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It was two weeks before my 8th birthday and my little head was overflowing with dreams of Barbie’s, toys, cakes, and princesses. The invitations had been mailed, the pink cake had been ordered, and I was convinced that my princess-themed party was going to be the best day of my entire life. On October 10th, 1998, in a cruel twist of fate, my life changed forever and the dreams of princesses were quickly replaced with the pungent, antiseptic smell of hospital corridors and fervent prayers for my father’s health.
On the night of October 9th, 1998, I went to sleep in my own bedroom, but as was my routine, I woke up in the middle of the night and headed to my parents’ room. I used to quietly climb into their bed and fall asleep; I was never turned away. But, that night was different. When I got to my parents’ room, my father was standing next to the window breathing very heavily and my mother was standing two steps behind him. I can still remember very vividly hearing my mother say, “Salim, should I call an ambulance?” I could sense something was not right and I asked my mother what was wrong, but she agitatedly told me to go back to my room. Sleepy, dazed, and confused I simply stood there in the shadows watching them and within minutes saw my father crumple to the floor. The ambulance was taking too long and my mother did not think my father could afford to wait. She quickly woke the live in domestic help and with their help carried my father into the car. My father was a tall, strong man and I saw the three of them struggling with his weight. I later learnt that my father had had a brain haemorrhage and although he was operated on as soon as he reached the hospital, it was too late – he lapsed into a persistent vegetative state.
No one told me exactly what had happened; I just knew ‘Abu’, was sick, very sick. I remember daily trips from school to the hospital. I received special permission to visit the Intensive Care Unit (I.C.U.) every single day. Whenever I came to my father’s bedside there was a present waiting for me. The present was usually chocolate - ‘Abu’ loved chocolate and I had inherited his sweet tooth. In fact, eating chocolate together was a little ritual we used to share. This is why it wasn’t hard for me to believe my mother when she said the chocolate was a present from ‘Abu’. However, I soon realized my father was not simply sleeping in the hospital. There was a serious reason why he was there and there was a reason why he would not come home any time soon. After countless tests and consults with neurologists, the hospital informed my mother that the chances of my father regaining consciousness were slim to none. My father was discharged from the hospital and brought home and for the next 6 years my mother dedicated her life to caring for my father.
As time passed and I became older, I started to accept the fact that my father was lost to me for good. But still, the questions arose, “Why my father, why me?” I hated seeing him lying immobile, being changed and bathed by someone else, and never being able to talk to him. I was angry and resented what had happened to my family, but my mother always put on a brave face and handled the situation with dignity and grace. In the six years that my father was sick, she never once broke down in front of me.
My mother amazed me with her strength of character in the face of adversity. She is the bravest woman I know. She was dealing with the loss of the love of her life, the financial burden of having a sick spouse, and watching us lose our father, but she taught me to never give up hope. She reminded me that there were other people in the world who were worse off than us and that we should be grateful for the other blessings in our lives.
For as long as I could remember, my mother had been a housewife. After my father fell sick, my mother was forced to manage my father’s engineering business and to oversee his remaining projects. She had no experience in running a company, but with the help of my father’s engineering colleagues she not only ensured the projects were completed on time, but also managed to keep the company afloat for several years. We have been through some tough times financially, but my mother never let us feel like we had less. Her example is what changed my loathing of the situation into acceptance.
Throughout the first three years that my father was sick, it was my mother, the nurses, and me in the house. My older sisters were both already at university and my mother did not want their education to be disrupted. Even though times were tough, she found a way to pay for their schooling - she sold some property that she had inherited and used those funds to pay for their tuition. She has showed me the importance of working hard and getting a good education. It is because of her that I am driven to achieve success.
My mother taught me independence and courage. She has been an inspirational role model and her example has taught me that the human spirit can overcome any adversity. It is her example that motivated to me work hard and succeed in school in spite of my dyslexia. I wanted my mother to be as proud of me as I was, and still am, of her. She has moulded me into the person I am today. I learnt, at a very young age, that life can be filled with struggle and heartache, but because of her I have learnt to smile through the tears and find the best in every situation. It is because of her that I appreciate and cherish all the people in my life; never bothering to stay angry or hold a grudge because one never knows how long one has with them.
I have missed having a father figure in my life, but having a mother with such a big heart, such strength of character, and such determination makes me feel very special and extremely blessed.
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