I wanted to write this blog on February 14th, but I chose to do it now. Six years ago, when I was expecting my third child, on February 14, my only brother passed away. If I say that the loss was crushing for me, it would be an understatement. Let me tell you a bit about him. His name was Tariq, and he was twenty years my senior. I was my parents’ late child, and he was the oldest. Growing up, he and I were close like normal siblings with an enormous age gap, which meant distant sometimes and close at others. However, circumstances moved in a direction that we became very close. He was my friend before, but by the time he died, he was truly my other half and my companion. At the time of his death, we could finish each other’s sentences. On occasion, If I thought of an idea, it came out of his mouth. He held my hand through thick, thin and many other very turbulent times. He wiped my tears when nobody was around.
We moved to the United States when Tariq was in his mid-thirties, but he could never gain a footing professionally. For those of you who may not know, America is all about adjustment. Adjustment in many aspects of life, and Tariq who was previously a high-ranking bank employee couldn’t adjust. When I look back, analyze and take stock, I see so many wrong decisions that he made after moving to the U.S. However, what’s done is done, but I miss him enormously. What happened was that despite being in excellent physical health, he started smoking in his late teens and early twenties. He used to smoke three packs a day, about sixty cigarettes every day. One fact I have noticed about smoking is that it is bad for health, but the damage is different for everyone. By the time he realized that smoking was wreaking havoc with his health, he was already hypertensive with high cholesterol. His health just didn’t pick up after he was diagnosed with hypertension, and gradually he became a diabetic as well. All this poor health was combined with sporadic jobs as a computer programmer, and no marriage. That was another factor that made him very careless with his health and lifestyle.
I was in circumstances that needed support on occasion. I cannot pinpoint the exact time, but gradually we became necessary for each other. I took care of his apartment, cooked for him, and he returned the favor by babysitting and helping me with other chores. Our friends realized my urgency and would do their best to help me find him. He had so many friends, and he had us. My kids and I worshipped the ground he walked on. I simply couldn’t dispel his feelings of having nothing and being nothing. I remember, if we went out for ice-cream, he would have a huge serving, and I would have a small child-sized serving. In my frustration, I used to scream at him loudly that he was slowly killing himself. I used to scream that he would have glaucoma, kidney failure and other health emergencies if he didn’t watch his food intake. I would scream at him that he would be bed-ridden in a bad, sub-standard nursing home. I would scream at him that he was breaking God’s orders by indirectly killing himself. I would scream at him at the top of my lungs for long periods of time, but the gentleman that he was, he would just listen stoically, and not give any response. Sometimes, my kids would get angry at me for screaming at him.
Overtime, he started going into congestive heart failure, and again he was not compliant with food or medicine. Shortness of breath Followed swollen feet. Painstakingly, I can talk about every stage of heart failure because I saw almost every stage. He couldn’t walk to the mosque located barely five minutes from my home because he was so out of breath. It was excruciating to see him like that. I visited him in December, and as usual, cleaned his house with some help, and cooked for him. He had another angiography scheduled in the first week of February, and I wasn’t able to go.
It was a gray day in Columbus and snowing lightly. I called him in the morning, while on my way to drop the kids at school. He didn’t pick up the first time I called him, answered the second time, and told me he was waiting for my call. We had a beautiful conversation, and my kids talked to him as well. I told him repeatedly that I loved him, and I desperately wanted him to get better. After I hung up, I called him throughout the day, but he never answered the phone. I had no panic that day because I thought he would make it another few years. That was the only day I never raised any alarm with his friends. It turned out that he never talked to anyone after me, and to this day I have the memory of that last call. You see, my best friend and my other half passed away right after talking to me. I never saw him in death because I wanted that last conversation to keep ringing in my ears. In those first few days, my grief could have drowned me. I couldn’t sleep or eat or drive without wanting to call him. His memory, his voice and the image of his swollen feet almost killed me. While driving, I would dissolve in uncontrollable tears, and had to pull to the shoulder because that was when we had our calls. I knew there was no one at the other end of the line; I still called him many times in those first few months following his passing.