After a worrying pregnancy Aisha gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and I didn’t see much of her after that… I had more children and, living outside London, found it difficult to socialise, but we kept in touch. I remember her son’s aqeeka in the park near where we lived, and how well she coped with the criticism from some ladies who told her that her son was too young to be on solids at…. 3 months old.
It was some time after that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had treatment after treatment after treatment. Like me she was married to an Algerian, but they weren’t that interested in going to live in Algeria..... at least not yet, so she applied, and was accepted for, a job teaching English in Kuwait. I met her at an Islamic conference in Leicester after she had acquired the job and she told me of the wisdom of the hadith of the Prophet (SAWS) where he urged people not to publicise their plans until everything was finalised. She said that everything had gone so smoothly with finding her job in Kuwait, but that, as soon as she started telling people, one problem after another cropped up, and now, when she was only days away from the day she was due to start her new job, she had a problem obtaining a visa. Alhamdulilah the next day she received it and was gone, off to her new life on a distant shore. She sometimes came back to England for further medical treatment, and we would chat on the phone. I remember exactly where I was, in my bedroom, the day she told me that the cancer had spread…. to her bone….. in her back, but she was still optimistic.
We moved to Algeria and I remember how wonderful it was to hear her voice on the phone when she came over on holiday once, but she and her husband still weren’t ready to move here just yet. She said that, once her health had deteriorated, she probably would move to Algeria with her husband and son so that they would have the support of her husband’s family.
In the summer of 2009 I heard that she and her family had moved to Algeria and I felt so, so sad because I knew her battle with cancer was finally nearing the end. When I received a phone call from her I was so happy, and even more so when she said she’d like to see me. She had been able to continue working successfully in Kuwait until the previous few months when she started to have seizures and realised that she couldn’t continue her work.
I went to see her in February, 2010 and I struggled to stop my tears as I watched her slowly navigate across her apartment using a walking frame. She said that she had been to England for medical treatment and her doctor had told her to choose the country in which she wanted to die. But her optimism and positive outlook on life was infectious, and I almost believed it possible when she talked about coming to my home so she could be wheeled down to see the sea. Her son who was 14 by this stage, was helping to take care of her as his father was away on business, and he told us of the walks along the beach he used to have with his mum in Kuwait. She lived in the ground flat apartment especially adapted for her needs, while the rest of the her husband’s family lived in apartments above her, and her mother-in-law often came down to make sure she was ok. She started to deteriorate very fast after this first visit, and with her husband being away and not fully aware of her worsening condition, a couple of her closest friends, all of whom she knew from England, and I set up an unofficial rota system where one of us would try to visit her each day. These two friends had been with her through all her struggles down through the years, and were now very much there for her again, and she felt the most comfortable with them. One day on my visit she asked me to read something to her from one of her books and, after debating with myself, I picked up the book ‘Life in al-Barzakh’ by Muhammad al-Jibaly, and turned to the section that describes what happens to the believer at the time of death. The angel of death says to the believer, ‘Depart from the body to Allah’s granted happiness. Depart O good and peaceful soul that inhabited a good body. Depart to Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure; depart in a praised state; and receive glad tidings of happiness, sweet aromas, and a Lord who is not angry.’ He continues to say this until the soul leaves the body. And I could feel the tears coming again… not just for Aisha but also for myself… I so wanted that to be what the angel of death said to me when it came to my turn…. in the not too distant future as all of us will taste death and yet, none of us knows when. I saw that she, too, was tearful and felt bad, that maybe it was something I shouldn’t have read, until she told me how much she missed being reminded, and how much she appreciated it.
Obviously she was on my mind and in my duas all the time I wasn’t with her and I started to appreciate even the simplest of things, like being able to move around my kitchen unaided, freely and without pain. I stopped complaining because I became more acutely aware of my blessings.