Khadijah Tifla - Dearest D of Pause to Reflect
But normal was when her husband was around to fuss in the kitchen and see to it that the children got ready in time for the prayers. Nomalcy ended when his health suddenly deteriorated two Ramadhans ago.
The Ramadhan of 2007 saw her life turned upside down when her husband of 11 years was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. The month was spent with endless visits to the hospital, consultations with specialists and news that were not very encouraging for the PHD student and their four children. That was the month that saw her once healthy husband literally shrink before her very eyes.
The Hari Raya of the same year was to be their last together, partly spent at the hospital bed in Coventary. Hazlishah Abdul Hamid succumbed to the killer disease eleven days later on his 38th birthday, about a month after it was diagnosed.
Their twin boys, Izz Zhareef and Izz Hanees were then 10, their only daughter Ulfa Mysara was 7 and their youngest son, Muhammad Aaryf Dean, was only 5.
Khadijah herself was only 35 when she was widowed, but her faith in God Almighty never wavered as she faces the tests and challenges put in her path.
"Everyday, the only thing that keeps me going is the believe that He knows what's best for me. Hanging on to this, with every echoing emptiness, perplexing trial and excruciating downfall, I need to only remind myself:
'For truly with hardship comes ease.
Truly with hardship comes ease.'"
Hazlishah had put his career on hold to look after their children while Khadijah pursued her studies. It was a partnership that had seemed ideal and worked well until his health began to deteriorate suddenly. And although the signs were all there, Khadijah didn't allow herself to think that it was going to be their last Hari Raya together.
"I remember that it was a weekend and the doctor said that we could take him out. He wanted to go to a friend's place. And it was just wonderful to see him finish three plates of meehoon goreng," she says. That night they went back to the hospital where his condition started going downhill, prompting Khadijah to call his and her parents over. The Malaysian community was quick to render support. Readers of her blog www.pausetoreflect.blogspot.com sent their prayers and wishes in everyway possible. She wasn't alone.
Khadijah now remembers with fondness the division of labour in their household during the Ramadhans and Hari Rayas that they had together. He'd make sure that the house was tip top while she did the cooking. He loved nasi minyak while she wanted nasi himpit. So they had both.
"Basically he enjoyed food and nasi beriani and kurma was his signature dish," she adds nostalgically, sadly noting that everything about her beloved husband had to be in the past tense now.
Hazlishah's passing meant that Khadijah had to soldier on in a foreign country where friends became her extended family offering support when needed. But she knew she had to learn to go it all alone.
The first Hari Raya without Hazlishah, Khadijah found that she had to take on the role of paying the zakat for herself and her children, and came Hari Raya morning she took the children for prayers. For the boys, it was their first without their father praying by their side.
"As for the hari raya itself, sure, I could easily give in to my emotions. But I have to think of the children and not be selfish. I tried to make it as cheerful for them," she says.
Although they visit the grave every week, that first Eid was a special visit to offer their special prayers.
According to Khadijah in one blog entry, visits to the grave was a time when apart from the prayers, the children reported something to their father.
Most of the time, it was a heart wrenching session with little Dean saying endless goodbyes to his father.
When Che Yah Nyak Ahmad came to look after her new-born grandson in London eighteen years ago, little did she realise that she would also be taking on literally the entire Malaysian community in London. The single mum who brought up her three girls single-handedly after the break-up of her marriage found London to be her sanctuary; a place to mend her broken heart and devote her life to her children and grand children.
Having been made dependant of her youngest daughter, Zuraiha Zainol Rashid, 45, who is a permanent resident here, Che Yah set her mind to make London her home, much to the delight of Malaysians starved of good home cooked food and motherly love.
"Mak has always loved to cook. She loves to see people eat and she remembers who likes to eat what," says Zuraida, 51, her eldest daughter who is also working in London. Indeed, there's standing room only on Hari Raya open house at their place. From morning till late at night, friends and friends of friends will troop in for Che Yah's meehoon soup, freshly grilled satay, soto and rice with a variety of accompanying dishes. There'd be enough to take home too.
