SHE HAD CANCER for years, but it wasn’t until that evening that I missed something in her voice life. A few times during our conversation, I asked her how she was faring, but she was anxious instead over my health. She’d called my doctor asking him to write a prescription for me and send it to the closest pharmacy. I cut her short. It was her health, not mine, that was of concern. And for once she agreed. She said she was in need of rest, and, for fear of waking her, I did not call again that evening.
The week before, I’d traveled to the hospital to keep her company, but had come down with a terrible cold. My mother had a very weak immune system, and my fever threatened her condition. So I spent that weekend recuperating in New York.
It was only on Tuesday morning that I felt rested, even ready to go. But I didn’t. I skipped class. I imagine I’ll praise God every day of my life for that decision. In class, my cell phone usually has no reception. Had I gone to class, there would have been no way for my brother to have reached me and tell me to hurry to the hospital.
She held on just long enough for us to congregate and then, despite the best efforts of the doctors, her condition suddenly deteriorated. She could’ve been asleep, except that her chest was not moving, and believe me, you haven’t felt fear until you’ve seen a loved one lying unmoving before you. She was the same except she was gone, eyes closed and mouth upturned in a smile. Hers was a peaceful journey, from here back to there, where you and I have not yet been given permission to return. To the words of God her heart rate fell and fell and fell.
Go to God. It is clear that He loves you.
At the mosque that day, there were mourners, including imams and scholars, who had been touched by this woman, whom I’d never appreciated or appropriately honored. Paradise under her feet because no one but a mother could have so suddenly and decisively turned their life around as she had when she gave up her own plans to the care of her children. On the last night of her life, when, medically she should not have been lucid or even conscious, no one else could have instead worried about her son, looking after something so apparently trivial as an eye infection.
“I had a special relationship with your mother.” Each of you? A mosque elder informed us, “You can’t imagine her standing in this community.” She who was too tired to stand any length of time during the last months of her life? But death is short and then you live. There are some people on this Earth for whom paradise was made. (For the giants, not the dwarves, among humanity.) God honors those who serve His cause without complaint, who rise to pray in sickness, who refuse to find fault in terminal illness, and who seek knowledge through hardship and share it with everyone.
They are so sincere, so deeply good, so unyieldingly virtuous, spending time in prayer, recitation of the Qur’an, and in maintaining relationships with friends, old and new, and family, near and far. God must have chosen them to remind us that none of us are home yet. We spend some time on this Earth and then leave her, taking that final road toward the peaceful eternity that has been promised to those deserving of it. The destiny we feel deep in our bones, which makes us realize that this worldly life is ultimately little more than a stop along the way, a meaningful stumble.
The mother was crying, “Where is my child?” When she finally found him, she felt such solace that she showered him with kisses and inundated him with embraces that the beloved Prophet told his Companions present, “God has more love for you than that mother for her child.” Despite the passing of so many centuries, we taste her fear, panic, relief, and the stunning mercy of our Messenger. Inna rabbaka labi’l-mirsad: “Verily , your Lord is ever watchful “(Qur’an 8g: 14).
Because God never leaves the ones he loves. Those whom He loves, He calls back, no longer exiled but home again, and we who are still waiting – life is, after all, the discipline of waiting – we miss them, but perhaps we should not miss them too deeply, or rather, we should mix our grief with joy, an emotion that has no parallel except for those of us who know that ultimately and finally, no ill occurs to the good soul, no calamity tortures it, but that it is gifted with deathless lands, free of sorrow and grief, the victory before which all else in this world pales.