Remembering my father & brother – who asked for so little but gave so very much. Their deaths made me realize how we should save our hopes for smaller matters.

By Shajiya Khanom

We make plans while hoping for a certain future. We dream and patiently wait for our dreams to come true. Then when we die, people pray for our afterlives to be peaceful. Basically, that’s how we survive – having hope for the rest of our lives. That hope gives us peace of mind. For that peace of mind, we believe in moving on and leaving our pain behind for our departed loved ones.

The numbness during grief

It has been a while since I’ve thought about writing or even thinking. It feels like I’m living in a parallel life. I can see, I can understand things happening around me but I don’t want to participate in any sort of activities. Other than taking care of my son, I try to escape from reality nowadays.

Dear all, this is not the first time I’ve been in depression. I have been through it in every phase of my life for various reasons. But I came out stronger after each phase and moved on. Believe me, life keeps giving me tougher challenges as the days go on. So, I wonder this time why it’s getting on my nerves and why I have zero motivation to deal with it.

I realized in a hard way that moving on in life is not an easy task, especially when you are mourning the death of a loved one. I also realized, whatever I am feeling right now, is an entirely valid way to grieve. Dear all, after a long time, I am writing to share something that is most closest to my heart. I am remembering them not to make the pain less but to let you know that they deserve to be remembered through such pain and grief, for the rest of our lives. We should know who we have lost and how much love we have missed. That’s how I am remembering my father, who died 28 years ago, and my older brother who died just one month ago.

Remembering Them

In the process of treasuring their memories, I have also felt emotionally blank and disconnected from the world around me. But the irony of having a normal human life is that you have to be responsible towards your other loved ones no matter what you are going through mentally. In spite of knowing that death is the ultimate truth of life, we are never ready when it comes to our own family.


My Father…

When my father died, I was only 15 years old. I was suddenly overwhelmed and disoriented, which was very normal. My father was sick for a very long time, but it never occurred to me that he could die someday. It happened one month before my SSC exam. It never crossed my mind to be practical enough to suppress my pain and to be focused on my exam. I was young and innocent. I let myself mourn as much as I needed. I didn’t think of anything other than knowing that someone you love can just vanish from your life.

I remember when my father came back from Sweden, he brought back a suitcase just packed with photos of his travels. I remember how I used to go to the market with him and never missed my favorite snacks while shopping. I remember how much he loved to eat and host others at our house. I remember how life became more challenging to him when he had gotten sick every year. I remember how restrictive his diet was due to his diabetes and kidney issues. He used to sit at the dining table and stared silently because he couldn’t eat much. I remember how much he struggled when he was paralyzed after his second stroke. I remember how the circumstances had created distance between him and the rest of us. I didn’t feel it then but now I know the look in his eyes was nothing but the despair of an incomplete life.

Another truth i realized after my fathers death is that we don’t value people when they are alive, rather we judge them even more. I knew that my father died of a heart attack and that he was old, but as the years went by, I realized his heart attack was the result of his life long struggles. And that he wasn’t that old – he was only 55.

The pain of losing a loved one can be expressed poetically by a poet – Accepting the pain seems so practical when we see others going through it until the pain scratches your own heart. That’s when our recognize how much our hearts bleed for the rest of our lives. Our love for our family is not always in the surface of our awareness but it runs deep in the root of our consciousness. Last year on December 9th, my older brother died of cancer. He died at 55 too. And all of the memories from the past came back to me exceedingly.

My brother…

My older brother stepped up as our guardian after our father died. He had started taking care of all the difficulties and family issues that could occur in such a situation. We were a simple middle class family who went through a lot of ups and downs during those times. But that family life is worth remembering when you have a brother as loving and responsible as him.

It’s really impossible to describe the struggles and sacrifices a person can go through for the family he loved so much. What my older brother did for our parents and afterwards for us, we’ll always have love and respect that’ll be in our hearts forever. He lived in Italy for 17 years for work while his wife and children stayed here in Bangladesh.

At the beginning of 2022 when we heard that he had been diagnosed with mouth cancer was frightening. But after having a successful major surgery and the doctors giving him assurance, we were very much hopeful for his full recovery. But we knew it would be a long painful process. He suffered terribly as he couldn’t eat anything solid. Due to the cancer, he had to have surgery on his tongue, teeth, gums, and throat. He could only depend on liquid and soft desserts because the surgery left him with swallowing difficulties. Since he was living in another country, the only communication we had with him was via text. He wasn’t able to talk properly and his health had deteriorated so badly that he couldn’t video call us since his surgery was complete.

In October 2022, my elder sister along with her daughter visited my brother in Italy for the first time just to find out how he is doing out there all by himself. My brother was so private about all aspects in his life, even his health, because he knew that we constantly worried for him. Luckily, my sister made a video call to me after reaching Italy and requested that my brother talk to us. When I saw him on video and heard his unclear speech, I realized what cancer can do to a human within just six months. I had a breakdown over his current condition. His skin color was different, he was just skin and bone – no muscle, no fat existed in his body anymore. He couldn’t even walk properly. Yet, he had to live alone because of the reality of his situation. My sister and niece tried their best to spend some quality days with him. They tried to talk to the hospital and local doctors to ensure the improvement of his health. At that time, all of his test results were so positive that we actually felt confident that he would be okay someday, no matter how long it would take. We couldn’t lose hope. Meanwhile, the hospital had already declared a letter to bring his family to Italy to take care of him. My brother’s wife and her family members proceeded for a family visa hoping the letter could make the process easier. Unfortunately, the visa process constantly got delayed and day after day it was getting tougher due to their so-called systemic procedures.

