I lost my father on a rainy Tuesday morning on April 10, 2007. I wrote the following soon after, in my column “The Facts of Life” in Viva magazine.
My life was meant to change this summer. My family and I have been preparing for a big move this past year, relocating and starting a new life. I was planning to write about the gradual transformation our lives were undergoing. But nothing could have prepared me for the unwelcome upheaval that hit my life on April 10, 2007, the morning that violently ripped away part of my being —the day I lost my father.
I sincerely doubt anyone can be prepared for the loss of someone dear. I grew up asking my parents about their own parents and siblings who passed away, trying to understand the loss and grief. I witnessed my father bury his “baby” brother, saw the lines of pain etched on his beautiful face —and still came nothing close to how I feel today. There are no words to express the raw pain in my heart, like a block of cement permanently pressed on my chest. I am told be everyone who has been through this that the pain will ease and that I will come to learn to live with the grief. They do not realize that I am desperately holding on to it all. I want to carry this pain with me for as long as I live. It is this very pain that reminds me I am the most blessed person on the planet.
I was born to extraordinary parents who never traditionally taught me anything —but showed me everything. I was raised in a household that embodied equality in every sense of the word. As a baby, I had my milk nestled in my father’s beige, camel-skin abaya while I held on to his thumb. When I got older, my father helped me get ready for school in the morning, packed my lunchbox, and waited with me for the bus at 6.15am, while my mother worked to support the family. At university, my father drove me in his ’69-model Peugeot and waited for me at the end of the day at the bottom of a hill across from campus. And through it all, he was genuinely interested in everything I said or did. When I travelled, he was the first one to greet me at the airport. When I delivered my children, he waited outside the delivery room, praying on his rosary beads while pacing the corridor. He ran to my rescue every time I needed help, and somehow made me feel I was the most gifted, special child in the world. He had enough of that compassion and love for each and every one of us and our better halves when we married. I had, by far, the most fulfilled childhood despite living on humble means. I grew up in a truly happy home, alive with love and respect. I breathed my parents’ intense love for each other. To the very last day of his life, my father would say a prayer for my mother and thank God for blessing him with his wonderful partner.
Today, I finally know what it means to be a man. My father was fearless. He was human —and kind. He was honest, disciplined, and patriotic to his core. He was also staunchly independent. Even in his death, he died standing on his own two feet. My father was a man. The extent and volume of everyone’s love, awe, and respect for him shows what a special man he was.
I know that life is a journey, and my father’s has been completed for now. He lived and died a proud, soft, kind man. My journey is not over yet, but it is certainly not what I have known. Today I walk with my held higher, proud to be Khadija Bahjat Muhaisen.
My his soul rest in peace.
… My family ended up moving to Canada. It was what he would have wanted me to do. And it turned out to be the greatest gift for us all.
The block of cement does not feel so suffocating anymore. Sometimes, I forget it is even there. Some days it comes back. Then I breathe. And it melts away.
The pain I so wanted to hold on to has been replaced with a warm gratitude —and nostalgia. Memories put a smile on my face. They are often so real I can touch every line on his hands and face.
I had to give the camel-skin abaya away so it can warm another on cold winter nights.
I catch myself holding my own thumb the same way I did centuries ago. I know that’s how my system self-regulates.
My father is in my heart. Sometimes I catch him in my daughter’s eyes and my nephew’s walk. Mostly, it is that beautiful bird that keeps knocking on the glass every morning during my yoga practice that for some reason brings him to my mind.
I lay my head on the same spot he laid his on his prayer mat.
I am truly blessed to be Khadija Bahjat Muhaisen.