(My brother’s daughter Maliha lost her young husband many years ago. Her daughter Mariam wrote the following essay for her University admission. I found this so compelling that I want to share. )
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah (God) Knows, while you know not.” [Quran, Chapter 2, Verse 216]
I know my father (Abba) through stories – stories of him almost missing his own wedding or the time he dropped a droplet of water on a lit bulb just to “see what would happen.” My memories of him are not mine.
People felt sorry for me when my father died: a father is an essential figure in any young girl’s life. But though Abba died, three ‘fathers’ raised me.
Baba (maternal grandfather): Voice and Joy
“For Mariam and Hana
Written and maintained by
Farooq “Baba” Hassan”
I open the large leather-bound volume. My history lines its pages, memories documented by Baba. Childhood pictures punctuate the text.
“Here is a picture of me with Mama. We are having a great time in our front garden! Abba took this picture of us.”
I did not write those words, but they’re written from my point of view (“It’s so when you’re rich and famous you can sell it as an autobiography or memoir” Baba has told me conspiratorially). A two-year-old me, held in the arms of my significantly younger-looking mother, stares up from the glossy photograph—a true Madonna and child. Our hands clasped together, flowers bloom bright and vivid behind us. If you asked me to picture joy, I would conjure this image.
I feel gratitude for all the memories Baba has kept alive— in so doing, he gave me a voice that contributed to who I am today— opinionated, friendly.
Abbu (paternal grandfather): Gratefulness and Giving
Within two years, he lost his mother, younger sister, older brother, his wife and only son. But I’ve never seen a person who so appreciates the smallest things in life. It’s mango season? He’s out the door at 6am to buy the best from the passing thela (cart). There’s a beehive in the backyard? Abbu calls me to come look at it, and takes it down for me to eat the sweet honey. Abbu gives me jewelry he designs himself to shoes he says reminded him of me. The nurturing he always gives has helped me thrive. Watching Abbu be happy in spite of everything taught me to be grateful for all I do have.
Bevan (step-father): Patience and Hard Work
My project is due tomorrow and my brain is fried. I can’t think of any ideas.
There’s a knock on my door. A gruff, Caribbean voice calls, “Can I come in?”
Bevan comes in and sits beside me. He heard from Mama I was struggling, and came to help. And he did. It was the middle of his workday, his phone ringing every few minutes, but he stayed, endlessly patient.
Bevan’s gentle heart taught me getting frustrated never helps any situation. He taught me by example patience is a virtue.
Mama (mother): Sacrifice and Strength
Mama is the strongest person I know.
When Abba died, Mama took my sister and me abroad, leaving everything she knew, so we’d have a better life, a better education and live in a safer city. I learnt from her to be strong and persevere even when the ground seems to be taken out from under my feet.
My village of father figures wove a wonderful tapestry to support and raise me. And Mama was always at the center helping define the person I am today.
I will never know why I lost Abba. What I do know is that losing him has played a huge role in defining me: it has made me a combination of the people who helped fill the hole he left, making me joyful, giving, hardworking and strong.