Fried Fish

When a loved one dies there’s a constant, vicious, emotional battle between wanting to move forward and then not wanting to. And I say move forward and not move on because no one can really move on after the death of a loved one. Whether it’s a parent, sibling, child or spouse, something about losing a member of your immediate family stirs up this conflict within you.

After some time has passed you begin to find subtle joy once again in the trivialities of life, but with every hint of pleasure comes a burden of guilt. It feels like you are betraying your loved one. You are here, alive, and very much enjoying life whereas they’re gone, laying six feet below the ground.

Perhaps it’s easier for people of faith. They are certain that their loved ones are in a ‘better place.’ But what happens when you’re not even sure there’s a better place. What if your loved one is really gone, and you’re here, sipping margaritas on a beach, or laughing at a lame joke by a coworker, or shopping at the mall. It’s a huge burden honestly. You are weighed down with the idea that you should be investing your time doing the things that they loved, because after all, it’s unfair that their lives were cut short and yours wasn’t. But if you do the things that they wanted to do then perhaps you’re making up for the time they lost.

This was my logic for probably the first three months after Rizq died. Then one day I come back home after work, and my family are having fish for lunch. I sat at the table, stared at the fish and decided that, you know what, I don’t like fish anymore. In fact, I never liked it. I only pretended that I did because Rizq loved it and I wanted to share that with him. And that’s when it hit me, I don’t have to keep on doing things I do not enjoy just because he loved them.  

In reality, no one can make up for anyone’s time on earth. I want to be able to live my life to my heart’s content because that’s the way he lived, and that’s how everyone should live. And it’s not for the idea of him ‘looking down and smiling’ to see me happy. It’s about me getting one shot at life and wanting to make the most of it. I’m not immortal, I’m going to die too. I would have loved to spend every minute of my life with him, but he’s gone. And I should be able to not eat fish anymore and not feel bad about it.

I stopped eating fish alright. But the guilt still hasn’t gone.

Graduations

I sit in the salon waiting for my sister to finish her hair and make-up, she graduates from high school today. Today has been a hard day for me but I’m managing to get through it better than I thought I would. It’s a very special day, it would have been my seven-year anniversary with Rizq. 

Him passing has changed so many things for my family and our friends. My family didn’t celebrate Easter for the first time ever this year . Our summer vacation was cancelled. The grand graduation party which was supposed to celebrate my brother finishing masters and my sister finishing high school was cancelled … pretty much all the happy occasions have gone down the drain.

I didn’t want to ruin her actual graduation too, so I got over myself and took her to the salon to get her pampered. I even booked us a table for dinner at the restaurant she loves. Sometimes it’s hard to bear all the guilt of Rizq passing and how it has changed so much for so many people. Rizq and I wanted to be a source of happiness for those around us, our wedding was supposed to be a happy occasion where our families from all over would gather to join us on our happy day. This whole summer was supposed to be happy. Now it just straight out sucks.

Happy occasions are really hard when someone you love is missing, but today is not about me. I hope my sister gets a brand-new beginning and her own special happiness one day. Today marks the beginning of a new life chapter for her and I wish, with all I have, that it’s greater than the one I had.

The Flowerpot

Less than a week from his passing I had been out shopping with my father and sister. A small flowerpot fresh from a local garden caught my attention. I love flowers. Specifically, in pots, because this way they can last much longer. I bought it and the thought of what a wonderful morning view I’d have as it sat on my windowsill excited me. And for a few days the view was spectacular. Rosy mornings, a heart full of love and a head full of song.

Rizq passed and we had to leave the country for a couple of weeks. By the time we came back the flowers had withered, much like me, and the pot had to be thrown away. As I lay it in the trash, I thought of the day I bought it; I thought of the happiness it gave me and how now it was gone.

I can always go to the market and buy another pot with beautiful flowers, place it on my windowsill and enjoy the view. But I haven’t because all beautiful things come to an end.

