1 Year Later
(November 2020) November 17th, 2019 - the day I'll never forget.
I was walking the other day around a nice vantage point in Santa Monica full of beautiful modern homes. I looked to the skies to give a small prayer for you. It was an orange-mango sunset. I saw a pair of headlights rushing towards me. I thought it was a motorcycle at first, but as it approached, I saw that it was a man on an electric wheelchair. That instantly reminded me of you. Just the wheelchair. I felt that you heard me.
I can’t believe it’s been a year without you, Baba. The transition from two parents to one is no easy feat. No one prepares you for when your parents are going to pass away. Although your disease was our “eviction” notice, we never knew when you’d leave our home.
I still remember the day I got the news as if it was yesterday. I was walking down the stairs at my friend’s apartment in San Francisco, 45 mins away from our first home in the States. I got a call from Uncle Magdi, who seldom calls me. Usually it’s about helping you out with filling your taxes but this time the first words out of his mouth was “albaraka feekom” (my condolences). At first, I naively thought it was one of your brothers. Uncle Magdi replied, “No it’s your father, he passed away.” And then began my new chapter: fatherless. My body and heart sank. The tears rushed down my face effortlessly. I could not believe you left 4 days before I was about to see you.
Upon deeper reflection, that touch of death was unique. It does not come often. It felt bittersweet. On one hand, you were finally free from your suffering. No more crying. No more feeling helpless. No more pain. On the other hand, I lost the greatest man in my life. You had your vices, but your virtues made you able to overcome them. You coupled your over-criticalness with your charismatic attitude towards life. You taught me how to earn and give trust to others and most importantly, myself. I really miss WhatsApping you. Remember when I used to bug you every week about my job when I first started? You used to give all sorts of advice on how to handle my anxiety and new assignments. You helped me out a lot.
Baba, you weren’t just any ordinary father, you were incredible. If you could witness Uncle Magdi and Hisham’s eulogies, you’d cry as much as I did. I didn’t speak to anyone afterwards. Uncle Magdi spoke about how brilliant and courageous you were for fighting the disease like a warrior. Something no one in the room had the courage to do. People came in droves for 2 weeks. Just to pay their condolences to your honor. And then there was Hisham’s speech.
Hisham said, “He treated me like his fourth son, not his driver, not his caregiver. But as an equal. No one has shown me this courtesy in Sudan ever.” Hisham loved you so much, Baba. Sometimes, I felt he was the better son. He was the son you always wanted; someone to help you 24/7 without any complaints. I sacrificed my last couple months with you to attend to my new job in the States. I remember we had a conversation about it before I left. I laid it all out on the table and said I’ll quit right now to be with you. You told me “it is an opportunity that you can’t miss and I don’t want you to resent me.” I really respected that of you. It was the hardest decision I’ve made in my life. There were numerous family members advising me to reconsider but I trusted my gut on this one. I did however luck out with a few great managers and it worked out in the end. Nevertheless, it was still a sacrifice.
What I couldn’t muster the courage to say before and was ashamed of, is that I ran away. I ran away from seeing you die. Baba you were dying so quickly, at a rate I could not handle. It’s not even easy for me to say this. Your breathing was deteriorating, your motion was deteriorating, everything was deteriorating. Everytime we thought it was rock bottom, the next day would come and you’d lose another light bulb. I knew I couldn’t help you anymore. Although I enjoyed the computerized voice of the speaking aid you used, those last 3 years were beyond difficult for me to handle. Every time I had a school vacation, I’d watch my friends go back to their stable families. I was jealous.
I learned it’s not about what kind of cards you're dealt, but how you play the hand. I decided to make the best of the vacations we had together. After every visit I had with you, I’d take a selfie in case it was the last time I saw you. Mama liked that a lot.
Mama is doing better now. We took a trip last October and visited each other in Dubai. Just me and her. It was great, Baba. She really needed it. Her first vacation since the funeral. It took a lot of convincing to get her onboard. Once she did, she did not regret it. That’s how much Mama misses you. She said she will never stop loving you. We talk about you a lot. I got her an interactive book about a widower’s experience that is full of advice and practical exercises for dealing with grief, trauma and healing. She is actually reading it! You know Mama has never been a fan of books… but she is now.
As for your two other sons, Husam and Ahmad, they are also coping very well. Husam and I have been talking periodically every week. You said to us years ago that we should stop butting heads or you’ll haunt us when you die. Great news - we don’t anymore. We actually get along much better. We found common ground. Once this pandemic is over, he’s the first person I’m going to visit. And I am going to treat him out this time (haha).
Ahmad, our bright star, just won the most honorable award in his high school; The Jonboudarian Award. An award that goes to the most exceptional student or faculty that has shown intellect, tenacity and resilience. Ahmad was the youngest non-IB student (usually Junior or Senior) to win that award! He is growing up quite fast. The teenager’s voice cracked. I’m amazed as much as you are.
You raised a few extraordinary sons. My dear father, we miss you so much. We love you and you will, in the wise words of Mama, never ever ever never be forgotten. I cannot believe it’s been 1 year. I hope the heavens are treating you well.
Send a postcard when you get the chance.