me a little less about married life but seldom allowed me to do the talking.
When I heard my sister was pregnant it was so exciting, our first nephew or niece, my parents first grandchild. I kept imagining how much I would spoil them. As she got closer to her labour, my mum, brother and I booked a ticket from Germany to be with her in England. We packed baby clothes and everything we thought she was going to need; it was the first time I was going to see her since she had left. We got to the airport but were blocked from travelling because my mum did not have a visa. My dream had burst. I started crying. We came home, unpacked and told her the bad news. It was a difficult and sad conversation. She was upset. She felt lonely. She continued to miss our company.
Then in summer 2012 my elder brother and I were finally able to visit her. This was the first time I realised and accepted that she was married now with a new life, her own family. Although everything seemed to be going well when we visited my sister, I noticed that something was not right. She had lost a lot of weight. She’d started telling me about the diets she was trying and the slimming tablets she was taking. My heart sank and it hit me that she was going through an eating disorder. Flying back home, I felt so helpless even though I’d spent the days I had left with her telling her that she was perfect, that she did not need to lose any weight, she was convinced that she was overweight.
Two summers later, we were back in England to visit my sister as she had given birth to my beautiful niece. My niece was about 6 days old, my sister came home from the hospital and I noticed she had an obvious lump on her back. My sister was holding a letter in her hand and tears were rolling down her face. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me the lump on her back was cancer. The word cancer rang in my ears, I couldn’t believe it. When I called my mum and dad to tell them the news it was surreal, as if I were watching someone else’s life. I told my sister that it was okay, she would be fine, that so many people had healed from cancer and I honestly believed this. I kept telling myself it was not as if her cancer had spread, we could see the lump and all the surgeons had to do was to remove it. Everything sounded easy and manageable. It sounded like a story with a happy ending.
The following months were like a storm had hit my family and pulled us apart with pain and sorrow. We kept going backwards and forwards with misinformation on my sister’s condition. Then, when she came to stay with us again, I had my sister back for a few days. When she was back in England, after her first operation, she became incredibly sick, and we stopped hearing from her.
Whilst in Germany, one of my mum’s sisters called one day as she recalled a chilling dream, and because of my sister’s condition we did not want to take any chances. We packed our bags and headed back to England where my sister lived. We did not even know where my sister lived. We received some information from a relative and we frantically started knocking on doors and I listened for familiar sounds. I heard a voice moaning and I knew it was my sister. It sounded like she wanted to cry but at the same time was trying to be strong. It sounded like she wanted to scream but couldn’t, it sounded like she was suffering.
When we entered the room, it was exactly how my aunty had described in her dream. It was obvious she had been through difficult chemotherapy treatment. My sister looked at us and thought she was dreaming. She thought that it was the morphine that had made her hallucinate seeing us there. My mum squeezed her hand gently and told her she was not dreaming. We were speechless and shocked.
I did not recognize my sister, I felt like my family had failed and I had failed as a sister. My father suffered a lumbago, and he was diagnosed with internal bleeding. Finding my sister in that state broke my heart and for the first time since her cancer diagnosis, I realised she was going to die. I started questioning Allah. Why are we being tested like this? Why us? Why everything in one go? Why do you want to take my only sister away from me?
‘Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident those who are false.’ [Qur’an 29: 2-3]
After questioning everything I started seeing the whole situation from a different perspective. Allah tests us to purify us and wash away our sins. These tests are given to us to strengthen our Iman (faith). And most importantly: Allah tests a person He loves. I stopped thinking “why us?” and instead thought “Ya Rahman. The one who is most kind, loving and merciful. Allhamdullah, another test.”
The nurse who came to administer the morphine told us they were just giving her palliative care. Her wounds were seeping and refusing to heal from a recent surgery. Her only wish that day was to shop for Eid clothes for her children. My brother carried her in a wheel- chair and we took her shopping. Even when we were choosing clothes, she would fall asleep for a few minutes due to the morphine then wake up begging us to carry on. I admired the strength she carried, and I was ashamed for feeling so broken for her.
I wish I had told her how strong I thought she was, and how I admired her bravery that even when she cried, I knew she was in pain, but she would not want me to see her hurting. Cancer changes the body but not the soul. The soul is still the person you know and love.
On the journey back home, I could not take the image of my sister from my mind. Her last words to me were how much she loved me. I told my mum I could not go back and that she should stay with my sister and I would take care of my younger brothers and our family home.
