Illustration by Gino 2007
Preface: This is The Epilogue of a story, a book I began writing in 2007 in Jordan. I decided to not continue out of respect for the characters (both living and dead) It is a true story, my story and I will share it with you in a total of 5 chapters during this month of Ramadan. This chapter, the final is a long one but it spans the period of time between 2004 and 2023.
I hope you will take the time to read each installment, before you read this last one.
Many of you know now about Umahmad from my poetry.
This is how it all began and how it ended and how it continues today…
I am in uncharted waters in this epilogue that I am writing today in Ramadan 2023.
I am trying to capture the feelings, the chronological order of things, the twists and turns, the progressively more complicated and sadder developments and it is not an easy task for me, so I think I will start right where I left off at the ending of the last chapter, Chapter Four.
“She was really gone!”
I did not see Umahmad again until three years later.
I went back to Costa Rica a few times during this time and fell into a deep period of both mourning and writing poetry. I also joined Second Life. I think poetry and the virtual world saved me from falling into something even harder to get out of. Nothing was the same, even my marriage, which had been crumbling, was now visibly falling apart.
My husband was courting a second wife who unfortunately, from the first day, tried to make sure that one day I would go back to Costa Rica and never return. She never liked me although in the beginning, she pretended to.
I wrote a poem then about the lack of Umahmad in my marriage, as odd as that sounds:
You never stopped to notice
her presence in the weave.
Her thread held fast
our rotting fabric
and bound it in one piece.
When someone pulled upon the end
it was lost and gone.
We crumbled into senseless strings.
Not even you can
what has come undone
what next the future brings
You don’t know
what I know
that I am leaving soon,
there is no
I-will- return- in- June.”
* * * * * *
I was overcome with theories and the not knowing why she left was driving me mad.
After talking with my family, I finally felt she did what she did, running away, because she had lost the hope that she could make a better life with me and my husband. Her first concern always was her children and now I’m sure, she felt helpless to provide them legal status and stability in Karak. My family, too, were genuinely shocked and hurt by how she left. My mother-in-law said she cried for a week when that happened..and she talked so lovingly about her and my father-in-law got tears in his eyes when he talked about her. He worried about her too.
His theory on why she left, I felt then, could have had some truth to it, was that perhaps for the good of her daughters, she started a new life and cut off all ties with the old, hoping they might have a chance to get ahead or marry well, For this reason she did not trust anyone from the past coming forward someday and saying..Oh..but in Karak, Umahmad worked as a domestic employee! I said to my father-in-law,
”How could she ever think I would do that to her???”
He said “Because she thinks like an Arab woman..not a Western woman. She judges you by how she might act. She can’t trust you because she knows under the same circumstances, she might not be totally trustworthy.
I told my father-in-law, my love for her would have choked me before I would have said one word to destroy her future. Everyone says here “Allah maha” May she go with God..May it all be for her best..May she go in peace…and (I hoped) leave me in peace too, because I had yet to feel anything like peace.
This theory as it turned out was not totally correct.
* * * * *
“Not until 2007 would I ever see her face, hold her hand and yet, the person who I found after all this time of searching, writing poetry to, taking out ads in the newspapers for any information about her etc, was not the same person who left me standing in the window in 2004.
The children, two twin girls about 14 years old and an older brother and a younger one, were the first to explain it to me,
“Mama not well Mama mareeda, mareeda fil ras.”
That their mother was sick and sick in the head.
I had been calling all her disconnected cell phone numbers for years, without
answer. While I imagined she might have slipped back into Iraq to look for family, she had actually stayed this whole time, hidden in Amman, in the capital of Jordan, stashed away in a very poor neighborhood.
My husband and I were in a restaurant in Amman waiting for the adthan to call in Ramadan of 2007. Everyone was sitting at their tables, the food served and yet no one was eating.
I always found this an amazing sight, steaming hot food served and all sitting in suspended animation at every table. As soon as the first note of the adthan rang out,
the noise level rose, silverware clinked and all began to drink their water, eat some dates and dig in with such relish that only an 18-hour fast can provoke.
