I grieve in words. For I did not witness the physical agony he was in. For I was unable to imagine my fierce Abbu not being able to speak or move despite trying. For I will not be able to touch his cold veined hands tomorrow and say goodbye as he is laid to rest. For I will not be able to hug my brother as I cry silently – the only way I know how to cry. Today I grieve the death of my father, in words.
From making an elaborate sketch of his face in pencil and always keeping it with me in my bag like a treasure – as I was in complete awe of him even when I was afraid of him – to tearing that sketch in anguish many years later, to finally reaching a moment when I wished I hadn’t torn it to pieces, many more years later.
From him banishing me because I chose to study business over home economics like all his other daughters, to him insisting on driving me loudly and proudly to my first day at my job.
From his rage over my ‘immodest’ sleeveless shirt, to us having a smoke together, me in another one of my immodest sleeveless shirts and him advising me earnestly to quit smoking.
It was a relationship that survived the test of anger, pain, and time, leaving only love and mutual respect behind. Whether that survival was a biological eventuality or a real bond, I don’t know, and I don’t care. It was, it is, worth so much.
We were so much alike. He was a male chauvinist. I was a female chauvinist. He had his pride. I had mine. But somewhere along the road, he lost his chauvinism – albeit I didn’t entirely lose mine – and we both relinquished our pride. We became friends who finally realized, accepted and almost cherished how alike they were.
I truly loved him. And I believe he truly loved me. Something we never really expressed in words –until our last words. Before he lost consciousness, I sent him a text message thanking him for teaching me even when he was not trying to teach me. For making me, even when he was not trying to make me. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me. Can that be considered a worthy goodbye? It will have to be for me to not harbor regrets.
Grieving from a distance is a different and new experience for me. When I received the text informing me of my father’s death – in another part of the world, in another time zone – I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know where to put my hands, where to look as I cry. Do I continue looking at my laptop screen and keep responding to that email, do I look outside the window, or do I simply walk out. Who do I look at when crying? And why does it matter so much that I am fixated on trying to find the right answer to this ludicrous question? There are no arrangements that I have to make, there is no one I must offer comfort to right away, there is nothing I have to do.
And then I suddenly looked at the world’s clock to confirm which day and time it was in Pakistan so I would remember his day of death. It reminded me of the time when he told us that his real birth date was not May 15, the only birthday of his we had always known. After Indo-Pak partition and his migration, due to some erroneous paper work, his real date of birth was misplaced in the system. I would insist to know of his real birth date each year. He would tell me a different date each time– for he did not remember. How incessantly I obsessed about it for years – feeling like the cheap perfume I would buy him each year would somehow mean less, not because it was awful, but because it would not be given on his ‘real’ birthday.
I catch myself as I start to obsess about not being there on his real death day.
It’s hard to imagine a world without you Abbu. I grieve you in distance, I grieve you in isolation. I grieve you in words.
Rest in peace. You have bloody well earned it.
Mahmood Ahmed, May 15, 1938 – September 27, 2017