The struggle remains of whether I should embrace life again and enjoy its beauty with all related risks or to reject the bliss for fear of pain.

I read “The Zahir,” by Paulo Coelho a few years back and this quote has been on my mind lately. “Don’t be afraid. The only way to avoid suffering would be to refuse to love.” If I had not loved Rizq I would have avoided the pain I feel now, but I would have missed out on the most beautiful years of my life. He was worth every second of pain.

I wonder if life deserves second chances.

Bitter

When Rizq passed away in January I was surrounded by love and support from almost everyone I knew. My family was amazing and my friends from all over the world were sending me their love and prayers. I don’t think I would have gotten through the first month had it not been for the warmth embracing me; guiding my steps over shaky grounds.

By the second monthly anniversary marking his death I started noticing how most people around me had started going back to their normal lives. Somehow the death of the young neurosurgeon in Japan wasn’t as agonizing as it had been for them a month ago. By three months it seemed as if the accident never happened. Everyone’s life had bounced back; weddings, travels, new pregnancies, summer plans … it was just me. Only my life had stopped; it was my best friend and fiancé who had died, my wedding cancelled, and my future snatched from me. Honestly, I felt bitter.

I’m not even ashamed to say that. It’s not that I wanted unhappiness for those around me. It’s that I wanted to be happy too. Why was I deprived of my happiness? Who does that to a bride to be; killing off her fiancé before the wedding? I mean, what a horrible plot twist, who wrote this script?

I started alienating everyone around me. I didn’t want to hear about their happiness nor talk about my sadness. I chose silence. I think I must have been hard to understand for those around me at first. One day I’m bawling my eyes out and sharing memories of Rizq, the next I just respond that I’m okay whenever asked on how I’m doing.

When I stopped talking and sharing with those around me, I started to reflect more on myself. I was getting to know who I really was and how I handle day to day matters. And though I feel lonely, I find peace in my solitude. It’s less risky and this way I can depend solely on myself. My life does not ever have to depend on someone else to carry on. I would trade this isolation in a heartbeat for Rizq, but if it’s not Rizq then there’s no one I want to share my life details with.

I don’t know how long this phase would last. It’s been a month since I’ve retreated, and my family seems to be adjusting to this change. People have stopped asking me how I feel because they’re tired of hearing that I’m just okay. Perhaps when I chose solitude a tiny part of me had hoped that people would understand that there is something wrong. They have all assumed the contrary; that I’m healing alright.

I made new friendships with new people; people who didn’t know me back when I was with Rizq. They just know the current, new me. It’s so much less pressure around them because there are no expectations; they’re just getting to know me. They weren’t there when Rizq died.

Despite my current content with my solitude I still wish I could have my life back. I really wanted to marry Rizq this July and start our new lives. I only wanted what most other women want; to marry the person they love and start a family. Why was it so much for me to ask?

I don’t know if I can ever feel the same way about my family and friends. I am forever grateful for the love they showered me with in the time I most needed it. I’m just not sure I can share this love or any love back.

The Little Things

They don’t talk about the little things, the grief articles … they don’t tell you what to do about the little things. It’s always about the major milestones, the stages of grief, coping with the death of a loved one etc. but it’s never about the small details that make up everything; the details that keep you up at night.

No one tells you what to do when you miss simple physical things, like their skin for example. I miss his skin. I miss his hands the most. His skin was smooth to touch, (but in manly way in case his ghost is reading this and feeling offended). The hair on his hands was very light and thin. I loved it when he’d be driving, and I’d grab his right arm and hug it. I’d then playfully touch his forearms slowly with my fingers till I got to his hands. His fingertips were always chapped and dry from his nail-biting habit, which I had miserably failed to stop despite trying for years.

His hand was almost twice the size of mine, so I’d hold his big thumb and grab his hand close to my chest. I’d kiss it gently and tell him that his hand is exactly where he’ll always be, my heart. He probably loved all the ‘unintentional’ boob touching his hand was doing, but he’d always look at me, smile, then take my hand and kiss it. He’d tell me something in Arabic that means, “May God always protect you for me.”