A few minutes before, I had just unconsciously dialed one of Umahmad’s disconnected numbers when I heard a male voice on the other end.
Someone actually answered!!
I said, “Ahmad?”
He said, “It is”…then a pause…Donna?”
“Ana Donna”(I’m Donna) I said and looked over to see my husband gesturing to hang up as the adthan was about to call.
“Mama! Mama!” he went running to Umahmad “Mama it’s Donna! It’s Donna”
My husband took the phone and shut it off just as the adthan rang out.
I had no appetite, no desire to be sitting in a restaurant in Amman, I just wanted to go to her, find her and tell it’s OK. All is OK now. Three years of not knowing where she was, dead or alive in Jordan or Iraq, was now forgiven. It was all forgiven.
I was shaking and could barley eat, when my husband finally called them back after dessert (!) and they gave him directions to their home.
I found myself climbing a steep hill while four children came running down to meet me, hugging me, crying, it was such an emotional reunion, so beautiful and honestly we were all so happy to be together again in that moment…but no sign of Umahamd.
That’s when the girls explained that their mother was “Sick in the head” She heard voices, became very angry, talked to people not in the room and scared the children so much with her behavior. They thought she had a Djinn and kept apologizing for her in case she was less than happy to see me.
She was subdued and quiet when she saw me walk in and did not stand up,
but she half-smiled,
“What are You doing here?” she laughed.
It was an odd laugh, like she was talking to someone else and laughing about me…
not with me.
We went outside, the kids and Umahmad and all her devils and voices she carried in her head and we walked in the cool evening. I held her hand in mine and she walked with me, every once in awhile snickering and looking at me, like she had a private, running joke going on with some invisible other, also walking with us
and I was the the brunt of the joke. It was a very disconcerting feeling,
like two against one and I was the odd person out.
It was all I could do to not well-up in tears.
I had found her and yet I had not.
I found a new version of her, one assaulted by anonymous voices, invisible to everyone but her, voices that made fun of all who loved her. It was like dealing with the devil, her strange expressions and pointing fingers and laughing in this totally mocking, making – fun- of way.
Of course her family felt she had a Djinn, but I felt she was suffering from schizophrenia and the sooner we could get her to a doctor, the more possible it would be to get her help, get her balanced and hopefully give her a chance to live some kind of life.
I knew a little about this tragic disease, but after I returned to Karak, I locked myself in my room to find out as much as possible, reading all the pages I could find on the internet. Honestly there were times, when I felt I was in an out-take of the Exorcist. Umahamd who was always so religious and pious, especially about her prayers would burst into the room when the girls and I were praying and swear and rail against God and Islam and Arabs and EVERYTHING… using the most violent offensive language.
It was a hard stretch to think she was not possessed with some malign spirit or fiery entity. I had never heard her swear, not even once before then. At times. it was even easier for me to believe she had a Djinn inside who had taken control and locked her out of her own mind.
At this point the children were supporting her. The girls cleaned houses and depended upon charity from people at the mosque who knew about their situation (Their mother had a Djinn) The oldest boy went to work for a mechanic and the youngest… they were able to keep studying in public school.
The kids were heroes.
If it’s true that years before, she was their hero, always looking out for them, putting their needs first over her own, now they all stepped up to take care of her, without much help or experience. What they could do successfully, was keep her at home, not wandering the streets, which she had tried to do many times. They kept her fed and clothed and clean and paid the rent. Imagine what an almost impossible task it was for them, just in their early teens and their protector, their “Mama Lion” who was always there for them, had grown sick in the head!
While Umahmad and her family were going through these very hard times, I was going through my own back in Karak. The second-wife-to- be had all but declared war on me. She whispered complaints to my husband and when he came back to our room at his parents, he would take it out on me. As this story is really about Umahmad and not solely about me, I will just include this poem that has never been seen nor will be seen in any post, except here in this story, written in 2007. It explains this part of my life pretty well.
