Over 30 years of professional writing, and I don’t know how to start this piece.
On Lessons Learned
Losing my husband, Mohammad, I called him Shobi – suddenly to colon cancer – over two and a half years ago has been a nightmare I still can’t fathom some days. He drove himself to the ER, never made it out – in a span of two days. Our 22 years together ended as if I had dreamt them. Life as I knew it – ended in 2020. Leaving Fort McMurray to get away from the memories – because every street, venue, even the salad section at the nearby grocery store – turned into a trigger – became necessary.
When it all happened, I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought, or worse, the world thought of me. In fact, I began to resent the word “strong” when anyone used it to describe me, which was too often. Strong people don’t flee the cities they love. However, moving to Florida to be close to my parents, and sisters was the best decision I made for myself, and my boys.
Multiple friends have asked me to share lessons I learned through this journey. What do I tell them? What do I tell you? So here goes nothing, or something, on how I picked up the million jagged pieces that became me – with the help of God, my family and dear friends.
Faith is the Ultimate
As a practicing Muslim, looking to Allah, God, the Almighty during this upheaval, brought answers, ongoing healing, and needed solace. Thanks to my sister, who taught me her mantra, “Allah’s Will is My Way,” these words helped heal my seared soul. My faith has always been my anchor and became even stronger as all of this happened. I prayed even when I didn’t know what to ask for. He provided guidance. He provided direction. Faith was the light on days that were indigo dark and rendered me blind. On days when I felt lost beyond any help, my unwavering faith remained my compass.
Grief Guts You
It’s astonishing – the way grief works, and the millions of questions it brings. It guts you, lets you put yourself together, only to put you through the wringer again. Get therapy before you need it, as in, don’t wait for it to become an ultimate need. “Kell” became my lifeline. Her gentle guidance through the early days – my boys and I started 11 days after my husband’s death – was invaluable. From tips like Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), which helps anxiety as you squeeze and relax muscle groups from your toes to eyes – to filtering my thoughts to focus on the present – there are things only a therapist can help you through. The waves of grief, which can turn into a tsunami in a blink need an objective bridge. Navigating the abyss of anxiety is not possible without a good guide, your therapist will be that guide.
Family is Everything
A community I deeply loved, my friends, work, volunteering, projects created/supported – two decades of innumerable memories. I wrapped it all up to move to the other side of the continent. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one. My parents and sister live in Florida. My youngest sister and brother-in-law are in California. The wrap-around support I needed for my soul, was here, and it became my continuous healing, especially my Mom. After Allah, she was the reason for my healing, and continues to be. A mother’s love is incomparable, and a blessing I never take for granted. My parents are five minutes away from me, my sister is my neighbor, they are my haven, and the reason for my healing.
Friends are a Blessing
It’s peak COVID – July 2020. Everyone’s hunkering down behind closed doors. And, as my world shatters forever, my house is full of amazing friends, who took over everything – from taking care of me, my boys to food, guests coming in for condolences – staggered to ensure everyone is safe with two of my friends’ daughters ensuring everyone sanitized their hands upon entering. For seven weeks straight, yes, seven weeks, food was sent to my house daily – my girls taking turns, even extended friends. I had to ask my girls to stop sending food. Fort McMurray, I have no words to thank you for as long as I live. My friends were, and are, God’s gift; I will never be able to repay them, especially during the first three days when my family in the US was still working on aligning paperwork to be able to enter Canada amid iron-clad pandemic restrictions.
I learned who my real friends were, I learned who leaves you when the chips are down. On the day of his passing by the time my dear friends in Calgary and Edmonton got the news – eight cars from Calgary were parked on my driveway and street later that night. Some flew in the same day, others headed back from out of town while on vacation. No words for these friends, who became family immediately that day – a feeling that will never change.
Do You Have a Will?
On to practical things. If you don’t have it yet, please get an official will written. It’s one of the first pieces of advice I began sharing with family and friends. I found out the hard way how important it is. Ironically, both my husband and I were going to get one the following week once our respective vacations started. Best laid plans.
A will for both of you spells out the disbursement of funds/assets, even children 16 and under. Yes, I had to get a “Public Trustee Letter,” (through my lawyer) for my then 16-year-old granting me complete custody. Go figure, didn’t know this happened in normal marriages too. But, evidently when one spouse passes away, that’s procedure. Speaking of which, in the absence of a will, I had to retain a lawyer to get a Grant of Administration, which gave me the rights to everything we both co-owned anyways. A long, arduous process exacerbated with the court being short-staffed during COVID, it took about six months to secure it before which I could transfer my home/cars/anything in my name, which was necessary to move forward as a single mother. Please ensure you have family or friends to help you navigate the paperwork, as it can get complicated.
Then there’s the CPP, and the horribly named “death benefits” application. Could the powers that be, if any are reading this, please change the name? Who benefits from a loved one’s death? Please think about this seriously and have a heart.
Faith, Family and Friends
My former boss, and dear friend, one of my rocks through this – Dr. Jennifer Turner, a well-respected psychologist and the Director of Well-being at the University of Calgary, said one of the best things I’ve ever heard: “life is hard, faith, family and friends get you through it.” So true. I have seen this up close and personal as I went through the biggest ordeal of my life. It’s the triangle that restored me, and one I’m eternally grateful for.
Act Two of Life
What brought you to Florida? As my new friends/acquaintances ask this often, and I respond with a variety of answers rooted in the same reason, I add, it’s act two of life. In literature, it’s when a character changes – for me, that change has produced a new life I love. My boys are thriving in the beautiful weather with gym, basketball, and swimming part of their weekly routine. I can see family when I want, hug my mother when I want, and that’s beyond priceless. I remain grateful for my Faith, Family and Friends. Forever.
About the author
Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.