In the early hours of 3rd January, 2021, I lay restless in bed. I couldn’t sleep and I just couldn’t shake the sunken feeling I had out of nowhere. I tossed and turned for quite a while before I finally got some shut-eye. But that too was brief as I was woken up around 10 a.m. by ammi’s call. That’s when I found out… and I lost it. I was not ready to hear what ammi just said. Her voice cracked as she gently conveyed the news to me but it wasn’t sinking in. Dadi maa had left us around fajr time that morning. I knew dadi maa was in pain but I was still not prepared to let her go. Unable to speak as the shock was settling in, my husband took the phone from me and spoke to my mother for I don’t know how long and consoled me for a good hour or something before I managed to get out of bed.
Losing a loved one is never easy even though it’s inevitable that they’ll have to go someday. In my experience, my grandmother has always been a loving and gentle presence in my life and at the same time taught me so many valuable lessons.
An exceptional and well-regarded healthcare professional (matron), a thoughtful and humble superior at work, a diligent household manager, a strong mother, a kind mother-in-law and a very loving grandmother, Jameela Begum excelled at every role she took on. Despite life’s hardships, she persevered and managed to make the best of her circumstances.
Dadi maa was the youngest of her three siblings and shared a very close bond with her brother. By the time she was 10, she had lost both her parents and her elder sister. Even in those circumstances, Jameela Begum was determined to make something out of herself. She wanted to become a doctor, but when she realised that she didn’t have sufficient resources, she decided to get into nursing and healthcare. And she was great at it. She secured third position in her entire district and was quickly offered a job on merit.
When she was a nurse, she decided to continue studying to get a Master’s degree. At the time, the only family that she had left was her brother but even he was separated from her when the partition happened in 1947. Her brother was left in India as she was made to migrate to Pakistan. She had a black and white passport-sized photo of him that she sometimes showed me. “Pata nahi zinda hai ke nahi” is what she’d say as she looked at the photograph with melancholy. In Pakistan, dadi maa was adopted by a kind family who had seven children, six sons and the youngest being a daughter. Dadi maa formed a good bond with them, especially the sister, who we all refer to as Nasreen khala.
She continued working as a matron at some of the top hospitals in Karachi. She was admired for her competence and her compassion as a superior. After she got married, she was managing work and home effortlessly. She was always unafraid of the patriarchal setup that persisted in our society and I find that’s something that runs in my blood too. So, when she noticed red flags and toxic traits in her relationship, she decided to separate from her husband, mostly for the sake of her children’s well-being. As a single mother, it’s not easy to raise three kids on her own while working two jobs. Not only did she single-handedly provide the best education and lifestyle to her children, she also bought a house in her name. She retired at the age of 70, but she was still sometimes asked to lecture the trainee nursing staff on ethics of the profession.
As my dear grandmother, she has played a pivotal role in my life as she shared her wisdom through stories. She would spoil me with countless presents, listen to my endless fantastical made-up stories and engage in my silly antics. My summer afternoons were spent playing ludo and checkers with her and watching the shows she loved. She was my safe place. Every time I was in trouble or was being scolded, I would run downstairs to her room and hide behind her. Otherwise she would climb a flight of stairs to reprimand her own son or daughter-in-law for raising their voice at me. She is my definition of a strong-willed human who never let any hurdle bog her down… she was my role model and still is.
However, this once sharp-minded and active woman was getting frail by the day and began losing her memories bit by bit. During her final days, one of the most painful memories was when she didn’t recognise me, and it took so long for her to remember who I was. This was the same grandma who used to wait for me every day on the sofa to come home from school… college… and then work. She’d sit by the door until I came in, hugged and kissed her, then she’d head into her room. She’d sit there as long as she could. And when she had to start using a walker, she would still make the effort to sit in her sofa.
Dadi maa was very weak and feeble in her final months and was in a lot of pain. She was crying more often and thinking about all her peers who’ve left this world while she was still here. We knew her health was deteriorating but we still prayed for her to get better.
I didn’t know the grief of losing a loved one until dadi maa’s passing. I didn’t know that grief comes in many waves. Even if you mentally prepare yourself for the news, you are never ready for it when it hits you.
The day of her passing, as I entered the house, dadi’s vacant sofa was the first bitter reminder of how I would never exclaim an ‘Assalamualaykum dadi maa’ and rush to her embrace. While staying in my room, I realised that I wouldn’t have to lower my voice after 10 p.m. because dadi maa is no longer sleeping downstairs. There’s no need to close the door without a sound because dadi isn’t there. No more of her calling out ‘Adeela, agayi beta?’, ‘Meri poti, meri bachi agayi!’ and the huge grin that’d accompany it. No more midnight birthday calls where she would sing the whole song so adorably. The list is endless so was her love…
Grandparents, especially as loving and kind as my dadi maa, are precious. Their warm doting presence is comforting enough to instil a sense of peace in the house. As long as they are present, the house and our hearts feel full. We wish that we can hold on to them forever. But, alas, we live by the laws of nature; we all have to leave one day. I miss dadi maa every day, but I am so grateful and fortunate to have had her my grandmother.