In January 2012, my gran came downstairs in the morning and complained of backache. Nobody thought of it as anything too serious; whenever she had backache previously, painkillers and a hot water bottle would fix it. A week passed, but there had been no change, so we took her to the doctors. It turned out they only gave her stronger painkillers. Weeks passed, her pain wasn’t getting any better – it was just getting worse. Phone calls and letters were coming and going regarding upcoming x-rays, scans and results.
And then: cancer. She had tumours on her spine which weakened it, eventually causing her vertebrae to collapse. We knew that she’d want to know what the problem was, and we told her. But she did not stir. She showed no sign of weakness or hopelessness, all she said was: “Allah knows and does what is best, there is no need to be worried.” Her reaction was more than just inspiring. She’d pray salah whilst sitting down, even though it hurt – she didn’t want to resort to lying down. On certain occasions she’d get up all by herself to move around without our help. Alhamdulillah, there was a period during this illness that she didn’t even use a walking stick. We didn’t want her to undergo any chemotherapy or radiotherapy; instead we gave her natural medicine and, with the Will of Allah (SWT), it helped for a while.
The medicines that were being used in the month before she passed away were the strongest yet. Her memory and mental state had been affected greatly. And then came that last week. That last week is still fresh in my mind. Her vertebrae had collapsed further and it pained her to make the slightest movement, but she showed determination. For two days she kept sitting up and walking to the bathroom with our aid. It became too much for her. She was bedridden now. Nurses would pay visits to our home at least three times a day to check on her and to increase the dosage of her medicine. She could barely remember anything from ten minutes ago, but when we asked her what she was reciting… without any hesitation, she recited dhikr out loud to us – no mistakes.
Even with her lack of memory, she never once forgot about salah. On one occasion, she was praying salah repeatedly every 15 to 20 minutes during the afternoon. And when she took a break from salah, she’d make dhikr. And when the morning of the 21st July arrived, she squinted her eyes as if being pricked by a needle and recited her last ever recitation.
My gran’s worst pain lasted a week, after which she passed away on the second day of Ramadhan. When I think back to when I saw her just before she was taken away to be buried, her face was glowing and I am sure I saw a smile on her face. My gran made me realise that no matter how much dhikr we think we make, it is never enough to suffice the blessings of Allah (SWT). Our lives are not long enough to thank Allah (SWT) for every single thing He has done for us, yet we fail to make the most of the time that we have been given. My gran, although struck by such a painful illness, never once failed to thank Allah (SWT) for all that He had done for her. She could barely move, but when asked how she was – her response was “Alhamdulillah.” My mother – her daughter-in-law – broke down in front of her on many occasions, but she’d always have a smile on her face and say, “Don’t be silly, this is from Allah. We should only thank Him for everything, He does what is best.” And, He really does.
Zainab Shahid is a 3rd year student of BA Creative Writing and English Literature and a 4th year student of BA Islamic Studies.