My Long Teeth
You are out of my heart, while still in my sight
My wedding ring sits on the floor,
Two is one too many for your small love
There’s not much to give anymore.
A donkey brays as the wind howls up,
My life force strains, to blow out the door,
I will not compete if we’re not playing fair
You can’t ask this of me in love’s war.
She promised me loyalty, respect and my place
This second wife you chose from four
I believed in her sweetness and kindness towards me
But her strategy’s turned so hardcore.
Oh, will I pack it all up, whatever I can
Leave this battle-ground bleeding and sore?
Or will I blacken my nose and coif my mane
Bare my long teeth and then let out a roar?
I will not go into details about the end of my marriage, but it was violent, and what I finally decided to do, was decided for me, after a horrible episode with my husband one night, my in-laws put me on a plane two days later and said,
“We love you, but you are not safe here.”
I had come to that conclusion myself.
I found out years later, that when I was working on a Plan B (if Umahmad could not be the second wife) Umahmad was also working on her own Plan B. She had solicited refugee status for herself and her children through a UN program that had started taking applicants. In the years 1992-2004 there were more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees living in Jordan, and some countries like Canada and the US had agreed to take allotments of refugees to ease the burden that Jordan and Syria especially, were under, because they bordered with Iraq. They had received more than they could possibly handle and maintain.
When she applied she had no signs of schizophrenia, but when she finally heard back from them in 2010, she barely remembered or knew what the counselor was talking about, when he announced to her and her family, gathered around his desk, that they had been accepted and would be relocated to somewhere in the next few months, after being on the waiting list for years and years.
Two years after leaving Jordan, I returned.
I returned because I missed my family and Umahmad and her children.
My husband had supposedly promised to leave me alone.
I went there to celebrate Ramadan with them my whole family and as a last show of love, I sold all my gold jewelry collection which was extensive and bought everyone, especially all the kids, gifts (in our family and Umahmad’s) for the up-coming Eid celebrations (Three Days of feasting after fasting)
I knew I was not coming back.
I went many times to visit Umahmad in this year, 2009 and twice I went with my mother-in-law. Since 2007 I was helping them out to pay rent and with the food and one of the girls started going to beauty school to be a hairdresser.
Umahmad had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with repeated psychotic episodes, where she would not even know where she was. She was prescribed some anti-psychotics which made her gain weight and other side-effects, but did not immediately seem to be working.
She was someone else to me, almost a stranger..but love is love and although I did not hold hope she would ever be totally herself again, I did pray she could eventually live some kind of life and yes, locked inside that turbulent mind, were so many memories we had one time shared together.
About a week before I was returning to Costa Rica for good, her daughter called me.
“Donna come to Amman, Mama is good today. She is so good.”
I begged my brother-in-law to drive me and he did and I spent an entire day and most of the night, with the Umahmad I remembered, my loving friend who had finally returned to me!
This day was really the day I finally found her, two years after I found her.
Like living in the eye of a miracle, we went to an Iraqi restaurant and had fish
in the delicious style they make it on a BBQ. We laughed and the children were so happy to see us together again, but mostly to see her so normal, so calm so present.
This miracle day of normalcy lasted all of 24 hours but allowed us to say goodbye with her understanding I was leaving. The next day when I called them, they said she was sick again and did not want to come to the phone.
A week later I returned to Costa Rica not in the dramatic way I had left in 2007 but taking everything I could with me, including my collection of Art, having totally decided that I was not coming back.
Our good day in Amman all together, was our goodbye and I had resigned myself, that I might never see her or her children again.
As so many other times in this story….I was very mistaken.
* * * * * * *
When the children sent an email to me saying they were about to move to Texas, I didn’t know what to think. I had no idea Umahmad had solicited this refugee status years before. I didn’t believe them and called them from Costa Rica to understand what they were talking about. Ahmad, the oldest, answered me and explained it. He filled in my blanks and instead of doubting their story, I was totally excited for them. They talked about the worry they had of traveling with their mother on the plane. It was a 24 hour trip in all and she would not be the easiest of travelers.
