I was in the 1st grade when my cousin, Aisha, passed away from kidney failure.
I remember the day of her death as a blur of events which sit in my mind and surface ever so often. There are details that have forever been engraved into my memory and for some reason the days I end up remembering Aisha the most, it’s the day of her death that undeniably stands out the most.
It was September. The year was 2000. It was after school. My dad picked us up I think, my brothers and I. We got home and my mom wasn’t there. The men of the family were in our studio apartment. My dad told me to go to my aunt’s or Pupho (Urdu for aunt). I remember being excited, as I always was to go to Pupho’s. I flung my backpack onto the floor and ran across the hall to my Pupho’s apartment.
The door was slightly open. I tried pushing it open but there were too many shoes coming in the way. I pushed a little harder and saw a flood of women sitting on the floor. Most of them were crying. Some sat with their heads bowed down. My Pupho was sitting in the middle.My mom was sitting near the end of the door. She stood up and took my hand and told me to sit down.
“What happened here,” I asked, confused.
My mom held my hand a little tighter and said: “ Aisha has died.”
I felt as if she whispered the news to me so needed her to confirm it.
“Which Aisha”, I asked — sure it couldn’t be our Aisha.
“Our Aisha, Zainab. She died.”
I don’t remember what happened after that. I only remember the funeral.
In downtown Jersey City is a funeral home. That’s where Aisha’s body rested before her funeral.
I remember walking inside the funeral home with Pupho. There was a casket that was placed in the centre of a large room. My Pupho, reciting a prayer as she walked up to the casket, portrayed immense courage as she smilingly opened one of the folds of the casket. And as she opened the other fold I could feel a chill run through my spine as I saw half of Aisha’s face.
I saw her laying there. Her eyes shut. Scents of roses quickly filled the air. My Pupho kissed Aisha on the cheek and then said to me
“ Look Zainab, how peaceful is my daughter looking. Look Aisha, Zainab is here to see you.”
And right then, I could feel a flood of tears running down my cheek.
My Aisha was really dead. She was gone and this was the last time I was seeing her.
I am sharing my account of Aisha’s death because it is through these memories that I am able to go back in the past and remember the impact she has had on my life. Her death is the first instance in my life that has allowed me to understand what loss feels like and what losing a loved one teaches you.
I have read countless times that the experiences of one's childhood influence an individual's life in a multitude of ways. Aisha’s death influenced my view of what life is and has taught me how short-lived relationships truly are.
It was Aisha who was the first person through whom I experienced what it meant to feel loved and wanted other than the love and want I experienced from my parents. Her concern on what dress I would wear and why I hadn’t come to visit her showed me that those who love you will care about you in sickness and in health. When Aisha was at home and hooked to her dialysis machine, she would tell me to come to lay down with her on the bed. And although this caused discomfort to everyone else at home, fearful that a cord may trip or the machine would disconnect — Aisha never ever told me to leave her room.
She made my hair, would fight with my parents to dress me nicely, shared her cereal with me, taught me how to braid my dolls hair. She loved me. And I loved her. As a child, losing her, my first best friend was not only emotional but for a long time was unbelievable.
When I remember Aisha now as an adult I perceive her differently. When I missed her as a child and even as a teenager I missed what she was for me. She made me feel good and wanted, loved and cherished. But now, I remember her for who she was. She was a warrior for fighting an illness that will forever be unknown to me. The pain she endured during her illness makes my heart cry for the suffering she went through. I try to remember the kind of person she was. The way she spoke, the innocence on her face, the simplicity in how she dressed, the energy she emitted.
From a young age, I understood that loss and pain go hand in hand. When you lose someone you love you will automatically feel the pain. But how do you let the loss of a loved one define how you’ll lead your life? Sometimes losing someone so close to you inhibits you to take on life’s daily tasks as a normal routine until one day you wake up and everything is back to normal. For myself, losing Aisha brought me to understand one thing very quickly in my life: those you love will one day die and no friend remains a friend forever. When I lost Aisha, I lost my one and only friend. Perhaps, there is a reason why lasting friendships has always been a problematic area in my life. But if there is one thing I am glad I never take for granted are my loved ones for I understand that life is short-lived and when the time is written, even the ones I love the most are not guaranteed permanency in this life.
The day I saw Aisha laying in the casket, I remember my Pupho saying that Aisha could hear whatever we were saying. As a child, when I heard this I thought to myself that if she could hear what I’m saying, let me tell her to wake up. And so I leaned in close to the casket and told Aisha to wake up. As I said this to her, someone grabbed me by the arm and took me to the back of the room. Now, the funeral home was flooded with people and I knew my turn to go back to the casket and tell Aisha that I love her was gone forever.
To those whom I love, I tell it to them frequently. I express how I feel to others whenever I can. I believe it is through these experiences — of death and loss that one truly appreciates and holds in high regards the loved ones who are alive. Life has mysterious ways of teaching you what you must learn and sometimes it just happens to occur sooner than you’re ready to take in. Having said that, whenever I think about Aisha I wonder how incomplete my life would have been had she not been my cousin and best friend, how I would have never known what having a best friend feels like, and most importantly how I would have never gained the wisdom, maturity and understanding that comes with losing a loved one. As a believer that this life is temporary, I am grateful that I was shown this lesson early on, during my childhood, which has obliged me to never take anyone for granted and to always look for the ultimate message in life’s mysterious workings.