By Dr. Khalilah T. Muhammad
My best lesson learned in life is not from my educational journey of obtaining three degrees, which required me to move across country three times, or from getting my heat broken or from getting a divorce, nor is it from my yearly journeys of participating in the month of Ramadan. My best lesson learned in life about love stems from losing my parents. My mother died in October 1996 and what a painful reality did I have to face, especially since after the funeral and the burial, I had to immediately go back to school to complete my last year of undergraduate work. Then, four years later, I was told in January 2000 that my father only had a year to live; and sure enough within three months of that following year, he died.
One would think that living life without both my parents, at any age, would be almost like an impossible journey. However, the lesson that I learned is not to wallow in the grief, the absence, the sorrow, the paralysis and the anger that one immediately feels. The most valuable lesson is to embrace the feelings of hurt, but not to stay there. Now, of course, one may ask, what do I mean? Yes, I understand. As I have experienced, not once but twice, I learned that the peace of mind can come once one truly submits to it. Once I stopped reading those self help books on grief and bereavement; and I positively focused on the wonderful memories that I had of the beautiful human beings that God allowed to conceive me, I was instantly at peace and my sad face turned into a smile. This is also when the healing process began. Now of course there were some days, where all I wanted to do was cry, so when one feels compelled to do such, do it. Yet, one cannot stay there. It is the sweet and pleasant loving memories of my parents that keeps them alive and remains at the forefront of my mind. Part of this epiphany or revolting revelation came from my readings of Toni Morrison’s book: Beloved, along with my analysis of her nonfiction works and her explanations about writing her novels. For example, in the essay, “The Site of Memory” Toni Morrison writes “First of all, I must trust my own recollections. I must also depend on the recollection of others.” It is the act of rememory, this communal or collective ability to recall or to remember a previous experience, a significant moment in time or a person is the life force that also allows one cope with the loss of a loved one.
While, I still miss my parents deeply, I don’t stay there, because I can find so much joy in talking with others about my parents or in looking at pictures of my parents or in visiting New York City (NYC), my hometown. When I go back to NYC, I always revisit the places where I spent time with my parents: Central Park, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, Muhammad’s Mosque Number 7, the Schomberg Library, Lincoln Center, Harlem School of the Arts, Dance Theater of Harlem and the list goes on. I even find myself eating some of their favorite types of foods or places to eat, like Indian Food (My Dad and I always had our father-daughter chats at this Indian spot in Harlem), Jamaican Food (My Mommie loved Cod Fish Cakes) or Veneros Bakery in the Village (My parents bought me a strawberry shortcake for my birthday until I was sixteen). Lastly, I am also reminded of my parents when someone walks pass me and/or I smell Jean Paul Gaultier (my father’s cologne of choice before he died) or White Linen (one of my mother’s favorite scents).
Surely, the desire to see them again, to hear their voices again, and to touch them again are fleeting moments, just like seeing them again in a dream, but one must not stay there. It is in the various modes of rememory that one can be fulfilled, find solace and have healthy embrace of this parental absence. Life will be more meaningful in their absence if one can positively draw from all that one’s parents has given them and will continue to offer them, as long as one can find strength in remembering.
Thank you and Peace,
Sister Dr. Khalilah T. Muhammad’s areas of specialization are 20th Century African American Fiction and Literary Theory and Toni Morrison. Sister Dr. Khalilah has had several years of experience in teaching Basic Writing Skills and English Composition Courses. Aside from her research areas and teaching responsibilities, she has served as a guest lecture within her community on array of topics and on Toni Morrison’s literary masterpieces. In addition, she has presented at several nationally recognized literary and black studies conferences. More recently, she was invited to give a conference presentation at the Sixth Biennial Conference of the Toni Morrison Society, in Paris, France. Lastly, she has also edited and written a several articles for the Muhammad University of Islam page for the Final Call Newspaper and has been featured in Virtue Magazine.