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A goodbye letter
My mother died last month. Died doesn’t even sound like the right word. It sounds too permanent, too sudden but that’s exactly what her passing felt like.
She was born in Somalia in the 1960s and immigrated to the UK in her late twenties after seeking refuge from the Somali civil war in Egypt and various other European countries. My mother rarely spoke about her experience during the war, but she spoke of Somalia often. She’d smile and tell me how beautiful it was. She’d tell me stories of my grandmother who died when she was around my age. Most of all she’d tell me that she couldn’t wait to go back when she had the chance.
When I was a toddler, and my brothers were babies, my mother fell severely ill. It was to the point that she wrote notes behind her old photographs to introduce us to family members we’d have to know and what her life was like before us. In her scrawly handwriting, she told us how much we meant to her, that she loved us and we should remember her like this—still, beautiful and in the country she longed for.
I think of these photographs often and how sure and accepting she was of death. She had an unshakeable faith in Allah and kept that with her throughout the next twenty-odd years of her life.
My mother died last month, and I’m still holding my breath in anticipation that she’ll knock on my bedroom door and ask me what my plans are for the day. I wake up forgetting she isn’t here. I go to bed thinking about what she would’ve said about my new hair colour and my sweatshirt dyed in Adore’s French Cognac.
I see her imprint everywhere I go.
In our kitchen, she’d house her crumpets, peanut butter and love of lemon cake. There’s no mess to indicate she once cooked there. I don’t smell the pizza she insisted she had to make weekly because any other pizza wouldn’t compare. There’s no Somali and Arabic music playing alongside her slightly off-key singing.
In our living room, the noisiness of soap operas and football used to reign supreme. We now live with the eerie silence of footsteps, avoiding the inevitable truth.
Exhaling feels like an acceptance of this new reality—one where my brothers and I don’t have a mother. One where my mother will never see us get married or achieve the success I know she prayed for us to have.
In a few weeks, I’ll be 25. It marks the fact I’ve been alive for a quarter of a century. I’m my mother’s eldest child, I’m her only daughter, and she will never see me turn 25.
I should feel comforted by the idea that she’s in a better place and safe without pain, but it doesn’t lessen my grief or guilt. The feeling of guilt that comes with grief is unprecedented. Guilt for being alive. Guilt for going to work or school. Guilt for being able to hold onto your loved ones for longer. She wouldn’t want me to feel guilty, but there’s no way to rid myself of it. Guilt has cemented itself onto my body and mind, leaving me despondent and lost.
I catch myself crying in parks, on trains, during walks I’ve taken to better my health and now, as I’m writing this. I never used to cry. It was always something I found embarrassing, but now it seems to be the only expression of my love I have left. I can’t tell her I love her, so I cry until my head hurts and my eyes are bloodshot. I mourn for the years I will never have, and the time I thought I still had.
Half of my heart, half of my being and my stabilising force have been taken from me. I want to think I’ll feel better eventually and grow around the loss, but right now, it feels impossible.
Hooyo, mamo, mum, mother— I love you more than you will ever know. I’ll keep your memory alive for as long as I shall breathe. Your love will go on through me, the boys, and everyone who was lucky enough to meet you and experience what it was like to be loved by you.
إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un
Indeed, we belong to Allah, and indeed, to Him we return.