Finally the doctor did prescribe her something to help her sleep and she slept across the Atlantic all the way to the Dallas-Ft.Worth airport.
One month after they arrived in Arlington Texas in a government housing project for refugees, a social worker called me in Costa Rica and asked if I could please come and help them, get oriented, help them with English and just be there for moral support.
I was the only one they knew in the Western world and with the language barrier, a schizophrenic mother, they were finding the whole process overwhelming.
In two weeks I was there with them in a small apartment in the height of summer 2010,
I had not seen Umahmad for almost a year and in this time she had gained about 50 pounds on anti-psychotics. She was big and bulky and when she was angry, she moved through the apartment like a heavy truck on road rage, knocking things over and talking to herself. I almost didn’t recognize her; she had physically changed so much. She was unrecognizable, but she did remember me and excitedly welcomed me into her “new apartment Saddam Hussein had given her in Baghdad.” If it wasn’t so heartbreaking, I would have laughed at the thought that everything that had been done for her to bring her to the US was in her mind a kindly gesture from Saddam Hussein whose picture hung in the living room and was the arch enemy of her real benefactors.
I stayed with them about 3 1/2 months. I survived 10 days without electricity in over 100 degree weather. The electric company had shut it off because of the sins of a former tenant there who had tampered with the meter. The innocents pay for the broken plates, and the family had their electricity cut off which also ran the water pump for their shower and in the most sweltering heat I had ever felt, not even in Costa Rica . These apartments were built for AC so there were no windows that could be opened, except for a small crack below. There was no breeze, no fans, no water and to the credit of the social worker who was on their case, she did everything possible. She petitioned the electric company, bought bottled water for us, battery hand-fans you could hold to your face and take- out food because cooking was electric. No cooking, no bathing and Umahmad getting more and more impatient until she finally threw a chair into the window with all her strength, shattering it so, according to her, she could get some air. The Cops were there in 5 minutes.
It was not all negative, these three months living together. As I wear a hijab too, I was gawked at a lot as they all were, when we went to buy groceries or medicines or took Umahamd to her appointments. Generally people in Texas seemed quite tolerant but there was always one or two that tried to make us feel unwelcome that we were living there. “Go back to where you came from” I always found that amusing because I would need to be sent back to Milwaukee Wisconsin:)
We slipped into a routine of studying plus learning how to fill out forms (so many forms) and I had ordered for Arab children learning English some excellent books and workbooks teaching English to native Arab speakers, that were bright, appealing and relevant. They contained words for any situation and phrases as they all seriously wanted to learn to speak English as fast as possible, Their success and even their stay depended on how well they assimilated into USA life. They knew this and felt a pressure to learn everything right now.
Within a year the oldest would get a driver’s license and the youngest was learning by attending High School in a special class geared for the newly arriving refugees. Everyone started to do very well, but Umahmad. I thought of how difficult for these four kids, starting from scratch, not knowing the language, the culture, anything, to be thrown into this situation, this immense learning curve without a responsible parent helping and guiding them. It was just the opposite and I thought so many times, how fitting-in for anyone, would be a challenge under normal circumstances, but Umahmad was like a weight tied to their lives, not allowing them to even study, for example, when she had one of her meltdowns, that brought the police to the apartment, for disturbing the peace. She did disturb the peace and yet, I saw how all of us, all her children and myself included tried to have patience with her.
Sometimes it was impossible. I saw her once in a rage grab a hot large glass casserole dish, fresh from the oven and throw it at one of the twin’s back. She never apologized, she just went off to complain about how horrible everyone was treating her to her voices who were always on her side. I actually feared her sometimes, especially at night where she roamed the apartment unable to sleep, talking to “herselves.” I had the kids hide the kitchen knives and sharp objects because of that.
I thought of her destiny. Here she was in the USA safe from the Iraq war or Jordanian immigration, with legal status and yet she never really knew that her dream from long ago, when she first filled out those refugee papers, had actually come true,
She was like a tragic Moses who could see the Promised Land but not enter it, dying before that could happen, in her case losing her mind before she realized she had done it. She had made it! She had gotten her children out of a very hard life to a land where it seemed a much better life was possible.
