Fearing Lost

I am willing to bet my last dollar that one of the biggest hurdle of emigrating is the fear that one day, you will get that weird 3 am phone call from your family back home, with a family emergency.
When Mak Ngah passed on last year 3 days after I arrived for production purposes, I knew God knows me better. He knows that long 18 hour journey home would be too long for me to take, calmly.

A very good friend of mine here in Vancouver, one of my first few closest buds since I emigrated – had to go through the very thing I feared. She lost her mum. She rushed back to South Africa on the same day we had planned a tea party in my new garden to celebrate my move. After all, she lives only 10 mins away. I was planning to get DH to set the Wii, so her teenage boys can play while DH and her hubby can chit chat. We girls – well, we will just sit pretty in the patio with teacups and scones in hand.

When SJ returned from South Africa a few days ago, we sat on a swing at her balcony. We chat, and I offered whatever I could to ease her pain. I can only empathise, but I do believe you will know the depths of pain only when you are in it. I have not lost my mum, but one day I know I will. Or perhaps she may lose me first. Both ways, it cuts deep.

Then SJ shared somethings that actually threw light on her depths of grief. She showed me pictures of her mother, a very beautiful woman. She also shared writings of her brother, ZM who penned his feelings about losing his mum best. This is, one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever read. Perhaps it is because it is about a friend’s mother, but perhaps too – it shadows a fear I have.

In Memory of My Mother
(and in dedication to all our mothers)
ZMY 30 September 1933 – 1 June 2007

“After a long painful illness, my mother passed away this Friday at around 19h30. It was soon after I landed in Durban from Cape Town, and 15 minutes short of me seeing her alive again after three months. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 20 years ago and in the last seven years it was terrible for her, and for her extended family, who loved her very much, to see her suffer so greatly. In Parkinson you become a prisoner of your body, lucid in your mind as your body slowly shuts down. In the last years as my mum lay unable to walk, eat or really talk (except at some very rare points and with extreme difficulty), she was in constant prayer, her lips always moving in Zikar. Islam says that extreme illness wipes away all sin. For us she is now in a better place, not just because she is free from her body, which became a prison, because she prepared herself for the next world. I have not been a terribly religious person much of my life, but I do know (and many remarked on it) that as her body lay in our lounge, after it had been washed as per tradition and as my family and her friends sat around praying and weeping, there was a very beautiful and peaceful calm in the home, a light radiated from her body. My sister, NM, from Pretoria sat throughout the night watching her body and praying, another sister, SJ, in Canada got onto a plane to make the long journey here. Relatives from our close and interrelated family came from Nelspruit, Barberton, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Trichardt. The relatives in Durban were amazing, they did so much, organised everything for the funeral, which, as per tradition again, took place the next morning. Just before her body was taken to the graveyard, my cousin’s husband, Yusuf, read a beautiful prayer for her, for a brief moment it seemed we were all united together as one in her memory and with God.

I rode with her in the hearse with the driver to the small graveyard which is a short distance away, behind the mosque which I most often attended Jummah (Friday midday prayers), Taraweh (special prayers during Ramadaan) and is the mosque where I was married. I wept throughout the ride, it was a route my mother and I travelled a lot to the Pick ‘n Pay for grocery shopping, the mosque being next door to the shops. As we past the old post office, now a depot of some sorts, I remembered the first time I became politicised, as a very young child not even 5 years old. I first experienced petty apartheid then, when my mother took me into the dingy back section of the post office with its single post attendant and long line of people, while we passed the front section, which was clean and sparkly, had three attendants and one white customer. As a young child the fact that my beautiful middle class mother was forced into a situation of symbolic indignity was the beginning of a consciousness about oppression and a desire to make some difference.

As her body lay in the mosque, which she had never entered and where I had come so many times for important moments in my life, we performed the prayer for the dead. We carried her body to the very peaceful and small graveyard behind the mosque, two cousins and I entered the grave and lay her light wrapped body in the earth (Muslims don’t use coffins). We covered her with sand, I remembered that she loved to garden and that this was such a green graveyard, Yusuf again read a beautiful prayer with my family around, I recognised then (a fact I sometimes forget) the importance of family, of community, of land and belonging, of spirituality and of love. Over the next few days as we received so many phone calls and visits, and as we sat for hours and spoke to cousins, aunts, uncles and others, I realised more and more my mother had not left us, but that she had left a little bit of her in every person who gave condolences – a loving exchange, a cooking tip (she was a great cook), kind words, a home to stay in, advice when asked, support in times of need. I only appreciated then how big in stature this small, quiet and beautiful woman really was. I feel her within and around me still, more so then ever before, wishing me to be the best person I could possibly be. If you read this, please give a prayer (in a way that is right for you) to my mother and to yours. Parents are one of the few people who can give us, to the best of their abilities, unconditional love. ZD


  1. i dont noe SJ, but I share her pain. Send her my regards and hugs. I hope to face that kind of inevitable loss with the same dignity… aiyah, see-lah… now my make-up dah ruined… so unglam… momok #1

  2. Sorry momok #1, ruined make-up on a momok is not a pretty sight.

    I hope for the same too. She reads this blog often (like you, she is a blurker). I am sure I will have to start showing her who momok#1 is, and what inevitably, ‘momok’ means.

  3. oh sungguh sedihhhh….

    as i was reading this piece azan asar berkumandang…oh lagi sedihhh….

    my prayers for the deceased and the grieving family

  4. u r rite, when u choose to live overseas, the greatest fear is to receive a call (esp in the middle of the nite). but ironically, sometimes u appreciate y’r family more when far apart. it was a lovely piece of writing that brought tears to my eyes

  5. Nazrah: the para that got me is the one on ZM following the hearse, the same route he takes with his mum to go to the shops.

    Farah:Yes we tend to. Distance has its tacit rewards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.