In the Winter of 2014 I became a widow. Just like that maa shaa Allahu ta’ala, one moment I was married, and the next I was not. My identity changed just as quickly as my title on an unusually warm day in December. My husband of twelve years decided that after work he would take his motorcycle out and ride with friends. Usually I drove him to work, as parking on his job site could be as much as twenty dollars a day. But on this day, he drove himself so that he could pick up his bike from storage that afternoon. He thanked me for making his lunch, kissed me goodbye, and headed to work. Because it wasn’t quite time for the Fajr prayer, I mumbled something endearing and went back to sleep.
My day started as always with me running late and grabbing a green tea before heading out to work. The drive to my office was about fifteen minutes long, but with traffic it was the most frustrating part of my day. I finally reached my office, my sanctuary, the place where I find peace. After adjusting the lights and turning on some nature sounds, I sank into a fluffy chair to finish my tea before my first massage client arrived. It was a Monday, and in my business that is the day of the week where things don’t usually go as planned. Clients cancel due to impromptu meetings at work; and others call begging for last minute appointments to address injuries sustained over the weekend. Whatever the case, I was ready. As a matter of fact, I had scheduled my own wellness appointment. There was a new acupuncture place in town, and I’d scheduled an appointment for my lunch break.
Because my husband had to be at work so early, his lunch break was at 10 am. He would call, and we would chat about his job. He was a commercial electrician and loved what he did. Often our mid-morning conversations would be about circuits, rebar, and other electrical verbiage that sparked absolutely nothing in my mind. But I loved how much he loved his work, and it always made me smile when he could point out a building whose electricity he helped install. Today was no different. It was a regular day, full of the usual conversation and the same activities that we always did on Mondays, work, live, laugh.
At one thirty I left the office and headed to my acupuncture appointment. My appointment was at two, but prone to self-sabotage, I decided to head out a little early. My body was still tense from hosting tea tastings over the weekend, so I was determined to be on time for this appointment. I chatted with my husband as I drove. He was getting off work soon and called to remind me that he would be home late. I confirmed offhandedly, and we continued laughing and talking about the adventures of our day. The afternoon was beautiful and sunny. I decided to take a winding scenic road to my appointment. It was so warm for a December day. I rolled down the window, took a deep breath, and smiled. I was taking care of myself today, for the first time in a long time.
After my appointment I returned to my office to take care of a few more clients. My day would end later than usual, but I didn’t mind since I didn’t like to be home alone. Once my last client left I texted my husband to see how soon he would be home. His text said, “I’m in the motorcycle shop.” I sent back “Okay, I guess I’ll see you later in shaa Allah.” It was all so matter of fact, void of the usual banter and sweet nothings. The bluntness of it didn’t strike me at the time, as we would surely catch up over dinner. Days later, while scouring over texts and hoping to find an undeleted voice message to fill the void, I would ponder over my last message to him. “I guess I’ll see you at home.” I guess? I couldn’t recall ever having said that to him before. These are the little meaningless things that keep you up at night.
As I was nearly finished setting up the office for the next day, a sister called and asked if she could stop by. She had only been there a few minutes when my cell phone rang. It was one of my close companions. I made a mental note to call her back later and returned my attention to my guest. Again, my phone interrupted our conversation. This time it was a text from the same sister, and I saw the word “EMERGENCY” flash across my screen. I can’t explain it, but there is a feeling that you get, deep in the pit of your stomach, a knowing. The feeling gripped me so tightly that I could not breathe. I remember mumbling, “My stomach hurts,” before extending a trembling hand toward the phone. The message asked me to call a number that I did not recognize. I dialed it hesitantly, and when they picked up all I could hear was screaming and sirens.
The sister who came to drop off the cider was now driving toward the accident scene, and every moment was torture. When we arrived, there was yellow tape blocking the road and police officers directing traffic. There was no sign of my husband. I rolled down the window and inquired about the accident. The officer smiled and pointed his arm down the dark road. “They took him to the hospital, that way.” His lighthearted response gave me hope, and the grip on my stomach loosened slightly. I remember thinking that my husband must be fine because there is no way that this officer could look so peaceful if he had just witnessed a tragic accident. The silence in the car was broken by my concerned rantings. Like a mother scolding a child, I began asking a barrage of questions to no one in particular, “What was he doing on this dark road? Why did he decide to come this way?” He wasn’t there to answer. I tried to visualize him lying in the hospital bed. Maybe he would have a broken leg or a patch over one eye. Maybe he was being prepped for surgery. It would be several days before it dawned on me that he died on the same beautiful winding road that I had taken to my acupuncture appointment just hours before; the same road that led to our home and my office, my sanctuary. The accident happened almost exactly in the middle of the two places where I spent most of my time. And I never saw home or work as a place of peace again.