I want to share a very poignant scene now, that inspired a free verse poem written in 2010. I was to leave to return to Costa Rica. I had neglected many things in my own home and I had to get back. The children were all enthusiastic about English, making friends in the projects adjusting to their new routine but Umahmad could not be left alone, so someone always had to stay behind with her. She had been given a new treatment by her doctor. It was a month supply, from some samples but it was working!! We all noticed her less angry, more tranquil, even laughing with us not at us or as mocking and sinister as before.
We decided to take her out to a lake that had ducks outside of Arlington. This is what happened.
The ducks caught your attention
As you strode to the lake shore, bubbling angry energy.
It was like they caught each strife and slowly turned them into grace.
The breeze hit our faces, all the ducks looked only to you
and you sat down, while I slipped bread into your hand.
“Feed them. They are always hungry. They will be yours for a sunset.”
Breaking off little portions, you threw them methodically, trying to be fair,
while I laid on your knee and counted Texas cotton balls stitched to blue sky.
There was that incredible moment of lucidity, when you were just normal,
shining seconds everyone hopes for in your life, but hardly ever sees.
I knew I was in the miracle when you turned to look at me,
“I’m so sorry if I have caused you pain. There is something going on inside
of me but I feel soon, I will be myself again”
The clouds held my gaze, while I held my breath
You held my head propped and melded to your leg like an after -thought,
like Siamese twins joined by the knee and head,
something so rare, a picture would be in order, if we had brought a camera.
I said thank you to that Messenger that spoke out of your lips…
and let my tears flow into the lake, some blessed ducks called home.
July 17, 2010
Lake Arlington Texas
She was better.
The new medicine the doctor gave her was doing some good.
I accompanied her, with one of the twins, to the last appointment I would be there for.
When I reminded the doctor she was running out of these pills and needed a new prescription, she announced in a dry manner that these meds were very expensive, almost $800 a month and that Medicaid would not cover them. We pleaded, we called in the social worker to help us, but to no avail. The only medicine that had ever worked, that actually made a difference in her life and the life of her family, was out of her reach or mine. One month of relevant calm was all she got, because she was too poor and even the government was too poor to keep her on it.
I left feeling awful for her, for them all and did not see them again for two years.
I stayed in contact weekly with either the girls or her sons. I knew they had taken Umahmad in for a routine Pap smear and I asked them to let me know how it went. When I talked to Umahmad, the times she wanted to speak to me, she was nice, although disoriented, telling me to “Come tomorrow for Ramadan. I made mamúl) a delicious date cookie) In the last two years, the doctors could not seem to find the magical balance to keep her calm and if not cured at least manageable for her kids who were still taking care of her with no extra help. She had midnight trips to the psych ward, the police called in periodically for disturbances. She was even sent to Oklahoma for two weeks for shock treatments.
Nothing had really changed her quality of life for the better.
Then one day I got this call from one of the girls.
“The doctor says mama has bad tests; she has cancer.”
What? Cancer? What kind of cancer? Where?
“He say in ovaries.”
“Oh my God!” “Did he talk about a stage? Did he say the word ‘stage'”?
“Yes, he said stage”
“What stage did he say?”
“He said stage 4. Is that a good stage?”
(My heart fell to the floor)
“It’s fine, don’t worry, but I will be there as soon as I can to help you.
Two weeks later I was back in Texas. It was June of 2012.
* * * * * * * * *
Illustration by Gino 2007
The Umahmad I found in the back bedroom, lying down looked exactly like
the one I lost in Karak Jordan in 2004. Without even thinking, I dropped my bags and went to lay down with her, hold her spoon-style. She allowed it, welcomed it and knew who I was.
Her vibration was very different, she seemed more quiet, pensive, sad.
“I am sick,” she announced and pointed to an IV catheter in her neck.
“This will cure me, but I want it out.”
