Tuesday, 1 March 2011

the loss of a matriarch

another layer of grief today, as an old friend of the family passed away today. alme jacub was one of the elders of our community, and came to the country in 1949 after she got married to a pakistani who had migrated here in the 1920s.

mrs jacub (or bibi, as she was affectionately known) arrived in the country as a teenager in her late teens, travelling alone from pakistan to nz. within a year of her arrival, her husband died and she was left with a child a farm in taranaki. she spoke no english at that time, and even in her later years, she spoke very little. she spoke punjabi, and managed to get by on that.

you can read more about mrs jacub in the crescent moon,if you have a copy. i've known her for as long as i can remember. she moved to hamilton very shortly after we did, back in the early 70s. she was a tough but very caring woman, and a true matriarch. i still remember staying the night at her house with my little brother, at the time my sister was born. that's so much a part of the migrant experience, when you have no family to call on, your friends become your family.

over the years, our two families have shared so many experiences. because she was the most senior member of our community, her house would be the first we'd visit at eid. she was always so happy to see us, at any time of the year, and took a keen interest in how my children were and what they were doing. i miss her so much already.

i heard the news at around 1.20pm, just half an hour after the 2 minute silence. i quickly went to the mosque, to help with bathing the body and preparing it for burial. it's the third time i've participated in these activities, but it doesn't get any easier. i didn't think about it much at the time - when there's a job to do, you just roll up your sleeves and get on with it. only when it's over do you remember the images in your head, memories that you'd much rather not have. even so, it's an honour to be able to help out in such an important rite, and i wouldn't have missed it for the world.

in the muslim tradition, the body has to be fully washed, and then is wrapped in five pieces of white, unsewn cloth, each of various sizes and for covering various parts of the body. we don't have coffins nor do we have grave stones nor any other markings on the grave. it is a truly "dust to dust" concept we have around death.

giving comfort to a grieving family is another kind of rite. i get so frustrated with people coming in and wanting to share their own grief with family members who are already suffering so much. my own philosophy is that i'll do all my crying at home, with my own family members to support me, but when i'm at there house, i'll hold it in and do what i can to support them. i don't know, maybe i'm being a little callous, and maybe there is some comfort to be found in crying with every person that walks into the house. but i can't see it. all i can see is added stress as family members have to cope with the grief of each new visitor.

i hope they get some sleep tonight, those who are grieving, though i suspect they won't. it doesn't matter how old she is, your mother is still your mother, and it is tragic to lose her at any age. for me, it feels like the end of an era, the loss of something precious. the loss of a piece of history, and of a valuable human being. inna lillahe wa inna ilaihi raji'oon.


Deborah said...

I've been reflecting on this post all day, thinking about this wonderful woman. Thank you for writing about burial customs in the Muslim tradition: I knew about washing the body, but not about the five pieces of cloth.

stargazer said...

thanx deborah. one other thing i forgot to mention is that nothing is allowed to be buried with the body, so all jewellery must be removed, and we removed all bandages and the drip thingy that the hospital people hadn't bothered to take out.