It is strange to see sugar canes in New York. I remember how you used to buy them from Sky Superstores and that they came in a little brown bag. You used to bite into them raw and smile in satisfaction, say it reminded you of your childhood in Pakistan. I have much to say, but I would like to start with an apology. I have pushed you out of my mind since last summer, and I see now that I have done you a great disservice. I think naturally the more time I took to think about your absence, the more real it would become, and then where would that leave me? Fatherless? A daughter without her father. Half a person.
I was a little girl in the summertime. I thought that perhaps I would have more time, do you know what I mean? Mummy spoke about your deterioration daily, hourly, so much so that we became almost desensitized. So when it came to the influx of carers, to the fat repugnant hospital chair in our living room, I immersed myself in another reality. In this one, it was much like before: you were sick, things were awful for a while and then we would see you strong, smiling walking back from the mosque, you’d knock on the door and tell me how well-spoken the Imam* was. I learned very slowly that this would not be my reality. I am still learning. Instead, you and I spent afternoons in the garden, me revising The Great Gatsby for my exams and you eating red watermelon and telling me the same story over and over again, the one where you left for a trip abroad and me, seven or eight clung to your leg, the meaning of which you said was:
“ لیکن اس کا معنی یہ تھا کہ ، ٹھہر جاؤ ، مت جاؤ”
“but the meaning of this was stay, don’t go”
When I say I do not like to remember, God knows I mean it. It aches to remember. But I am learning that it aches more to not. Grief is unspeakable, it breaks people, it has broken me, but again and again I wake up in the morning. It is intangible, messy, there is no right or wrong way to grieve for someone. Do I now say, my father is or my father was? Do I outwardly say, my father no longer exists, he is buried not far from the house we live in on 84 Mildenhall Road or nod and nod and agree that yes parents are a handful, but what would we do without them? I wish you could tell me what to do at times, how to be.
On Nipsey Hussle’s death, his wife Lauren London ended his eulogy by saying ‘grief is the final act of love’ and this has made me think a lot. I thought, what a beautiful way to view such ugliness. But I ask myself, and I am asking you, where does all this love go? Where do we put it after grief? Still I take comfort in the inextricability of the two, I take perverse comfort in the fact that I am not alone, though a lot of the time I may feel I am. There is a strange paradox in me, one that feels more moved by the world now, and one that is repulsed by it. One thing I would like to share with you that has really given me the will to persevere in the face of such ugliness, is the open- letter singer Nick Cave wrote on death and grief, in light of his son’s death. He writes:
“Grief and love are forever intertwined. Grief is the terrible reminder of the depths of our love and, like love, grief is non-negotiable. There is a vastness to grief that overwhelms our miniscule selves…I feel the presence of my son, all around, but he may not be there… dread grief trails bright phantoms in its wake. These spirits are ideas, essentially. They are our stunned imaginations reawakening after the calamity.”https://www.spin.com/2018/11/nick-cave-death-grief-son-letter/ [Accessed Saturday 23rd November 2019].
Much like Lauren London, Cave acknowledges the inextricable link between grief and love, and how we as human beings are unable to avoid such magnitude. Within this, Cave presented a new reality for me. He was able to articulate what I could not begin to fathom. What I love most about his letter is the notion that after such calamity, our grief is reimagined and reawakened. Like Cave feels the presence of his son, I feel your presence all around me. I feel it in the generosity of friends and strangers, in their broken English, in their humbleness. And who would have thought I would make it this far? Who would have thought I would be three thousand four hundred and seventy miles from home, studying in one of the best institutions in the world? I know you would have thought so. I take comfort in knowing you would have been so proud of me. It pains me to write this down, to express what has been so long repressed. But I need you to know all of this, I do not think I will be able to go on if you are unaware. I miss the warmth of your hands, your enthusiasm for thrillers and cricket, and your unashamed belief in us, your four girls. Most of all, I relish the eighteen years I had with you. I am no longer the little girl in the summertime. I still mediate between anger, and sadness, still feel like half a person at times, and that will continue to. Despite this, I know that at the root of such feeling, of such devastation, there is love. And who are you, but not an emblem of love? It shone through your face, your words, your vitality. So how can I rid myself of you? The answer is I cannot, and I will not. Here you linger.
With all my love,
*Imam, the person who leads prayers in a mosque