I was talking with my sister Sabah Farooq about our Uncle Professor Dr. Abdul Raouf’s death exactly a week ago- I was extremely close to him as the eldest child of the eldest sibling in my paternal family, which is a realization I didn’t really have until he died. I have never cried as much as I did when my father, my uncle’s best friend and buddy, died 35 years ago at a much younger age of 57. My uncle was going to turn 89 this year. According to Islamic tradition, we should mourn for 3 days and then get on with our daily life, and this is what I did. I literally stopped everything for 3 days and allowed myself to feel the pain, sadness and loss. On the fourth day I called my daughter-in-law Amna Akhtar and asked her if the grandkids could come over to sleep over so I could do fun activities with them. It was the best idea, as the flurry of activities kept me occupied and rooted in the present, and not in what could have been (should I have kept my original plan of visiting my uncle in Lahore, Pakistan this year? should I have called him more frequently? should I have published my article about this amazing legend of a man before his death? should the relatives have called me to say things were not well earlier so I could have flown over? etc. etc.).
My sister and I were sharing how death of a loved one makes us sad and at the same time, how it is a reminder to live even more fiercely. We stop living for a while as we process our feelings of sadness and loss, and in that reflection we also see our own departure from this planet whenever it is meant to be. Time begins to feel scarce and more precious. An urgency to complete things and fulfill long-held intentions takes hold on our imagination. We get more disciplined in doing things we should be doing, for example writing (in my case) or visiting my mother Akhtar Farooq who is also 89. We try to build intentional abundance in our life by calling forth an acute sense of presence and experiencing every moment we have, especially if we are in our third third or fourth quarter of our life. We appreciate all the relatives and friends outpouring of love and support, which holds us up in the process. Everything becomes more technicolor.
And as I was talking to my aunt Dr. Razia Raouf, who is alone now, she shared how my uncle was putting things in order for the last year, the last few weeks before and especially the few days before his death. He knew at some level that the time had come. He was acting with a sense of urgency and calm telling trusted and loved ones what was to be done with his wealth, and how my aunt was going to be taken care of and by who. It was so reassuring to hear about the planning and preparation that my uncle calmly undertook.
What was most healing for me to hear was our Sheikh Uder Baba’s comment that death is not an end, but a beginning of a new phase of our spiritual being. Preparing for death is a big part of Islamic belief, and the values of patience and gratitude are continuously reinforced, and my uncle always reminded us of that. Living fiercely now means to me means practicing these values even more intensely than ever. And while we don’t need a reminder through the death of a loved one, it is always important to observe how we are living- are we living with gusto, with enthusiasm, with full force of our being and in alignment with our intentions and our purpose on this planet in this body? This is a daily guiding question for me now. I am grateful for his beautiful and legendary life, for my relationship to him and that even in his death, he left a lesson for me and all of us. He himself lived fiercely every moment of his life, guiding PhD students even in his retirement and inspiring them to push science’s boundaries! I am also in awe that with his death, I along with the older cousins are the new “elders” in the family.