When I lived in Pakistan, – or shall I say, when I was a Pakistani? – I had mixed feelings about family.
As a young person, family – and I mean, extended family, as in, kin networks – were all about duty. Birth, death, marriage, summer vacation – you visited family. You brought mitthai, or you brought mangoes, or fruit, or clothes. You gave up your room or your bed, so relatives could be comfortable. I thought, as a kid, family were fun but they could cramp your style.
When I left Pakistan, I realized what I had lost.
Yesterday, my dear cousin-brother died of liver cancer in Lahore.
He was a dignified, private man, and did not share his diagnosis widely. It was therefore a shock to me, but I respect his wishes.
Suddenly, he was gone. Suddenly, all my plans – I’ll make time to whatsapp with him and his family – fell through.
I grieve him from afar, talk to his daughter on whatsapp, talk to my mother on the phone. We sigh over our submission to the will of God. We are all returning to God, today or tomorrow.
I have no janazah to attend. No one to weep with. No one to tell stories about how funny, or how strong, or how devout he was, what a humanitarian he was.
My mind loops, flashing to me at 13, at his wedding; or me as a kid when he had a big accident; or how he would visit our home whenever we had any trouble, and support our family.
I’ve lost a brother.
I am not grounded. If I had people who were doing this, grieving, just being sad, together, it would be real.
I feel like I’m on the moon. I’m in a vacuum.
I miss rituals of mourning. The women step in, white bedsheets are spread on the floor. Each grabs a bunch of date-seeds, and starts to recite la ilaha illallah or ayat-kareema over them, using them to keep count. Or they pick up a sipara, and start to recite. We look up to acknowledge each other. We know, silently, that we are all gathered for a beloved that has departed but whose love is shared by us all.
A quiet whisper of recitation continues.