Heretical Grief!

The reasons why I left the US in 1994 and went back to Syria after a 9-year long absence are many, but one of the contributing factors was the fear of losing one or both of my parents while I was abroad. This fear stemmed from two facts: I lost my paternal grandmother who doubled as my nanny really when I was studying in the Moscow in 1984, and all the phone calls that I made in 93-94 to my parents featured announcements of someone close dying: my step grandfather, my younger uncle (a gregarious life-embracing fellow – by far my favorite uncle), and two close family friends, one of whom, the late Syrian actor Yusuf Hanna, was like a second father to me.
Not wanting to face another such loss while abroad, I chose to get back to Syria and stay there so I can deal with whatever loss as it happens and be there for those who need me, in both body and spirit, and so that I can take in the loss as well. After all, the passing of my grandma was something that haunted me for many years, my mind kept on treating her as though she was still alive and waiting for me back in her old-style Damascene house hugging Mount Qasayoun.

But then, when my father passed away in 2004, and though I was there for him throughout all his final night on earth, it didn’t feel like I was really there at all, not for him anyway. The vacant look in his eyes should have told me that he was dying, and should have compelled me to stay next to him and chat with him about anything and everything, but it did not. I just checked on him every now and then, throughout that night, taking a small nap in between, and allowing myself to be fooled by the look of recognition in his eyes and the smile that got painted on his face each time I entered his room. He was dying, and I did not want to see it. To top it off, next day noon, I left his side and went to the office, leaving him to the loving care of my mother and Khawla. A couple of hours later I received a call from Khawla telling me that they need me back, I didn’t ask why. I didn’t think why. But I soon learned that my father had passed away. So, I wasn’t really there after all, was I?

Still, when I think of my father these days, and it’s only natural that I should think of him at this point in time, after all January 17 marks the anniversary of his passing (not to mention my anniversary with Khawla), I have no delusions that he is still alive – I know he is gone, I can feel the void. Is that what it means to be there, or almost there?

Perhaps indeed this is the best that can be achieved in the face of such loss. Which, somehow, means that I am now back to square one, having left Syria once again, no matter how involuntary.

This morning, there was another phone call and a brief announcement. A maternal aunt has passed away. Ghada Wassef, 55, a small time actress, diabetic, overweight, gregarious, life-embracing, people’s person, helpful, kind, definitely my favorite aunt, passed away in her sleep due to kidney failure. She had already been admitted to a hospital on the previous day for a sudden increase in blood sugar, a routine occurrence in her case, just as death is part of life’s daily routine, I guess.

And I wasn’t there for her, or for that increasingly lonely mother I left behind. This is another facet of exile with which I have to deal. I can never be there to anyone anymore. Not that being there was any help, to others that is.

I am one of thousands in this situation, I know, yet this knowledge does not matter in the least. My choices in life will continue to bedevil and haunt me, and everyone around me for the rest of my life, and perhaps beyond – an enduring legacy of pain and abandonment. When will they ever make a difference, I wonder, or at least begin haunting those who deserve to be thus haunted?

Will my choices in life ever be justified, or do I have to stumble on blindly to my last days hoping that the path, semi-chosen if not self-inflicted, is, somehow by some reasonable standard of decency, right?

17 thoughts on “Heretical Grief!

  1. Ammar-“Will my choices in life ever be justified, or do I have to stumble on blindly to my last days hoping that the path, semi-chosen if not self-inflicted, is, somehow by some reasonable standard of decency, right?””I think…therefore I am”…maybe…but “I think and care therefore I agonize”…It was a touching piece that touched several notes. I remember living in Israel in 1982 when I got a call that my dad had kidney cancer and was having one removed…it was harder than go through my mom’s heart attack, stroke, and broken hip…and I have even more difficult and painful stories…like most of us.But your final question is the same one Job asked…”what is the meaning of suffering, why does this happen…is it worth it…what’s the point?”God told him “I am God…not you”. So much for clarity in life. I may have shared my philosophy before…but here goes:A man takes his young twin boys to a psychiatrist. He tells the doc. “they are identical twins, but so different, can you analyze them”.Doc says…”I got just the trick”.He takes the first boy and Pop down a corridor and opens a door. It leads to a room that is filled with horseshit. He asks the kid “what do you see son”. Kid says..”I see stinking horseshit..what do you think”? And walks off.Doc tells Dad…”that boy is a pessimist”.They take the next kid. When the door opens…kid’s eyes go wide, he takes five steps back and dives in. He is laughing and throwing horseshit.Doc does “kid, what ARE you DOING?”Kid says..”hey…with all this horseshit…there has to to be a pony in there somewhere”. Doc says “that one is an optimist”.I don’t know if there is a pony…I tend to believe there is…but don’t know. So I dig…tire out…dig..fall, cry, dispair, and then dig again. I can create shit or try to get to the bottom of it and, then hope for the best.Hope you feel better

  2. Ammar,I understand exactly how you feel. Every time I visit my grand mother she told me about her latest friend who is either suffering in some hospital or, who just passed away. Even my parents’ friends are starting to disappear, although at a slower rate. I hate the feeling of knowing what my father is feeling as he sees his best friends disappear. But my father has a much more balanced reaction to the sad news. He is more mature than me. He already found a way to live with loss and with things he can not control in life.Some of us are proud that we really care about everyone around us. But like the way god balanced the universe, we need to balance our emotions … we can not be totally detached, but we can not maximize our emotional involvement to the degree that we spend our lives experiencing everyone’s pain… it is like getting close to a burning fire in the winter to feel the warmth without getting too close and burning our hands.Too much of a good thing is not good, including caring for others close to us.My friend Howie!… nice to find you here again. Did they invent anything new while we were absent the past coupe of months?

