I’m writing from the British Airways flight from Jeddah to Heathrow, the first of two flights on the way back to Atlanta – back to school and back to “reality.” I’ve been in Jeddah for the last week, and it has felt like a complete daze. Nightmare is actually a more accurate word. My dear Uncle Abdulaziz Alagili – Khali Aziz – who is three years older than my mother, passed away in a motorcycle accident Friday, September 26th 2014. We heard the tragic news via phone – the shocking, stabbing, surreal news – and we got on the first flight for Jeddah, not arriving there until Sunday.
I have two uncles on my mother’s side of the family and I have one aunt on my father’s side of the family, and I hold them all so close to my heart. I’m blessed to be close with each of their spouses, too. I learn so much from each of my uncles and aunts and I truly relish their presence, their stories, and their love. I am always happy to see them – giddy to spend time with them – and eager to make them proud. It is a privilege to have an entire team of mentors, an entire family ready to give love, time, and support to us (the cousins) unconditionally, simply wishing to help us grow.
My uncle’s death is the first actual “tragedy” to befall my immediate family. It is not my first taste of death, though it is undoubtedly the closest loss I have experienced. It’s a kind of loss that remains in your mouth as an aftertaste – bitter – and that haunts your thoughts, lingering. More than my own loss, however, it is a loss to my family – to the people I adore and put first in my life.
My mother misses her big brother, someone who was always there for her, someone who always had advice to give, help to give, time to give. My grandmother cries out for her firstborn, her crutch, and her companion: “Will I really never see that precious face? That precious son?” My grandfather says that Aziz didn’t die, but that he was snatched from us – that this isn’t death, but theft. My Aunt Hadeel mourns the loss of her confidant, her partner, her lover. And my four beautiful cousins – Juri, Rafal, Lilium, and Ebrahim – before all, are now faced with the bitter reality of a life without their father – without their role model, their cheerleader, their protector and their best friend.
I say it was a daze because it feels distant now that I am on the plane, flying away – like it didn’t really happen; except it did. That realization keeps hitting – this is real; he is gone; they are in pain; this is pain. It is what stings the most in such a sudden and immense loss – that it is really permanent. Is it the shock that makes it so hard to swallow? So excruciatingly painful? Or is it the gap we know will be left in our lives? The gap in our family lunches and in car rides, in weekends at the beach house and trips abroad, in meals at his home and in social gatherings empty of his kind face and witty comments.
Despite our deep sadness, despite our shock, and despite the inevitable gap, I am proud of the way my family has dealt with this catastrophe. I am proud of the way we have pulled together, prayed together through our tears. I am proud that I witnessed each of us say Alhamdellah – thanks to God – and mean it. Acceptance of fate – of the will of God – is one of the most crucial components of Islam. We accept that this was his fate, simply his time, and we accept that God knows better than any of us ever could. There is no imaginable good that comes from the passing of a loved one, and yet, none of us can comprehend the plan of God. We can only have patience, and accept His will. Patience and acceptance are the markers of believers – they are all we have when faced with adversity, challenge, and grief.
What is life but a challenge, after all? And what in life do we actually control but the very moment we live now – the moment I type and you read, this inhale and exhale. We barely control that. In the case of death, Muslims console one another with the following verse of the Quran: “Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return” (2:156),” reminding ourselves that death is a reality of life, that it’s arguably the reason behind life itself.
Here I sit on the plane, unable to sleep, pondering the fragility of life and the magnificence of faith – the power of belief, and how grateful I am to have it in my life and heart. I know my uncle lived a complete life, alhamdellah. I know he reached many of his goals and that he helped countless people throughout his life. I know he never stopped moving, planning, working, or smiling. I know he gave with his entire heart and that he continuously taught himself new things, sought new adventures, took on new opportunities. I know he pursued his passions, and that, perhaps, I admire the most.
He lived life to the fullest of his ability, and he shared that with all those he knew, bringing light into our lives with the brightness of his personality, with his liveliness, and his kindness. I want to treasure these memories as lessons; I want to continue to learn from my uncle, even after his death, and to watch him live on through each of those he touched. He will live on through his children, through his wife, through his parents and his siblings. He will even live on through his colleagues and friends. I have no doubt that all who knew him and loved him have an entire list of traits Khali Aziz embodied that they will now strive to imitate, to carry on to make themselves better people, and to remember him in doing so.
We fear forgetting like we fear death, and we tie the two together, often linking them so intricately that we can’t begin to disassociate them from one another. I don’t fear forgetting, though, because I don’t believe that the heart forgets. Emotion cannot be forgotten, no matter the span of time that passes. In my eyes, remembrance is directly associated with life: every action we carry out and each thought we have is a result of the influence of another. We are constantly remembering and feeling, constantly acting from memory. That is what it is to be alive – it is to remember. We know what it is to be alive, but we know not what it is to be dead. What we do know – what we believe – is that prayer is heard and received by a merciful and gracious God. And so, we pray.
May God bless all of those who have left this life for the next, and may we be reunited with them one day. May He have mercy upon their souls and may He give us the patience and strength to continue on without them. May He ever strengthen the faith in our hearts, and the love we hold for Him, helping us to accept His will and helping us to remember that there is more to our existence than this fragile, temporary realm – that though tomorrow in this life is not guaranteed, the tomorrow of the afterlife is. That distant tomorrow is what we live for; it is the reason we believe. Rest in peace, beloved Khali Aziz. الله يرحمك ويغفر لك يا رب