Probably because of the cancer, she had dropped the 50 pounds she had gained on her
medication. Looking at her, I could hardly believe she was sick, she truly seemed like she was in 2004 before she had run away. She looked beautiful, the screen goddess of the 1940’s had returned
I think I wanted to hold that delusion as long as possible, but she broke it by saying,
whispering to me,
“They are trying to kill me.”
“They are, My kids, the doctors, maybe you too”
Not much had changed with her paranoia and psychosis in the last two years,
and now 4th stage ovarian cancer!
She just looked fine, but she wasn’t.
I was with her for her next appointment with her oncologist, an absolutely wonderful
doctor, with such a loving bedside manner and I translated for her, about the proposed treatment she recommended. She wanted to give Umahmad a round of chemo therapy to shrink a tumor in her abdomen, that was causing her much pain. She was honest with the kids, that this was not a cure and that she was too advanced for surgery or anything else. She was terminal and so all treatment would be to give her a better quality of the life that she still had left to live.
When she refused chemotherapy, while she was about to be strapped down in the chair, and caused a scene that took all of us to control her, her doctor, promised when the time to hospitalize came, she would make sure that Umahmad was in the best hospice; and that we (as family) would be allowed to stay with her too.
She was on the board of directors of The Community Memorial Hospital in Fort Worth, with an excellent hospice on the top floor.
Is it all luck that twists our fate in certain ways, pushes us one way or another, or is there a plan behind it all. As Muslims we believe that many things are written or destined for us. Being with her, with her children that last month of her life, I saw
clear acts of divine intervention. She was blessed. Even with schizophrenia, terminal cancer, she was blessed. People she didn’t know loved her and went out of their way to help her. Her oncologist was a good example, and when the time came to admit her, we all were allowed to stay with her. They provided mattresses and blankets and pillows and we all camped in her room.
Umahmad’s paranoia was running very high, a few weeks before she was admitted into hospice care. Her feelings about me wavered between affectionate and relaxed with me to accusing me of trying to poison her, Because she was now in such pain and could barely eat, the out-patient nurse had provided morphine and instructed us to give it to her at 8 hour intervals, if needed.
The first day the nurse tried to inject her, (I was there alone with the twins,) Umahmad reacted by pushing her to the floor and fighting with her. The nurse called the police as she couldn’t restrain her. Everyone was shouting and when the police came, they just wanted to make sense of what was happening. The nurse explained she was trying to inject her for her cancer and I explained she was schizophrenic and paranoid and believed the nurse was trying to kill her.
It was horrible and then in the middle of the chaos, Umahmad jumped up and yells
pointing her finger directly at me she tells the police in Arabic,
“That one. That foreigner, she brought poison from Costa Rica and is trying to kill me!”
The police didn’t speak Arabic (thank goodness) and when they looked to me to translate,
I gave them my own version.
“Oh she was saying that I came all the way from Costa Rica to help her, but she is afraid of the shot.”
In my mind I saw Umahmad like a wounded deer on the highway, who had just been hit by a car…in pain, stunned, not knowing what had even happened and some kindly people stopped to help it, move it off the road, but it kicks out wildly attacking those who were only trying to take away its pain, only trying to help. In her confused state,
she had no idea what was making her hurt, but she suspected that all of us had something to do with it. It had gotten so she would not eat food if she didn’t open the can herself and eat it directly from the can. She trusted no one, even though her kids who were so affectionate to her, assuring her they were only trying to help. How much they loved her! Their mother was now living in total delusion at the same time excruciating pain, lashing out with everyone and they stayed calm , loving, trying to soothe her.
One of the boys, the next day, decided to get a group of people and we all took Umahmad to the park. There was a beautiful park nearby with tall trees and picnic tables and we set up camp for the day, bringing a mattress and some blankets to make her as cozy as possible. She accepted the morphine shot and when she got to the park she slept. I think this outing was more for all of us, her caregivers than her, but she slept peacefully under the trees while we all ate and talked and enjoyed being out of the sick room and breathing fresh air all together. It was a beautiful day and at the very end of it, her youngest son, coaxed her to walk a bit down the path with him. You could see she was making a superhuman effort to get up and please him, but she walked maybe fifty feet with him, holding his hand. I took their picture from behind and I treasure this photo, because anyone who didn’t know, might think she had a bright future ahead of her, strolling through the park with her youngest son.
