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When My Dad Passed Away...

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

(November 17th, 2019) The Last Day of my San Francisco Trip - 11:51 AM. Carrying the trash, I was rushing down the stairs to my Uber to go to a friend’s birthday brunch. I got a WhatsApp call from Uncle Magdi.

Albaraka feekom (my condolences) ya Hatim” said Uncle Magdi in an undertone.

Who died?” I replied naively.

Abok (Your father)” replied Uncle Magdi.

No, No. Are you sure, Uncle?"

Yes, Hatim. He passed away… just now”

“I-I can’t believe it… I was supposed to see him in less than a week…”

Then my mom took his phone and screamed frantically at the top of her lungs,

Baba passed away, Hatim! He is gone. He died ya Hatim. Baba died

At that moment, it hit. My heart shook and seemed to rumble the earth beneath me. Everything spilled out of the trash bag down the stairs. Tears rushed down my eyes effortlessly. I cradled my head between my knees and silently cried. This was the most anticipated moment of life and I was not as prepared as I thought.

Let me call you back Mama… I need to think”

I took a deep breath . . . and another. I wiped my tears as they flowed harder and

thoughts rushed through my mind: “He’s dead? How is he dead? How did he die? I just needed 5 days until I’d see him again. Oh, how I have taken for granted every last moment. What do I do? How could this happen? Now?! The one time I did something for myself. How horrible am I to have spent his last night partying with my friends when I could have called him for the last time.”

But, at a time like this, regret is the worst place to start. I quickly told myself with confidence that whatever I was doing the previous night could not have altered his course, and that it had no relation to the amount of love I had for my dad. So immediately, I had to trust myself (which I don’t do often) and depart from this particular train of thought.

It felt early. Earlier than I wanted it to be. But God doesn’t work on our timeline. Baba would WhatsApp me every few days telling me he was happily anticipating my arrival. After my two-week trip in September, he wanted me to visit again in December. Given his condition when I visited, it seemed like a better idea to take a break even earlier to see him. I cried. I cried my eyes out.

The arrow that had hovered over my heart for the last three years finally shot. Now, I bleed. My whole life changed with that 35-second call. I had anticipated this day for 1,235 days: 3 years, 4 months and 16 days, and it finally arrived. And yet, nothing could have ever prepared me for the raw, mind numbing pain. My mind just went blank. I didn’t know how to keep my emotions in tact. It was a new, totally foreign feeling to me: the death of a parent. I closed my eyes as my mind went through a montage of sentimental moments with my dad. Our laughs, immature arguments, trips, our deep talks, random car rides together, and dinners where he would teach me table manners. My mind was still wrapping around the idea that I was no longer at death’s doorstep, it had welcomed me in. I entered its household.

I felt its ambiance: cold and treacherous, pitch black with millions of voices amplified in my dad’s accent. Memories passing me by as I stood a stranger to this household, this neighborhood, this upside down world. As I walked through death’s house, I saw collages of my dad along a narrow reddish hallway. Dimly lit with a string of bulbs, I saw vague memories in Fremont, Dubai and Khartoum. All with Baba. As I passed by different pictures, the light bulbs flickered out behind me. Eventually, I reached the end of the hallway where I reach an empty wall and I hear the hallway voices to arrive at one single, clear voice. My dad’s original voice.

“Ya Hatim, bic boi” as my dad bid me farewell in his typical unnecessary humor.

And then I remembered. “My brothers! I need to call them”.

I made my first call of condolence to my oldest brother and his wife, Lorena. He took it as I expected. A quick tear washed away by his usual resilience. Yet, we both knew we were equally heartbroken. Due to our five-year age gap, it’s been a little difficult to have these vulnerable conversations about my dad over the years because we had always been in different phases of our lives. I’d be finishing my sophomore year and he was recently promoted. Or I’d be graduating from undergrad and he would be getting married. He was always one step in life ahead of me, which I admired.

I called Uncle Magdi to ask if my younger brother Ahmad had heard about the news. He’d been asleep the whole time. My heart broke for him. For a 14 year-old, a rising teenager, to lose his father at this age - I cannot imagine his heartbreak.

Throughout this, Ahmad was the strongest person in my whole family. He took one of the ugliest moments of his life with profound strength. I got a hold of him a couple of hours later. He said he was happy that Baba was not suffering anymore. Hearing these words of maturity from my younger brother was astonishing.

After the flood of phone calls from various family members, I decided to go outside to a large open field called Dolores Park. I put on my sunglasses to hide my eyes. They were red from tears. What I thought were problems like managing my savings, budget, worries about my work performance, or any other self-doubt just faded away. The most salient problem took over my body. Nothing else mattered.

As the days go by, I feel grief in waves. Sometimes in a wave of laughter when I remember a funny moment with Baba. Sometimes in a wave of nostalgia when I remember our Friday family dinners at Chili’s. Or sometimes in waves of pure grief because I miss asking him questions about culture and my career. Although in his last days, we only communicated through WhatsApp, he was still alive and able to contribute to our conversations. Whenever I had a tough situation at work or felt anxious, I would message him. He would always give such great advice. Usually he would say that I’m in a better situation than I think I am and I should never doubt myself. I always admired his confidence in me. He was not living his ideal life but he still managed to support his family.

My dad’s ALS journey was emotional torture. I watched his string of lightbulbs slowly flicker out, one by one. What brings me peace is that I know my dad is not suffering anymore. He no longer needs to rely on other people to help him. He can relax now. I don’t know what happens after we leave this Earth but I damn sure know my dad is in a much better place. I will continue to honor him through this blog. I’m very lucky that he was able to see it before he passed away. He read the first article I posted, “First Doc Appointment: A Death Sentence” and shared it with some of his brother-in-laws and colleagues. He appreciated it. Baba could tell that my words would continue his legacy.

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