My brother had such strong willpower, which one could hardly imagine. He always said “everything will be fine soon” whenever I texted him. He believed in Allah and his last wish was his family being out there with him. He told my sister that this was his only wish and it gives him the strength to stay positive.

During the first week of December 2022, he had to be admitted to the hospital again. Then all of a sudden, he had to have two surgeries, one for his lungs and another for his heart. The side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and medicine resulted in these complications as he didn’t have enough fat to resist it. They tried a lot of ways to make his condition stable. Hearing the news of the cancer spreading in his body once again made us completely numb. The hospital sent another emergency letter and his family tried every possible way to convince the embassy to give them a family visa ASAP. But the procedures were interrupted again and again. So they applied for a tourist visa just to get to him as quickly as possible. Finally, when they submitted all of the documents, we got the news that my older brother is in a coma and we don’t have much time.

On December 9th, it was around 7pm in Bangladesh when I heard the news that he was in a coma. It was like someone just sucked the air out of my lungs. I didn’t know how to react other than to cry really hard. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Even after all of this, we still had hope. We had hope that he’d also overcome this coma period. That he can make it. I don’t know why we still had such positive thoughts. Even two days before his departure, my brother’s message to me was so positive. It felt like he believed that he had a future ahead. I know how hopeful he was to have a life again and to see his family by his side out there. That made it even more confusing for how it all suddenly ended.

Just an hour after he went into a coma, he took his last breath and was gone. After hearing this news, I had no words in my mouth, no tears in my eyes, no faith, nothing to believe in, just nothing. I was just screaming foolishly with an empty heart. For the first time in a long time, I understood being optimistic doesn’t mean you can avoid life’s harsh reality.

Grieving is different for everyone. It’s a process you can’t just rush. You have to work through it….

Pain doesn’t just disappear. It follows you wherever you go until you deal with it. You have to work on your other life challenges while also dealing with intense grief. It’s been over a month since my brother has been gone and here we all are, living our lives as it was. I always wonder why people say, “time will heal everything.” It’s not time, it’s our belief that we should continue living life. Some wounds never heal, we carry it throughout our lives and that’s okay. We don’t need to heal every pain and keep smiling. I believe we should accept sadness along with our happiness. Why on earth do we need to be healed and forget the person who dedicated his life for his family?!

I think of my brother when we were young and how he survived a road accident after having a serious injury on his head. I think of how he managed his studies and household duties at a very young age when my father was admitted to the hospital and my mother had to stay there, leaving us siblings at home.

I respect how patiently he had been taking care of my father along with my mother when my father had a stroke and became paralyzed on one side of his body. I wonder how difficult it was to continue his studies and be the responsible one in the family after all of that. I respect how he managed everything with our mother after having his own family. I understand now how crucial his life was when he had to move alone to another country just for livelihood and leave his wife and children behind.

My brother wasn’t able to fulfill his last wish. He couldn’t have his family beside him during his last breath. The last letter from the hospital was to let his family attend his funeral and even that procedure took two more weeks. But at last, my brother’s wife, and my niece and nephew got the chance to see him for the last time at his funeral. And my mother saw her eldest son for the last time during a video call made by my niece. Alas, LIFE!

I think of the pain of my brother each time I drink water in a glass. During his last six months, he had to take a sip of water with a spoon. I think of my brother whenever I eat biryani, kabab and any other spicy rich foods because I know how much he loved eating those. I can still feel his mental stress when he was passing those painful side effects of chemo because in every text, he mentioned how embarrassed he was depending on others for help. He was always independent and a giver so I can understand how he felt taking just a little bit of health from others despite being severely sick.

I remember in 2007 when I had been passing through a disaster in my life, he was the one who told me to make my own decisions by listening to my heart and not what other people say. In spite of being a conservative person, he didn’t want me to compromise my decision for the sake of society. In spite of struggling his whole life, he always told us, “let me know if you need anything.” He was always there for each of us. But when he needed us most, none of us could afford to be with him and comfort him. No explanation can justify how he suffered all by himself for his last six months. It was reality. Whatever it was, I pray everyday may Allah grant him amongst the highest levels of Jannah and pray that we can all be more human when it comes to helping a lone warrior like my brother.

I don’t believe every story has to have a moral. Because not everyone can complete their story while being alive. I don’t believe I have to avoid sadness and grief to move on in life. People move on eventually, so rather, remembering our departed love ones could make it easier as well as let us understand why we should value who we have around while they are alive and not just saying “Rest in Peace” after their death.

One Response

  1. Truly, an amazing writing Mimi! Couldn’t hold my tears after this. Nayan Vai is in abeautiful place away from all these I believe.

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