The following days were so clear, each day weighed heavily on my shoulders, I was receiving one bad news after the other. My world had stopped, my family was in pieces. I found eating difficult, it was as if all the joys and all the laughter we shared had been sucked out of us. Her heart was still beating but it felt like she was gone; she could not really talk anymore; she couldn’t eat anymore. Her eyes were closed. We were all in this dark tunnel just waiting for the inevitable. As I took care of my younger brothers whilst my mum, dad, and eldest brother stayed in England with my sister, we felt that our world was shattering.
On Saturday the 16th of August 2014 I could not eat, my heart and mind were with my sister. The following day I remember receiving the text message a few minutes before 9 am, that my beautiful sister had departed from this world.
I miss you
Nothing hurts like not seeing you
And no one understands what we went through
It was short. It was sweet. You died.
It feels like it was just recently,
Staying up all night telling each other stories secretly.
I Cannot describe how much I miss your company.
The biggest shock in my life was hearing that you have cancer,
A sickness that kills and tortures,
A sickness that not everyone defeats.
Seeing you suffering, crying, and fighting,
Seeing you trying, praying, and hoping,
Seeing the sickness killing you slowly,
Not seeing the real Aneesah – was killing me inside.
Sitting helplessly next to you,
Telling stories that we made,
Knowing that any breath could be your last one,
Hoping that the moment would never end.
It was time to leave,
Telling each other goodbye,
It didn’t feel like I would see you again,
Looking at you, while your eyes were closing and tears falling off my eyes. “I love you Waheedah.”, were your last words to me.
I miss you
Nothing hurts like not seeing you
And no one understands what we went through
It was short. It was sweet. You died.
May You Rest In Peace my sister. 17.08.2014-
I named my daughter Aneesah Liya….
Liya meaning – Most beautiful form of patience (Arabic) – lioness (Latin) as strong as Aneesah also meaning the highest level of sabr (patience).
I told our neighbors the news and so many guests came to visit. At first, I could not cry. Then the imam (spiritual leader) who had conducted my sister’s wedding came into the house limping due to a recent surgery, he was crying silently. That is when it dawned on me that my sister had passed on. I began to cry and everyone in the house was weeping, it was truly a sorrowful day. I did not leave my room for three or four hours. I stayed in the dark. I was broken and I desperately missed her so much.
My parents came back the following morning after my sister’s burial, the whole neighborhood gathered to give their condolences. I could not take my eyes off my father, my father was a tall strong man, but that day I could see that both my parents were enveloped by grief. For my parents, their eldest daughter dying from cancer at the tender age of only 27 years old was devasting. They say grief comes in stages, but I believe it is different for everyone. For me, it was when I was at the supermarket and saw sisters together. When my friends talked about their sisters my loss was heightened in volumes. I’d lost my best friend, my elder sister, and the light of our life. She was sweet, gentle, and had a heart of gold. It’s the little things I think we take for granted like that extra hug or just staying a little longer on the phone. My grief hit me harder when I got married and I was pregnant with my first daughter. Grief grips you by surprise, it can be something that she found funny, or her favorite food, or just childhood memories that overwhelm our family festive days.
My dad bought a Bonsai tree – which would be the same age as Aneesah, he said it was a symbol of her. He takes care of the tree, with the right balance, not too much water or too little, he keeps this tree in his room with a picture of Aneesah, even when he is sick, he must look after the Bonsai tree, my father would sit for hours just staring at the tree.
When I named my daughter Aneesah, I also wanted a name that could describe how Aneesah was, for me I wanted to hear my sister and then my daughter. My father held my daughter and he saw her, and he suddenly began to cry then he said, “I remember this is how I held Aneesah years ago and now she is just gone.” I can see that my father loves Aneesah so much, he is always telling her about her aunty Aneesah and showing her pictures which is so lovely. Even though my daughter has not replaced my sister, she has helped me put back a piece of the missing puzzle, not completely, but she is a beautiful addition to my family.
Even though we miss her, I see this as a journey.
This life is just a journey, we are all just passing through. It is like being on the train, whenever anyone is at the train station, we do not know who is leaving. It happens when it is your time. I guess my sister left because she was already at the door… some people leave who are younger, older, sick or healthy …
This painful experience has brought us together as a family.
The publication of Muslims Emerging Proud through Mental Distress will catalyse the birth of a new Peer not- for- profit service for Muslims who are ready to openly share about their personal challenges. The team are very excited and proud about this development – watch this space for more information over the coming months… ❤