HE is there. Orchestrating every detail.

On May 1st, 2018 My father passed a little over a year after he was diagnosed with small cell cancer of the bladder. There have been roughly only 1000 cases such as his in the United States since 1980. To me, these statistics show me that he was chosen. This happened to him, a man who competed in long distance races in his 70’s, took fish oil by the spoonful before it was trendy and took us out on the race track to run laps rather than the park. There was a hand of divine grace from the moment our journey began. We were called as family members to facilitate through love , his final departure. And to show up for this task is what my family did. It was the least we could do for the man that gave us everything. In all aspects, Mohammad Shamim Mozaffar was the example of an amazing father. As a role model, provider and unconditional source of support, he gave us his heart and time.

Since the diagnosis, my heart was dedicated to two specific goals.

One : To make him very proud

Two : To spend as much time with his as possible

I started to work very hard at all things he was proud of me for. I advocated harder, wrote more and worked longer hours. I created and shared with him everything I was doing. I sent him any recognition of my work so he could see the fruits of his fatherhood. It made him smile every time, which made me glow on the inside. Afterall, nothing is better than knowing you are leaving a person to this world that reaffirms your values. I don’t actually come close, but at least I was going to show him examples of how I was trying. And if it made it easier for him to know that he can rest, then it was all worth it.

I decided to spend as much time as I could with him. I went back to Kuwait to be with him as my mom alone helped him face chemotherapy and radiation.  As a child of an expat, you soon realize the tough part of living a global life. For most of your adult years, you are separated from your parents. I left Kuwait ( where I lived as an expat) to attend college in the United States when I was 18. And though we are a very close knit family, my siblings only saw our parents in the summer and winter breaks.

God, during this time allowed circumstances to line up so I could travel numerous times. My husband had all of a sudden so much flexibility in his schedule to care for the kids in my absence, my nanny and back up sitters all were available to help out. I marvelled at every detail that helped me.

After we discovered that both chemo and radiation had failed, I hopped on a plane to bring my father the United States to give it a final shot with immunotherapy; a treatment not available in Kuwait. My mother stayed back to wrap up their 43 years of life in the Middle East.  I know till my last day, I will hold that 17 plus hours flight as the most wonderful gift God gave me with my father. I had him all to myself. We had fresh juices at the Emirates lounge, ate lamb for our First Class meal ( a cancer patient  5 day post chemo needs all the comfort he can get) and watched movies that lifted his spirit. He remarked on the film “Joy” what a beautiful story this was. At the Istanbul airport we even had a chance encounter with Muniba Mazari, a inspirational speaker who had her story shared over 1 million times on GoalCoast. She a woman who had survived a car accident had continued to live life in her wheelchair, adopt a child and committed herself to teach people to never give up. Yes, it was a divinely designed encounter. My father was thrilled that she was in the same airport and upon landing also watched the video and told me he was so inspired. Throughout the flight we were optimistic, excited and he was simply brave. I loved him every second, every minute a million times more as I watched him navigate his pain on the long journey.

The last 3 months of his life, my life was dedicated to just him. The immunotherapy also had failed and I continually travelled from Chicago to LA, where he was next to the best Cancer Hospital on the radar, City of Hope. I simply wanted to create memories. Which we did. We laughed a lot. We cried, well I cried. We watched movies, took walks and long talks. And we prayed. We focused on getting closer and closer to God. My prayer was that my father would spend the coming Ramadan with me.  Every morning, afternoon and evening we would share lectures, Quranic recitations, translations to lean on HIM during this time and fulfil our obligations of faith; to believe in HIM through hardship. Through it all, my father and I were a team on this. He ate blueberries, drank green tea and ate spoons full of honey to placate me and listened to Quran. He knew he was in Hospice now, but he would do whatever he could to help me works towards whatever goal I felt kept us moving somewhere. He was brave.

In the last week of April, I returned to Chicago for a brief time to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. In the midst of my traveling and caring for my father I did not want my children to feel I had missed their special moments. After her birthday she was about to take a week long standardized test ( her first one) and she is only 9. So I decided to stay a few extra days to help her prepare. After completion of the tests I would quickly be by my father’s side again.

But then, following divine design, the day after her second day of testing, my daughter fell off the monkey bars. She had a fracture and went into surgery. I was told it was necessary for me to stay for at least a week till she got her cast. I was on borrowed time. Perhaps, God was telling me that I must start preparing for coming back to the other relationships in my life. Not by just being their physically, but by being fully present. My daughter could not eat, sleep or shower without me. My heart broke for her.

On April 30th, my brother told me my father calls for me all the time.  He asks when I am returning to LA. I decide right there that I have to get back. I tell my husband. Magically his schedule opens up again. We make a plan that the next day my daughter will get her cast, my husband will be home to help her and I will make my way back to LA immediately.

We get the cast. I drop off her at school. I call my father. He finally picks up. The last few days had been tough to get through. “I love you! I am coming back now. I love you so much. You are so brave and I admire you so much! I am going to come and hug you!” I said it really loud. And he yelled my name “Maaria ! Maaria!”  as if he is pulling me near him. I was near him and he was in my heart. He could not continue the conversation, he was tired and perhaps in pain. So I hung up and headed home to book my flight.

By the time I had reached home, he had died in my brother’s arms with my sister at his side. My mother was in flight from Kuwait and would land 4 hours later. He died on the blessed day of 15th of Shabaan. A day of forgiveness for all. I later would discover he recited Surah Fatiha ( The opening surah of the Quran) line by line before he took his last breath. He indeed crossed the finish line close to HIM.

God uses us. HE uses us to come to the aid of people in need and for people who HE deems good.

God has a role for us. My brother’s home was my father’s refuge during the last months of his life. His compassion was his compass. My sister’s determination was his strength. My mother’s support from the moment of his diagnosis  was his unshakable ally, her daily calls his pep talks for the fight, her absence during his passing his reaffirmation of his love for her. My sister in law, who as a physician cared for him 24 hours like her most treasured patient reminded him that love for family goes deeper than blood. My love for him and HIM was just that. I am still not sure how to categorize the role I played. But I know that we were all a team. God recognized the pain my father suffered and embraced his bravery.

God gives you gifts. God gave me a beautiful opportunity. To not leave anything unsaid. HE will take care of the departed and who the departed souls leave behind. HE let me hear what my father wanted to say to me. And HE gave me permission to continue.

God reminds you its HIM.  When I was not present at the time of death, I initially questioned why. Especially when my father and I shared the love for the Quran in his last months together. But then I realized, what if at the time of passing, at the hearing of the Fatiha, I somehow had a second’s thought that our daily spiritual exercises delivered this moment. What a loss that would be for me and for my father. The fact that I had no role in his last moments reminded me that it was HIS choosing and HIS mercy to use whatever vessel he wishes to provide a perfect passing. And HE did.

God loves humility. My father was one of the most humble men I know. He downplayed his accomplishments, intellect and power to elevate others around him. He was comfortable in his skin. He didn’t need anything else. This is what I feel is why we were all called to be there for him.

God takes care of you.  In life and in death.

Pure humility. This is a lesson on how to live life. My father’s company in Kuwait threw him a farewell party as he retired due to his need to leave for immunotherapy to the United States. He spent the whole gathering speaking about how great his colleagues were instead of his own accomplishments. People will always remember how you make them feel. Brighten other’s days.