Written by Mashal Anjum
Bismillah. (In the name of God)
Strange how we buy things to wear months from now, and we have no idea if we will be around to wear them. When you have severe health problems and chronic pain, you can’t help but think about imminent death. Death is obviously a reality, but it’s never at the forefront of our lives, unless we have constant reminders of it. People die around us, and religion helps you remember — but the insane nature of this dunya (world) is to make us forget, and distract us from issues that really matter.
So, I bought boots and sweaters on sale at the end of the winter season, because I wanted to be prepared to look cute on a budget as soon as fall started. But as I’m looking at outfits for friends’ weddings coming up, all I am thinking is, “Am I even going to be able to wear it?” “Will I be alive?” “Will I be here next year?” “Why do I have so many damn clothes?” “Will I get to go to the Louis CK show in December?”
Doctors had told my parents that I would die at the age of 13, but medical advancements and the grace of God have brought me to the beautiful age of 31.
At least, it should feel beautiful. I have heart disease and peripheral artery disease that will continue to get worse through the rest of my life because of genetically high cholesterol (Familial Hypercholesterolemia, or FH). I am actually working with the FH Foundation to spread awareness about my disease, and have met so many people who look young and healthy, but almost all suffer from heart disease and might die at any second.
Many young people in my extended family have had heart attacks and/or died at a very young age. My second cousin had the same severity of my condition, and she died a few years ago while giving birth because of a heart attack. My doctors have told me that I should never get pregnant because my heart will not handle the stress, and my medicines will render a fetus malformed.
Even though I knew that I might have a short life, that was still a blow.
Internally, I have the arteries of an 80-year-old woman and often feel like it, too. It sounds funny or mean, but this is what my doctors have told me to tell emergency personnel if I am hospitalized. As I am writing this, I am in need of a new aortic valve, just under seven years after my original valve was replaced with a synthetic one in 2010.
I need open heart surgery soon, but there will be a point when surgery and medicines will not help anymore. After all, people die during surgery every day — but that should be okay to come to terms with. We need to be okay with the idea that we will die.
Don’t get me wrong — I have hope. Allah (SWT) and medicine has brought me this far. Miracles happen all the time. I know Allah (SWT) can make anything happen.
I know this.
But the chest pains, constant medicines, shortness of breath, fatigue, and past and looming surgeries make my medical realities stay at the forefront of my mind. When one is in pain, hope is hard to have, as most people know. It is a delicate balance — to be realistic and have hope at the same time.
My mother is optimistic and prays for me to live to 100, even though she knows my medical reality. Unlike my mother, though — I am determined to be realistic. So I pray to live another 10 years, even though I know I should pray for longer. But when that hope might be shattered, the fear makes hoping hurt.
Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but we plan for tomorrow. We tell each other not to get attached to the dunya, but we fall madly in love, and can’t imagine life without the people in our lives. We look at other people accomplishing things, and having children, and we want to “succeed” at life, too. I just want to keep expecting tomorrows…forever.
I just got married two years ago. I want to get my masters and grow a business. My family and I had so much fun last weekend. I just watched the weirdest movie. I want to globe-trot and adopt children with my amazing husband. How does it make sense to think about death, when we are having the best time living?
We are trying to squeeze the most juice out of life, the best possible life out of what we are given. So, for many of us, the highs never stop coming. How is it fair that someone so good has to die?
As hard as we try to forget, though, as much fun as we are having, as much joy we are getting from eating delicious meals with our loved ones, that nagging feeling comes to some of us in the back of our minds.
Every season, fall is a living model of death. People are dying in Syria every minute. Allah (SWT) is constantly trying to remind us, but we only think of death happening to other people “over there.” In reality, we will all have to leave this life, our attachments, and the people around us.
No one wants to talk about dying. We talk about doing good for the sake of the next life, but we have parties and dinners, and waste time as if time will keep going unchecked. We are desensitized from life because technology numbs us. Netflix, the lives of Snapchat celebrities, and Reddit distract me from what reality really is all about.
We talk more about fashion, technology, celebrities, sports, and politics — rather than talking about our actual relationships or knowing God. We are so detached to the ideas of heaven and hell, even though they can be a heartbeat away.
What does heaven and hell even mean to you? Do you think you even deserve heaven? We are constantly stepping over other peoples’ rights, yet we demand mercy from Allah (SWT).
Yasmin Mogahed gave an excellent analogy about our lives and the things we have been blessed with. She said blessings are a loan. But when God gives us things, we act as if they are a given. Allah (SWT) blesses us with life, a spouse, a career, children, etc. for so many years. How can we be upset when He takes them back? We are supposed to say, “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un,” or, “We surely belong to Allah (SWT) and to Him we shall return” when someone dies, because we actually belong to Him — so He is taking us back. The same goes for our health.
Ironically, people just can’t stop telling me to keep fighting, and that I will be fine — as if that fight will go on forever. My father died of a sudden heart attack at 62, even though he seemed healthy, which makes it hard to expect a long life.
I did not expect to bury my father just under two years ago. When he died, it was such a huge shock — as if this should not be happening to me. I swore that the problems I had to deal with in the last year were out of someone else’s life. We can never be prepared to lose a loved one — but we need to do better, because grandparents are alive, and parents are dying. This should clue us into the fact that medical problems are affecting younger people these days, and we should at least be trying to get ready.
When I don’t have pain, the illusion that I can live longer gets stronger, and seeing my loved ones makes it harder for me to come to terms with my diagnosis. But the physical pain I have, coupled with the emotional pain I get from the thought of leaving my family just makes me want to only pray that I will get to be reunited with them in heaven — because the fear just makes me resent this pain-filled life.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “No Muslim is afflicted with any harm, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates his sins because of that, as a tree sheds its leaves.”
Who wants a life filled with pain? My constant chest pains suck, but I can’t help but have some form of relief knowing that maybe the pains I endure are washing away my sins. The thought of surgery and future pain that is always looming over me gives me hope in Allah’s (SWT) mercy, because I have a chance to see my father again, and that I will get eternity with my husband and family.