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There was heavy uncomfortable silence in the room. Offering condolences is never easy. I sat quietly with my gaze fixed on the carpet motif. Infront of me was the mother of the deceased – a 26 yrs old only son. She was a woman who is memorizing the Quran & had so far preserved 1/3 of the Book in her heart. I wanted (& hoped) to see the impact of this Quran in her response to her loss. And, as expected, mashaAllah, she was a picture of composure & patience.

I couldn’t offer any solace. No words seemed suitable enough to encompass the magnitude of her loss or the gravity of her pain. I imagined what she must be going through & tears trickled down my cheeks. I tried to wipe them discreetly but, perhaps, was unsuccessful. She passed me the tissue box on the table. No, this isn’t right! I’m supposed to comfort her. Not the other way round. I disliked the fact that I had no control over my emotions. Had to do something to stop the tears. I took a deep breath and forced my mind to think of something different and totally unrelated. I wondered at the traffic noise that was occasionally filtering in through the open balcony. Alhumdullilah, I found poise again.

She mentioned about the righteousness of her son. She described how happy he was with his newly-married status, his prestigious job as a pilot of the international airlines, his various humanitarian projects… He seemed to be the golden boy of their large extended family. He was loved by all. Yet, at the peak of his health & life, he died suddenly of a heart attack. She reminded us, and herself of how we are constantly making long elaborate plans and how, Allah is making different plans for us. HIS plans prevail.

On my drive back that night, death, naturally, was on my mind. Yes, we know we’ll die one day, but we really don’t think of ‘that day’ being anywhere around the corner. ‘We aren’t old yet,’ whispers the soul to fool us. But when we witness the passing away of a person our age (or younger), that foolish supposition gets a good earth-shaking jolt.

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The first time this realization hit me was at the news of the death of a class-mate, four years after leaving high school. Later that year, we had a class reunion party at someone’s place. The excited girls had so much to share & inform each other, to fill the gaps of the years since we all parted. There were gay announcements of someone’s engagement; another was eagerly planning her grand wedding; some boasted of career and promotions; one shared the pain of a miscarriage and others looked forward to starting their medical practice soon. We talked of how many of us made it to that party. The others were missed because they were now based in other countries.

Then, all of a sudden, someone mentioned her. A painful silence enveloped the room. A while later, someone broke the silence by narrating the good times she spent with her in class. But, suddenly, for the first time in our lives, we had all become acutely aware of our mortality. She was one of us. She was like us. She spent the countless days in school with us, experiencing the same moments of work and play as we did. Yet, she was in a different realm now. ‘She could have been me,’ was the thought that probably passed in each one’s mind. After all, a healthy, lean 21 yrs old girl is not expected to die suddenly of heart failure.

We learned from her close friend that after leaving school she had enrolled for an Islamic studies course along with her medical school. Allah guided her at a time when most of us – her classmates – were heedless. She underwent a seachange. At the time of her death, she had been a conscientious practicing person.

Before leaving, we looked at our school group-photo. Like a string of pearls, the beaming youthful faces, side by side, stood gazing back at us. We prayed for her – the missing one among us.

It will soon be 10 yrs since she passed away. I believe Allah loves her, for it is indeed strange, otherwise, that every time I sit to make dua, she enters my thoughts, and I can’t help but pray for her. It is Allah Who instills her remembrance in my mind & it is HE who makes me do dua for her so often. I’m sure countless people must be praying for her through Allah’s Will.     

The string has already been cut. One pearl has slipped out. The rest will soon scatter, unable to hold on to that flimsy thread. It’s not a matter of ‘when’. It’s not a matter of ‘who’ next. The important question is: “Have I earned HIS Love? Would HE inspire others to pray for me after I’m gone?”