That night Umahmad had a dark night of crisis, not even the morphine could calm her and it was so hard; we tried everything, all of us and still we could not help her. I called her doctor and she said,
“Do what you can to get her through the night and tomorrow I will make sure they are waiting for her at the Community Memorial Hospice in Fort Worth.”
It was the longest night I could remember, , but at 9:00 am the next day the four children and I were standing in the receiving area of the hospice penthouse, with Umahmad in a wheel chair, our bags packed with clothes for an undetermined stay.
As it turned out, we were there almost two weeks. All four of us slept on the floor of her spacious room and we rolled up our mattresses and put them away in the morning so they could clean.
We bought our own food in, but as Umahmad was eating so little, what she left behind we would all share. One very poignant moment I remember all of us sitting on her bed and she was sitting, not eating but carefully feeding each of us, like she did with the ducks back at Lake Arlington. She took turns and picked up a forkful and waited until we opened our mouth, in turn, like baby birds, she fed us. We all had tears in our eyes. On the second round, with her eyes half closed from the effects of intravenous Ativan and pain killers, when she got to me, she fed me and then, spontaneously, she pulled me close to her with both hands and kissed me on the lips. My tears turned into sobs, it was so moving. None of us could resist the deluge of tears. Even in her pain and delirium was that innate generosity and mother instinct to make sure all were fed, even if she could not eat a bite herself.
They kept her so tranquil, not agitated and she almost appeared to not be suffering the symptoms of schizophrenia. When she had pain they would semi -sedate her and she would sleep and dream and then she would tell us her dreams after. We played the Quran for hours and the feeling in that hospice room was holy and full of peace. There was a nurse, who would come sit with us sometimes, because she was drawn to the sound of the Quran being chanted. without understanding a word, she felt the ambiance of peace and purity in that crowded hospice room.
The tension and anger that surrounded her was gone. There was a certain tranquility mixed with, the sadness of waiting for someone to die, but hoping to not have to let her go, too soon. All of us knew in our hearts that her exit was one only she could take and we couldn’t go with her.
A few days before, she sat up in bed and said to me ,
“Donna, Ana asif. Ana Asif habibity” (I am sorry. I am sorry my love”
I said to her, “Ana asamhik habibiti” (I forgive you love)
She was at that moment lucid and when she looked me in the eyes, I saw the
Umahmad of our early days. For just a few minutes she held that state and I knew what she was saying, “I’m sorry for” and it felt so good to be able to let her know…all was forgiven, just like what I wanted to do the night I finally found her after searching three years and she was too lost in her disease for me to even attempt to say it.
I sat on the bed and held her in my arms. It was her official goodbye to me. It felt that way and I cried.
The next day, she asked for a bath and we set that up for her. They used a crane to lower a stretcher table into the warm water of a large bathing tub. It was amazing how they did it, and the girls and I could wash her and watch her clean hair float behind her.
She looked like a sleeping mermaid floating on the surface. We groomed her and she was fresh like a new born when we pulled her out and dressed her. An hour later she asked to be put in a wheelchair and taken to every room. Her head was still wrapped in a towel and she looked like a desert princess in a turban, while we made her comfortable and pushed her from one room to the next, where she waved to everyone she saw. She was so gracious and elegant waving as if she were in a carriage meeting her subjects. She smiled and waved at nurses, patients and visitors alike. The beautiful thing was… everyone waved back and I was once again choking back my tears. It was such an impromptu and very emotional tour. She looked beautiful. Terminal people don’t usually look beautiful…but she did. Against all logic and pain and schizophrenia, there she was, an alabaster statue of a desert queen, that came to life and spread beauty and joy to the entire hospice floor. She was saying goodbye to everyone. She knew before we did, that tomorrow would be her last day.
