On May 15th, 2016 my eldest brother, Bassem, celebrated his wedding day. Our family stood around him, taking photos, dancing, laughing, crying tears of pure joy, and celebrating the union of him and his beautiful wife. I had never felt more pure happiness for my brother than I did in the moments watching him dance and laugh like the luckiest man on earth. Seeing him jump for joy as he entered the wedding hall with his wife’s hand in his, the biggest smile permanently on his lips the entire night, is an image ingrained in my memory and heart forever.
Less than two months later, on July 9th, 2016, our family stood around Bassem’s lifeless body before it was prepared for ghusl, the Muslim washing prior to burial. He was in a fatal car accident the night before, at 4:06PM, on Friday, July 8th. This time, we cried tears of heartbreak and loss, stunned that a pillar of our family was no longer with us. The loss of a sibling, or anyone close to us, is an indescribable pain. Hours before I actually received news of the accident, I chatted in the car with my best friend about death, exclaiming that I didn’t understand why people were so upset when someone passed away. “It’s the only guarantee in life,” I told her. We may never buy a home, graduate college, or have children, but we will all be buried one day. God (Allah) was preparing me with those words for myself.
…We will all be buried one day
For six months now, I have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions with no end in sight. Every single Friday is dreadful because it reminds me that on that one dreadful Friday, my life changed forever. Every single photo, an old text from Bassem, or a song on the radio floods my heart and mind with a whirlwind of emotions. One day, I can laugh and smile remembering my brother’s sense of humor. The next day, I can burst into hysteria in yoga class remembering a guided mediation he did with my sister and I in his living room last fall.
I spent countless nights awake in bed with barely a wink of sleep. Begging and pleading with Allah and Bassem to tell me what happened. My mind would not allow me to process the loss of my brother, I couldn’t move past what happened. I wanted to know what Bassem’s final moments were like. What was going on around him? What was going on in his mind? Did he feel anything? Less than two weeks after his accident, I went to see his work van at the junk yard to collect valuables. I paced around looking for a clue, wondering if maybe the police missed something. Two months later, while I was home for Eid Al Adha, I finally got to see the police report. I read it a dozen times, unsatisfied with the limited information. Absolutely no details that could help put my mind at ease. A few weeks later, my sister-in-law sent me the death certificate that United Airlines was demanding. I read through each section searching for understanding. It took me nearly four months to come to the most important realization in my grieving process.
What happened didn’t matter, what matters is that it happened. One night, while alone and in tears, that realization hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn’t matter what happened in Bassem’s final moments. I didn’t need to understand. I needed to accept. I accepted Allah’s plan for my brother, that his life would be 37 years and change. That he would bring so much joy, love, and respect to those around him. He taught anyone he came across something new. I am the person I am today because I had the honor and privilege to call Bassem my big brother. I was lucky that I got a hug and kiss on the top of my head when I was around him. I can proudly say I know how to pick the best types of paint and speckle a wall because we spent countless hours at Home Depot picking out paint to surprise our parents with a freshly painted living room. I have memories etched in my heart to make the coldest night go up in flames. My brother was a fighter, he spent every day battling something. At this very moment, I know he is in eternal peace. I accept that he’s gone, without understanding why or how. Death and the afterlife are not foreign to me. As a Muslimah, I know that our lives are more than just the years we spend in this dunya (life). Our time on earth is a test, it’s preparing us for an afterlife where no pain is felt and there is a paradise beyond our imagination.
I admit that some days are harder than others. I start nearly every day with a call to my mom. On the days where the pain and heartache are too heavy to bear, I don’t have the heart to call my mom. From 3,000 miles away, I worry my tears will put another chip in her already broken heart. Other days, I am optimistic, content, and happy that my brother is at peace, resting until the day we stand before the Almighty. On the rough days, I am mending and on the days it’s easier to smile, I am growing into the warrior my brother was training me to become. Either way, I am grateful that God loves me enough to test me with this process. It has taken everything in me not to pack up my apartment and move back to New Jersey to be with my family. I constantly remind myself that my brother was always dancing to the beat of his own drum and that despite the pain I’m feeling, I’m following the same tune he danced to and experiencing things in his honor.
I have memories etched in my heart to make the coldest night go up in flames.
The road of grieving is long, it’s winding, it’s scary, but it is also beautiful. In the months since Bassem’s loss, I’ve come across so many people who shared beautiful stories and memories of him. His name is constantly mentioned in light and often with laughter. Since losing my brother from this world, I have learned to love and appreciate the family that has exemplified resilience in one of the hardest tests in life.
To those we’ve loved and lost and to those still grieving loss, may we unite in the most beautiful of ways in paradise, inshaAllah.