On to a Lifetime Filled With Fond Memories of My Father
I wake up to the phone ringing at 3:20 am. The screen shows Abbu’s name. Just as I was about to swipe on the screen, the call ends. The last time I received a call from my father at this hour was about two years ago when he was rushed to a hospital in Karachi due to difficulty of breathing. Therefore, thinking this might be an emergency of the same nature, I try to call back. However, a second before I attempt to dial his number, I notice a message. “Your abbu is gone. Sorry, we couldn’t make it.”
The phone rings again as I abruptly sit up. It’s my sister from the UK. I don’t answer. I dial Abbu’s number instead; I had to make sure. Perhaps I didn’t read the message correctly? The call goes through. “Nadia, your abbu is no longer with us.”
Masood sits up and moves closer to me. “What’s wrong?” he asks. I feel numb and hand him the phone without thinking. I don’t remember how the phone gets back in my hand. “How? When?” I manage to ask, reality beginning to sink in. “Your abbu passed away in his bed an hour ago. He just stopped breathing.”
Promising to call back, I end the call, get up, and head to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I stare at the blue toothpaste on my toothbrush and then look at my hands. Masood peeks in to make sure I’m okay. “Look, my hands are shaking,” I calmly tell him. He pulls me in an embrace, and this is when I start crying. We both allow ourselves to cry in each others arms for a few minutes.
There is no time to grieve for Abbu when enormous responsibilities lay ahead.
My father has lived most of his life in the Philippines. He loved that country like his own even though he complained about the bland food, the rainy seasons, the typhoons, and the difficulty of learning Tagalog language. Therefore, it isn’t really a surprise that he’d breathe his last in that country. We’d somehow known.
Wiping away my tears I take a deep breath, return my sisters’ calls, and prepare myself to face the duties that lay ahead of me. Due to timezone differences, my sisters receive the news first. Hearing them cry breaks my heart. My mother is far away in London and is unwell. I want to hug them all so badly. Two of my sisters can not travel. So, it’s Masood, my youngest sister, and myself. There’s no time to grieve for now.
The biggest concern after speaking with the family is: will I bring Abbu home to Karachi?
Honoring the dead and giving it a dignified burial are fundamental Islamic obligations. This means that no form of harm, disrespect or damage to the natural composition and construction of the body before burial is permitted. The Prophet, may peace be upon him, had urged the believers to hasten in burying the body. It is because of this Sunnah that I hesitate to prolong the burial in order to transport my father. My family and I wanted to follow the correct Islamic rituals and practices as much as we could.
A good friend of Abbu kindly offers to bathe the body and wrap it in white cloth. We tell him we’re taking the first flight to Manila.
We see Abbu 26 hours after he passed away. Time pass by in a blur. We attend phone calls from family and friends, notify work and apply for bereavement leave, visit the Philippines consulate for visa inquiry, search flights and purchase tickets, prepare a bag, and take a 9-hour flight from Dubai to Manila.
It’s a Friday. My youngest sister, Sonia, arrives on time. I feel stronger the moment I see her.
This is the Masjid Al Ikhlas of Norzagaray, Bulacan. It is a quiet town about 60 km from Manila’s International Airport. Despite the small size of the masjid, it has a large space of women to offer salah.
It’s a cloudy day and the breeze is cool. There are only a handful of people attending the Friday prayers.
We speak with the Imaam before the Friday prayers. He is a kind gentleman with a smile on his face. He checks the death certificate to ascertain the religion of Abbu. He tells us that we do not have to pay anything for the grave, but only for the labor of the men who dig the ground, which is five thousand pesos.
I look around me and take in the view. This place is so quiet and peaceful. I’m sure Abbu would have had loved this town. He has always appreciated nature.
After the prayers, the men hasten to finish the burial. Masood gets down into the grave to assist. The women look down from a distance. The Imaam tells us that this elevated parking area is outside the boundary of the cemetery so that we can watch from here.
All too soon, it’s over.
As we whisper prayers for Abbu, the reality that he is physically gone from our midst begins to sink in. I can no longer call him and hear his voice.
This is where my Abbu rests now. This is the Muslim cemetery in Norzagaray that is donated by a local actor, Robin Padilla (Abdul Aziz). It took him 5 years of negotiations and raised P1 million for the building of the cemetery. It is well-kept. The locals are very kind and friendly.
February 17, 2017. Has it been twelve days already? How time flies.
I’m back home in Dubai. Back to work. Back to the same routine. Except, I can’t call my father anymore to ask about his day and tell him about mine. I have mostly lived away from Abbu so I assumed this would make me miss him less. The loss of a parent, however, is a huge adjustment. Distance does not matter.
While missing him terribly, I am also aware of the responsibility that is required of me for my father.
Abu Hurayrah, rahimahullah, reported that Allah’s Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said:
“When a human being dies, all of his deeds are terminated except for three types: an ongoing sadaqah, a knowledge (of Islam) from which others benefit, and a righteous child who makes du’a for him.”
Making dua and offering charity on their behalf are the best things we can do for our parents. I can’t explain the grief in simple words, but I know that having faith in the Lord helps tremendously, in believing that my father is in a better place. It also helps having a strong mother, an understanding spouse, and a supportive family.
I am grateful to Allah for granting me and my siblings the blessing of a father’s love all these years. I’m thankful that we were able to perform Hajj together. He taught us how to pray, fast, and read Urdu and Arabic. He taught me how to drive and fish. He was both firm and kind. He inspired us to be strong and independent. He loved to travel and always took us along with him to discover new places. He encouraged us to explore, to learn. He was an excellent story-teller. He made friends easily. He cooked well and enjoyed feeding both friends and strangers. He was a strong man who rarely got sick.
Our extended families, my siblings, our mother, and I shall forever cherish the good memories we’d made with our father. We sincerely appreciate everyone’s kind words and prayers through this difficult time. Thank you and jazak’Allah khair.