I have a seven-year old son with autism, a five-year old with exciting dreams, and a two-year old whose entire world revolves around me. And they’re all really cute, masha’Allah. In fact, they’re gorgeous, insane, challenging, and sweet. My five year old said to me the other day, “Momma, your hand is shaking!”
“Yes dear,” I said quietly, “It does sometimes.”
“I’ll stop if for you!” she said.
And then she held my hand.
Photo Source: dreamstime.com
My heart hurts. Emotionally, I mean. Physically, too, sometimes, because I have tachycardia and chest pain, but being forced to withdraw from more and more of my children’s lives is a bigger pain that I had not anticipated. I can’t climb. I can’t slide. I can’t carry beach toys through the sand. I will never again take them to a water park, or have a picnic on top of a hill. I may not live to see my youngest get to first grade.
For an entire year or more my prayers were fueled with the urgency of my possible impending death, but eventually, the terror subsided. The shock value of “I could be dying!” got replaced with “But I’m still here” and I started to accept my health problems as being Allah’s decision. I changed my focus from dying with dignity to living with disability , but then I had a new and really serious problem: my duas weren’t good anymore. I wasn’t afraid anymore, and that made me… afraid.
So then I had some more learning to do. I met with one Shaykh. He told me that fear was only one door to Jannah. Gratitude, contentment, and trust in Allah’s decisions were three more. I may no longer be crying in fear, but I if I can call on Allah with contentment, gratitude, and trust, then new doors will open to me, insha’Allah.
Then another Shaykh – he asked me to focus on my family and my legacy. So if you benefit from this article in some way, make du’a for him too, because he asked me to write it. This article is part of my legacy project to create things that will earn blessings even after my death. So please make du’a for me, regardless of whether I’m not dead yet when you read this. JazakAllahuKhayran.
And then the third Shaykh – he talked about trusting Allah to look after my children after I died, since He was their Rabb after all. I’m only a temporary caretaker. Allah’s the one who’s been really looking out for them this whole time.
I know I haven’t been a good person, but I know that Allah sub??nahu wa ta’?la (glorified and exalted be He)is Most Merciful, Most Forgiving, and has promised forgiveness for those who sincerely seek it. If I’m going to meet Allah soon, and I am a believer, and I have accepted His plans for my self, my children, and my family – I have nothing left but excitement. Fear, yes – that I still have things to answer for, but definitely excitement. Now, when I pray my heart is fluttery and nervous with excitement and my vision blurred with tears. I raise my hands and I whisper, “Oh Allah, please let me be among those who get to see your Blessed Face.”
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There’s a naked greediness for good that you can only savor when you’re really, desperately, in need. Also, there’s an exhilaration when you realize that when you pray, one of only three things will happen:
1. Allah gives you what you ask for.
2. Allah diverts or reduces a calamity that would otherwise have befallen you.
3. Allah keeps your duas and gives them back to you on the Day of Judgment as blessings in your scale of deeds, when you need them most. This, as the hadith says, will be so utterly awesome and amazing that it will make you wish that none of your duas had ever been granted in this life.
I tell you, if I hadn’t been sick I would never have fallen so head over heels in love with du’a. It amazes me every time I think about it – when I make mention of Allah’s name, He makes mention of mine. No matter how many times I remember that, it still humbles and awes me to think of the Lord who created the universes (plural) with nothing more than a word (Be) saying my name.
Were He to grant all of mankind everything they wished, their demands would not diminish His bounty any more than a needle dipped diminishes the sea – and He said my name? Me? A tiny, insignificant assortment of blood, bones, and ingratitude meandering through life and remembering Him only when I need Him, but the voice that created the cosmos spoke my name?
I’m not afraid anymore. I’m excited. That doesn’t mean I’m not still asking Allah to forgive my past sins, or heal me, or protect and guide my children, or help me settle my debts before I die, it just means that making du’a is a whole lot more fun than it ever used to be. Some people are high on life. Pfft. I’m high on death, it’s awesome!
Unfortunately though, like every other non-chronically ill person whose body may or may not currently be dying, my faith ebbs and flows like tides on a beach. When the tide is high, I swim out to the sweet water beyond the edge of the world like Reepicheep. But when the tides are low, I struggle with my ankles in the sand and operational sea-foam up to my knees.
On a side note, there is a major difference between chronic illness on tv and chronic illness in real life. If this were TV, I’d get a Hallmark made-for-TV special: the tragedy of the brave special needs mother fighting to convert her Christian mother and leave a legacy for her children before she bravely and stoically dies – but not before an instrumental montage of her fight for acceptance, happiness, and eventually peace, before bravely and stoically passing away.
Also, if I were sick on TV I’d probably be losing weight in the crescendo towards my glamorous, waif-like death; pale but strangely beautiful in a victorian-style dressing gown of some sort. In real life, I don’t own any dressing gowns, and I might not even die early. I could just live a long, disabled life. In the TV version, I’m supposed to be dying as an inspiration to those who live. In real life I might be around for a while. And I might need you to brush my teeth for me. Thanks.
In any case, if I’m going to be sick and I’m going to learn a lesson from it, then you should probably learn it, too, because guess what? You and me buddy, both of our bodies are deteriorating, but the difference is that I can feel mine giving in. And you might feel sorry for me, but consciousness of my own mortality is a gift. Even though I didn’t ask to be sick, I cannot ignore how priceless a reminder it is. Once upon a time, I mourned the deterioration of my body, but within this failing shell of flesh, my heart has been given new life. My mental faculties have been honed to razor-sharpness against the whetstone of urgency.
My fears in this dunya – of rejection, of pity, of uselessness – have no place in serving my aakhirah. I don’t know how much longer I have to live, or how functional I will be for the remainder of my life, but my sole mission it to make it to Jannah and try my best to help my mother and my children make it there as well.
Photo Source: theothercastle.deviantart.com
My life is your life, the only difference being I know I’m constantly reminded of death but you’re probably still thinking you’re immortal. Just because you aren’t old or sick doesn’t mean you won’t die tomorrow; alone, unprepared, and entirely ambushed by a spiritual audit that you’ve done nothing to prepare for. So try this – set yourself a death date. Six months from now, assume you’re going to die. Feel it, believe it, and imagine the circumstances that you’re going to die in.
Think about the shock and pain on the faces of your parents, your spouse, and your children. Imagine them crying over your body. Think of the sins you never repented for, the people you never apologized to, and the regrets you’ll have then about the choices you’re making now. Circle the date in your calendar, post it on your wall and work towards it every day. Your life will change when you remember death daily, just like mine has. And you don’t even have to be sick.
For me, I’m grateful for my illness because apparently I needed my body to start dying in order for my heart to start coming alive. There’s an appreciable irony here – now that my hands are weak and shaking, I want most desperately to raise them in prayer. Now that I can no longer kneel in sajda or even stand in prayer, my entire soul wants to swim in the depths of khushu and not worry about coming up for air.
Sometimes I extend my sujud and hope, just hope, that the angel of death will meet me in prostration. Other times, I touch my children’s faces and wonder how they’ll look all grown up and whether I’ll be with them. Allah promises us in the Qur’an that after hardship will always come ease. Sometimes though – both come at the same time. I’ve never been more tired, more weak, or less able to tie my own shoes, but I’ve never felt stronger, calmer, or happier to be Muslim.
This article was originally published at muslimmatters.org
Read Part I here.