  3. Very touching post Ammar , reminds me when my grandmother died in the same day that i was supposed to fly home to see her , i was too late and i will never forgive myself….my friend prepared me a cup of black coffee with a piece of bitter chocolate and said “sweeten your day”..but nothing can sweeten or ease the pain of loss and void that fills us after , and nothing can save us from our feeling of guilt for not being there…We make our choices in life but not always we are able to choose to be there for our beloved and for those who need us , in most cases death grab them away from us without giving us the chance to say goodbye…

  4. Ammar, I feel sorry to hear about your lost?However,Ammar, is it too much to ask you to spell out the cruelty of the dictator’s regime depriving hundreds of thousands of people from visiting their country for being a dissent or a brother’s off a dissent. Your case is repeated everyday hundreds of times with people all over the Diaspora and the so called Minister of Patriot roaming and writing about how good the government are?. I know Ammar that you might say that you don’t have to spell it out, but please keep saying the truth out loud in full sentence till this miserable situation change.

  5. Alex…Nice to hear back..albeit for this more difficult and personal type of discussion…”Did they invent anything new while we were absent the past coupe of months?”Actually…we did invent Starbucks…$5.00 latte anyone?

  6. For what it is worth-EMAIL: EGYPTEG@AOL.COMI think that is the link to the Egyptian embassy in the USA. I have filed my protest over the blogger Kareem…looks like he is going to prison.

  7. Indeed, there is nothing like sipping on a cup of Latte while surrounded by horseshit to bring joy back into the heart of a heretic. Howie, you are spoiling me. Thank you all for your concern and welcome back to all of you. Anonymous, you are right of course. There are too many Syrians around with worse tales, and I really think that it is indeed the plight of these Syrians that should continuously be highlighted. We have always allowed high-end politics to take too much of our attention, but they are stories and situations like these that spell out the real nature of our ordeal. And there are virtually hundreds of thousands of them around. I am putting together a plan for a new blog that will run only stories of Syrian in exile, any help in collecting the necessary info will be deeply appreciated. The identity of the people will be kept secret if that’s their wish, albeit the more people come out in the open the better.

  8. This is a copy of the email I sent to the Egyptian Embassy: The illegal trial and detention of our fellow blogger Abdel Karim Suleiman Amer will not go unheeded. The image and reputation of the Egyptian government will be severely damaged by this development, we will see to that. It is up to the Egyptian government to decide if it will be in its best interest to deal with another such embarrassing development at this point in time. If Egyptian officials want to waste their time having to defend this illegal detention of Abdel Karim Suleiman Amer we will be more than happy to oblige. We will make sure that this issue is raised in every relevant international venue and in every possible meeting between Egyptian officials and US and European counterparts. Abdel Karim Suliman Amer will not be forgotten and his case will not be shelved or neglected. — Ammar AbdulhamidTharwa Foundation Director

  9. Ammar, I am sorry for your losses, Il3imr Ilak. Death is really sad in the middle east, it is very emotional to lose loved ones specially when they are far away. That is why wars and unrest are so tragic. Please take your time to mourn and relax, don’t overwork yourself too much.My latest 2cents on the crazy eventos of lebanon are on http://freesyria.wordpress.com

  10. Ammarhesses fik, condolences on your loss, we just buried my great uncle last week here in australia.It is harder when you are in exile, i have never been back to the middle east, we get these calls all the time.I am of the belief thatlike the ancient sophist philosophers in greece, they the dead stay alive eternally in our minds , just remember them

  11. Thanks Fares & Anonymous. But, I guess, the only way to deal with grief at this stage is to keep on working. Welcome back Fares.

  12. My condolences Ammar, I am sorry to hear this news. Prison and torture are only two of the ways in which they can try to beat down your spirit–the other is the sense of loss and lack of fulfillment that you have described.Best wishes.

  13. It was said that we greef our selves when we say farewell to a dear one! But why I feel that it is not totally true? We are going to leave our dear ones or they are going to leave us, in the end, and it will always hurt! What I found out as a “logical” conclusion for any rich human life, is that this spirit, any spirit, will continue on “living” but in dimension we can not communicate with! Death is the other face of Living, and the End starts exactly at the same moment with the Start. Hopefully our relief will come when our spirits go back to unite with absolute spirit we all came from, and to leave this earthly form of life is not the end! Because it is not acceptable “logically” that a spirits life will end abruptly by death in a relatively short period of time, I have more faith in Allah’s wisdom. May he receive us when we come back to him, “for we all belong to Allah and to him we return”.Don’t feel sad my friend, and if you should, don’t be too sad.

  14. My condolences…A death in my husbands family is the reason we moved back to Lebanon (from the U.S.) almost 2 years ago… We never regreted the move, even during the war… And now, after the latest events, even when we feel we’re knee deep in “horseshit”, we’re still glad we are here 🙂

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