One year ago today, you were hooked up to a dialysis machine. It was the last thing to try to keep you here. Within a few hours of it starting, I began to accept that we were going to lose you. You should have stabilized then, but I watched your numbers slowly decline. It made the end a little less worse because I had been silently saying goodbye for hours. I had less than 48 hours from when I arrived at the hospital. Only a few more hours to talk to you before you coded and remained in a coma—until we let you go because your body had lost the fight. Your husband, your children, and your first grandchild were there by your side as you took your final breath during the 2:00 a.m. hour of September 12th. I always joked with you that you couldn’t leave me because I didn’t know how I’d get through a single day without you. I was terrified to go to sleep that morning after we got back from the hospital because I knew when I woke up, a world would exist that no longer carried your physical presence. So now, I sit and reflect on what is in a year, the first year without you, and the beginning of my next chapter.
I woke up with a physically hollow feeling in my chest. I thought to myself, this is what a truly broken heart must feel like, like someone had taken a piece of my core out. I had no idea how to step forward. I allowed myself to finally start a grieving process but I could not fall apart in the hospital. I had to be there for Dad, for Sean, for Joe, and I know that I had to go back home and continue to be a strong mother for Emma and contend with changes in my home that included my mother-in-law living with us due to the passing of her husband just 3 weeks earlier. I would go through one more loss that would bring me healing and the ability to find peace in all the chaos. In February, I packed my belongings and moved out of my marital home. I still have 5 months before I can file for divorce, but the marriage has ended, and I’ve begun to repair what was broken.
I would later learn the feeling I had when waking up was a panic attack. I had felt lesser versions of it over the years. My first step was to meet with my primary doctor and work on medications to help me become more emotionally balanced during the initial grieving stages. I also went on the journey of finding a new therapist. I have always believed in and used therapy services. I watched you and Dad (Mike) work through many hurdles in your marriage together and come out stronger after every challenge. That is probably why I’ve always seen the benefit. You take your vehicle in for a tune-up, so why would you not do the same for your marriage and valued relationships? This therapist is different; the best, I would say. I’ve been able to address many issues and work on healing the broken little girl that has been buried inside for years. I’m learning to forgive myself for my choices and their consequences. I did the best I could with what I knew during those times. I also discovered in this process that I have ADHD, so more aspects of my life now make sense. I’m learning to understand myself better and function on a level I’ve never been able to. I hope that I am becoming the best version of myself now.
A New Beginning
For the first time in my adult life, I broke free and created a space of my own. Half the time, I am alone in it. It was a terrifying notion in the beginning. I miss my daughter something terrible when she is not with me, but I know how much she loves both her parents, and I want her to always be able to share her time with us. I grew up with pets in our home and have not had pets since 2016. I adopted two kittens in April. Emma loves them and is learning to be a good caretaker. She loves them as much as I first loved pets when I was her age. We have created such peace in our space and have left the chaos behind. I also started a new work venture. It has brought about many challenges but also rewards in equal measure. Every day, I hope to measure up to the role and make you proud.
I have always believed in God for as long as I can remember. I struggled with that journey and the end result. I am so grateful for my Islam. It gave me strength and peace in the worst moments of my life. I wish my path to Islam had a different beginning. But I was rightly guided, and for that, I am grateful. We had so many talks about Islam. You never questioned or judged. I know you worried about my safety after I started wearing the hijab. You often said you would wear one in solidarity. You supported my desire to educate and learn more. You always made sure to get Arabic educational toys for Emma—equal support for both parts of her culture. As you were my best friend, I always tried to give back to you. In Islam, we are taught the importance of our mothers and of giving back to our parents for all they have given us. You and I made many difficult decisions to distance ourselves during COVID-19 to protect your health. Once the restrictions were lifted and we were vaccinated, I was determined to make up for lost time and start giving back to you more. I had watched your decline over the years, so I knew this time it was crucial to be a better daughter than I had been all my life. Every trip was an effort to give more each time, praying that my efforts would one day weigh heavily on my scale of good deeds on the Day of Judgement. I pray that in the last few years, I was able to give back a fraction of what you gave me my entire life. You were not a Muslim, but you believed in God. Allah knows what was in your heart in the end and I pray that any benefit that comes from me and my actions counts towards you as well because of your unwavering support of me and my Islam. You were the kindest and most loving person I have ever known and I make du’a that we will see each other again in the akhira.
You had your ‘sistah’s group’ and retreats. I grew up without that level of female companionship. I saw it in other groups and could never understand why I could not find this myself. This comes again in healing that little girl. We believe Allah SWT does not take without replacing it with something better. You were my strongest female bond. I worried I had lost the strongest companionship in my life. Just before moving out, I was linked with another sister. She saved me from my pit of grief. I left the Rabata Retreat last year due to loss. I was given a tremendous gift in the two days I was there. This year, I prayed so hard that I would get those five days again. I reunited with the sisters from last year and formed new bonds this year. You departed, but in your absence, I have been given so many amazing sisters who have filled all the spaces you’d left vacant. Not only did I gain sisters, but I also gained true companionship, helping me to stay strong on my path and to strive to learn and grow. I now know what you had in the sistah’s group. It is special and beautiful. I pray for them as they pray for me (and my family).
Heather Mahmoud, Rabata Volunteer from North Carolina.
This article was originally published in the Rabateers Newsletter. Heather Mahmoud is also a Ribaat Student.