Indeed, it is no secret that even strangers who hunger for the company of Malaysians and crave for the Hari Raya atmosphere where Malays, Chinese and Indians celebrate together, were directed to their place in north London where it is literally an open house where no one is turned away.
Che Yah, or fondly known as Mak Ndak to many of us in London, is now 81, a mother figure to many of us and a substitute grandmother to most of our children. It is to Mak Ndak that we go to get our regular dose of motherly hug even if it is proving very difficult for her to hear out our woes as she is hard of hearing. It is to Mak Ndak that we readily let ourselves be spoilt with her delicious home cooked food.
"Mak used to sell nasi lemak in Jitra where we grew up. I remember searching for banana leaves to wrap the nasi lemak for Mak. She also made school uniforms to earn extra money. Life was indeed hard for her as a single parent. But she persevered," remembers Zuraiha whose father left when she was still in her mother's womb.
Mak Ndak used to be a regular at our weekly tahlil or tazkirah meeting at the surau in Malaysia Hall. Certainly, she was there almost every night for terawikh; praying while sitting on a stool as her legs began to pose a problem. But as the pain got worse, her presence became rare and now almost nil, but she still takes delight in preparing food for the congregation.
"She would insist on contributing the food and there's no way we could persuade her not to," adds Zuraiha.
If life had been harsh to Mak Ndak when she was younger, it is now compensating her with the love and affection of those around her and more. Daughters Zuraida, Zuriyati and Zuraiha and their families have kindly shared this wonderful lady with us here.
Nina Yusof remembers with fondness last Raya when everything went according to plan. Well, almost!
"I am always the one so excited; planning for everybody and hoping that we'd get ready in time to pray together before the Raya breakfast and then go to Malaysia Hall for prayers with the rest of the Malay Muslim community in London. And then come home to receive guests. Well, it was a bit hectic in the morning but we made it for prayers at Malaysia Hall together and then we had so many people who came to the house from morning and left quite late at night. It was wonderful," remembers Nina of the last Hari Raya. That was also to be the last Raya that she spent with her late husband, Faizal Abdul Aziz. More importantly, she remembers that before taking the usual Hari Raya photographs, they salam and asked for each other's forgiveness.
Faizal was taken away suddenly on 2nd April this year. He collapsed while taking his professional accountancy exams and died in hospital. He was 43. His death stunned the close-knit Malaysian community in London as he had no known illness; no warning of any health problems, no tell-tale signs that he would leave us so suddenly. The weekly congregation at the Malaysia Hall surau, of which he was a regular member, gathered to offer their prayers at the mortuary of the London Hospital in East London.
The very same crowd and more turned up almost every night at Nina's house for prayers and to give her support and mostly to let her know that she and her young children are not alone.
Nina knows this. Her children; Norman, 12 and Farah, 5, too realise they have 'uncles' and 'aunties' around when they need them. But none of us can fill the void that they feel, the emptiness that Nina vividly describes when she misses him so.
She has cried till there's no more tears to cry, she is picking up the pieces and she is moving on. But there are still those unexplained moments.
"Last week, I missed him so much. There's an emptiness I couldn't explain. I just wanted to be with him. So, I reached out for an old album. I looked at a photograph and the date is 3rd April 1999. He passed away on 2nd April 2009. It is exactly ten years. That was a picture of our day out picnicking at Virginia Waters with some friends. If I were to know then that in 10 years time he'd be gone, I would have been so, so sad," says Nina of her husband of just 13 years.
Nina knows that there will always be that empty seat at the dinner table, the one person not there at gatherings and functions and conversations that will refer to arwah in the past tense. She also knows that there will no longer be any requests for soup tulang for the breaking of iftar, and rendang daging served on Hari Raya will always remind her of him for he loved rendang daging.
"In fact, " she corrects herself as memories came rushing back, "he'd eat anything I put on the table, although initially he'd make a fuss because he said I cooked too much."
This raya, Nina says positively, instead of going straight home after the prayers at Malaysia Hall, she will drive the family straight to the Garden of Peace in Hainnault, for that is where Faizal is buried. She and her children had been visiting his grave regularly, but this Raya will be a special visit with some special prayers.
"This is something I must do with the children".