Like anyone who avoids feelings, I threw myself into my work. I lived in our apartment with his shoes at the door, toothbrush on the sink, his book still open on the desk. I was stuck in time. No time was too early or too late for me to work, the more work the better. I took appointments after Fajr and was still there with the beautiful maghrib sky. I probably would have been a workaholic for quite some time, had my clients yearned to forget as much as myself. But they had to know. They wanted details. “What happened? Why did you let him have a motorcycle? Did he leave you money to care for yourself? Do you have a lot of bills? How are you holding up by the way?” My condition was an afterthought as I massaged away their pains and traumas. The pity in their eyes made me angry and ashamed all at once. I didn’t want a hug, because I couldn’t feel. I didn’t want beautiful fruit arrangements, because I no longer ate. I wanted to work until I crashed mindlessly into bed every night, too tired to think, too busy to cry. In the end, the pitiful stares kept coming, and I did the only thing that I could do to stop them. I closed my office.
Up to now, I wondered if the timing was awful or perfect. But everything happens in Allah azza wa jal’s time and by His will. So yes, the timing was perfect. Soon after I closed my office, the blessed month of Ramadan began; and I grew terrified. What would I do now to keep from dealing with my emotions? Without the responsibility of work, I found ways to keep myself busy with other distractions. My mother couldn’t go more than two days without me appearing at her doorstep, feigning happiness with a desperate smile, and using the guise of just checking on her. If my intrusive visits that never ended before 10 pm revealed my fear of going home, she never let on. Sometimes I would catch her head lolling this way and that, trying not to fall asleep on me; and try as I might, I could never get up and leave. I needed her, I needed everyone. I just couldn’t say it.
As a revert in a family of Christians, Ramadan brings a form of isolation. In addition, the four months and ten days of my mourning period has also ended recently. And as if on a timer, people stopped speaking to me about my husband. He was no longer my husband. Whenever someone asked if I was married, I now found myself stating tersely, “I’m a widow.” The term is so vague, neither this nor that. Just a widow, a woman without, a woman of lack, a woman alone. These are the terms that played in my head as the word “widow” escaped my lips. Many times, while completing paperwork for one reason or another, I noticed that there is rarely a check box for “widow.” I’m a widow and single? The trauma was compounded. But there I was, in Ramadan, a widow, single, and alone with my thoughts.
It’s strange how one person’s peace can be another person’s torment. I used to like silence; it symbolized comfort for me. But now, in this beloved month of Ramadan, it was pain unspoken, it was an aching, a longing. I tried to worship as I always had in this month, but the days were long, and the world was too still. I kept telling myself that shaytaan was trying to ruin my only chance for redemption. But wasn’t he chained up? Yes, he was chained, and I was weak and broken, unable to call out to my Lord because I couldn’t stand the sound of my croaking voice in that empty house. Sometimes you hurt so bad that there are no words. So instead of calling on my Lord, I did the only thing that my body would allow me to do; I fell to the floor and I cried. I cried until my eyes were swollen. I cried until I couldn’t breathe. I cried until I fell asleep in a puddle of my tears.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is so merciful alhamdulillah, and we don’t always need words. Because He ta’ala led me to accept an iftaar invitation from a dear sister. The sister was older, divorced, and also alone. She longed for someone to eat with, to break fast with. I started to tell her that I don’t eat anymore, that my appetite died with my old life. But I accepted and hoped that she wouldn’t notice me shuffling food around on my plate. She asked how I was doing, as she surveyed my barely touched food. I opened my mouth, fully intending to say, “fine thank you and yourself?”, but what came out instead were my insides.
I could have kicked myself for sharing my deepest emotions with my hostess. I waited, expecting to be judged or told to move on. Instead, the sister excused herself from the table and walked out of the dining room. A moment of fear gripped me, as I wondered if I had offended her. Where was she going? Just then I heard rustling coming from another room, and she soon returned with a stack of books. Each book had fluorescent tags peeking out from selected pages. And when opened, the pages displayed highlighted passages, passages about love, loss, grief, loneliness, worry, hope fear…everything that my soul needed; everything that she had needed to cope with her divorce. My Lord had heard my pitiful cry and sent me to find His beautiful and comforting words at my sister’s table. That Ramadan I spent every waking moment that I could at my sister’s home. I slept in her guest room at night, and napped on her sofa by day, with books strewn about my lap. And Allah the Most Merciful healed my wounds, eased my pain, and renewed my spirit.
Ramadan is a time of unity, where communities, family and friends gather to share in the wonderful blessings of the month. We eat together at both ends of the day, we stand together at night. And when the Eid comes we celebrate what we hope was a successful and accepted act of worship. But I know firsthand that there is always someone who suffered greatly through that Ramadan, enduring maddening loneliness and unspoken pain. There is someone hurting right now as I type this, who although happy to have made it to see another Ramadan, is dreading the isolation that is sure to accompany it. I want you to know that I think of you. I pray for you. I understand you. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ease your pain and comfort your heart. May He ta’ala bless you to worship Him in excellence despite your trials and may He azza wa jal surround you with those who can benefit you and bring hope where there was once despair. Allahumma ameen.