I am going to describe this moment with a post, I posted on July 3, just a few hours after she passed. I am honored to say I was was by her side when she departed.
my gliding beauty,
you walked an inch off the ground.
You could enter a silent room
without making a sound.
In a market of black-robed women,
you were the first to be found.
We walked as one,
and when we knelt
with our heads touching the ground,
you pressed your shoulder into mine
in perfect unison
as we bent down.
I bless your grace and your profile
your blood mixed in Iran,
those two Iraqi pools
that peeked out from clasped hands.
We were just so new, two women who loved
that we stopped our own heartbeats
I trace circles on your arm to the chanted prayers of the Quran.
Every twisting curve I make is a switchback in our extraordinary timeline, our history written by a weaver,
a true believer,
and you believed,
that all that was laid upon your back,
you could shoulder,
and not only support it, but walk carrying it proudly.
Outside is Texas not Iraq,
but you sigh peacefully and ask for mercy,
god’s mercy after a lifetime of struggle…
the short straw in the deck of life…
even your lifeline stops half way down your palm.
who else in my life could have showed me the hidden gift of loving another,
as I learned to love you?
From your lips I learned a language a culture, a truth.
Your children were your wealth and your reason to live, to seek, to dream, to cross borders so that they might have a better chance..a better role in Life’s play.
And now today I watch you prepare to set sail, your closed eyes opening slowly like spinnakers unfolding, and you look upwards, the purified face of one who is being carried to the other shore, and your last breath is the wind that finally fills them and they snap and billow, and there you go…you depart and glide away.
July 3, 2012
Community Memorial Hospice
*My greatest muse, my deepest friendship, a truth more rare than fiction.
Gone From My Sight
by Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
* * * * * * * *
She died on July 3rd. She was 41 years old and because the next day was a holiday (Fourth of July) She could not be buried as Islamic customs dictated. We had to wait until the next day, the 5th, which was Friday and Jummah prayers, where the whole community gathers at the mosque to pray. In the Quran, Friday is designated as a sacred day of worship, like Sunday is for Christians.
As Jummah prayers are very important, the mosque was filled and we were all there too. Umahmad’s coffin was up in front, lying in state. There were hundreds of worshipers that day and when prayers were over, all the male worshipers (maybe over 100 cars) made a funeral procession all the way to the burial site. It was such a moving spectacle. It looked like a funeral for a dignitary or royalty; people turned their heads to see such a large procession and wondered who it was for?
…and that is why I wrote this story, to tell you….who it was for.
So now you have had the chance to know a little better, an amazing woman, who had an even more amazing destiny, who brought her children to a better life and who touched mine so deeply through-out almost 12 years, and who is still today
my most constant muse.
Today, in 2023 her four children are still living in the US and just as Umahmad had hoped, they all are thriving. Three have married, the twin girls and the youngest son and between them they have 7 children. Two are living in Los Angles and two stayed in Texas. The oldest son, Ahmad, for whom Umahmad is named (Mother of Ahmad) is engaged.
We are all in contact and planning when we can get together again, hopefully this time in Costa Rica. I love them dearly and the feeling is very mutual. Just like their mother was, they are part of my story and I am part of theirs.
* * * * * * * * *
Footnote: These are all the poems of mine inspired by Umahmad that I have posted on my blog, or have been posted on other sites. As you can see, she has been my singular muse.
1. Minted Breath
2. Oasis Moon
3. Pale Veiled Memory
4. Flying Away For Awhile
5. Tea and Poetry
6. Reality Check
7. Two Poems From the Past
8. Way With Words
9. Your Movie
10. A Delicious Moment For A Haunting
11. You Snored Like a Bird
13. Holding Hands
14. In The Window
15. Short Prose Poetry Contest Honorable Mention
16. Way With Words on Spillwords
17. Against Those Tides on Spillwords
18. Pale Veiled Memory Om MasticadoresUSA
19. This Beholder on Spillwords
20. Errands to be Run
21. Written in Stone
22. My Gliding Beauty 1971-2012
23. Tarpit Never YouTube
24. Pure Love