I miss this, and when I miss it, it frustrates me because there is literally nothing that I can do. You just embrace the poignant moment, with all it’s turmoil, allow it to pass and then you carry through. I always remind myself that I am blessed to have lived such precious moments with Rizq, but is it enough? I’m not done yet; I still need to hold his hands. I still need him to hold mine. I’m not done needing him. His time was up but what about me?

What do we do when we miss the little things?

Yoga Bliss

When I walked into my first yoga class a little more than three months ago, I had no idea what to expect. I have never practiced yoga before, nor been around someone practicing it. The limited knowledge I had of this ancient practice was courtesy of the Instagram posts depicting intricate, joint crushing poses and sincere advice from well-wishers that it will certainly help me cope with my grief.

The class had already started, and the instructor was guiding the students through a sun salutation, calling out names of poses which sounded gibberish to me. As I struggled to catch up, I was thinking that this is beyond my scope of ability; it was too vigorous for my skill and physique. I was starting to get frustrated with how poorly I was doing till she asked us to lie on our mats and practice Shavasana. That’s when I decided I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I intended to attend one more class, and ended up attending many, many more. In just three months I can even do my own Vinyasa at home and can manage counting up to ten long breaths in Bakasana.

Despite my short experience I have discovered that yoga is not about flexibility, nor the intricate, impressive poses. Yoga is Pranayama; connecting with your breath, your life. It’s about balance; balancing your body and your soul. It’s about perseverance; the will to keep trying even when you fail. It is devotion; practicing even when the odds are against you. It is determination; having a goal in mind and working hard to achieve it.

When life feels like a battle, a hurricane towing me down to a ramshackle, I seek refuge down on my mat. Not once has Yoga failed to keep me safe through the storm, and every single time I got up, I would feel the strength of the universe flowing through me.

It puzzles me how I’ve managed to live twenty-eight years without Yoga in my life and cannot imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t walked into that class three months ago. I am blessed to have been guided by the universe to this path and look forward to seeing where it takes me. “It’s not your history but your presence on your mat that matters.”

Lasagne

The erraticism of life scares me more than death itself. It has a leaning to be most incendiary when you least expect it; it catches you off guard, in your moments of torpor and distraction.

Nine years ago, I was back home for the summer on a break from school. Mom made lasagne for lunch one day and like any middle eastern mom, once we were done, she was already contemplating what to cook for the following day. When her inquisition about interesting lunch suggestions went unanswered, she decided we’ll heat up left-overs. I looked at the tray and there was just two pieces left in it. I wondered what logic insinuated to her that it would be enough for the five of us.

The following day came, the lasagne was heated, but both the pieces went back to the fridge untouched. My nineteen-year-old cousin had passed away that dawn in an accident and no one had an appetite to eat.

It’s been years and I always think of those two pieces of lasagna. The lasagna was a mere representation of the erratic nature of life which incited fear in me. One day it wasn’t enough, the other it was more than anyone needed.

Last summer, after our engagement party, his family invited my family over for lunch. It was a feast! His mom is an amazing cook; anything she cooked was sapid and mouthwatering. The dining table was loaded with different dishes, but the lasagne was a taste of heaven. Every bite was scrumptious, and people were going back for more. I asked her for the recipe that day, and she promised to share it with me. When Rizq went back home this last Christmas, she had him video tape her while she created her magical lasagne; a detailed and documented recipe.

He was eager to try my adaptation of his mother’s lasagne. I had keen plans however, on experimenting first on my parents in case I brutally slaughtered his mother’s divine recipe. He died three weeks later. Once again, the lasagne has done it.   

I still watch that video sometimes, listen to his mom’s detailed instructions while he fools around. Lasagne is one of those dishes made for crowds, families. With Rizq gone my dream of my own small family, our family, has vanished.

I wonder if I’ll ever cook lasagne.