It is the belief of a Muslim that as the moment of birth has been pre-determined, so has the hour of death. Although this is something that Muslims accept, it is very easy to become forgetful at a time of tragedy.
My daily routine was always pretty monotonous. Monday through Friday, I went to work at the same time. My lunch breaks were spent picking the kids up from the bus stop and dropping them off to my father in law, who would watch them until I got off. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to my father in law as Vito (as in Vito Corleone). He always reminded me of the Godfather in a sense, because he was the glue that held the family together.
When I last went to pick the kids up, Vito sat in his usual chair at the dining room table. Not his normal smiling self, he kept dabbing at the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief. “Are you okay?” I asked him. “Not really,” he said, looking at me over the top of his eyeglasses. “I think I ate something bad, because I can’t seem to keep anything down.” I remembered my unpleasant bout of food poisoning after having eaten bad pimento dip, and was grateful that he had the weekend ahead of him to relax and recover. “Feel better soon,” I told him. “Try to get some liquid in, and call me if you need anything.” Vito wasn’t a man who liked to show weakness, so to see him in that state worried me. I debated with myself for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to recommend that he go to the hospital. But he was a stubborn man at times, and I knew my attempt would be futile.
The next morning, my husband received the dreaded call that we always knew would come one day. We just hoped we would have another thirty years to prepare ourselves for it. Vito was gone. My husband went to his home where he found his father, his mentor, and quite possibly his best friend. He was lying across the bed, his face smooth and serene. My husband bent down to kiss his head and thanked him for doing such a wonderful job as a father. With the closeness that they shared for more than thirty years, no more words needed to be spoken.
I have always admired my husband’s strength during times of adversity, and he never ceases to amaze me. Single handedly, he made all the necessary arrangements without breaking down once. He sat next to me on the bed late that afternoon. “I always said that I wouldn’t cry when this time came,” he said to me, “and I am not going to.” He explained that his father lived a full life, having done everything he set out to do. My husband always knew that when Vito’s time on his earth had expired, he would be ready to let him go. I had only known my father in law for a fraction of the time my husband had, but accepting the fact that he was no longer with us was much harder for me.
When I snuck a peak at the itemized statement from the mortuary, a range of emotions coursed through me and for a moment, I had a difficult time holding myself together. To see Vito’s name at the top of that statement with a date of death typed out underneath it broke my heart. I would miss the man who always had wise words of advice to offer. But more than heart-broken, I was angry. I was angry with the mortuary for treating Vito’s death as though it were nothing more than a business transaction. No compassion, just facts and figures. And above all, I was angry with myself. I should have made him go to the hospital, I should have stayed longer, I should have… Then I remembered the advice that I often give to others who find themselves in this very situation: nothing could have prevented this, because the time of his death was written for him before he was born. Our days in this life have a specific number attached to them, and the time we spend here is only a tiny fraction of the existence of our souls.
I had breakfast with a good friend a few days ago, and she extended her condolences. Still in a bit of shock over Vito’s death, I told her about how unexpected it was. He was perfectly fine when I dropped the kids off, he had even gone out to pick up food. And the next day, he was gone. She looked at me and said “ That’s how I would want it to be for me. I don’t want to die some long, drawn out death. I want to be running around one day and gone the next.” I smiled, and my heart warmed over when I realized that Vito surely wanted the same thing, being the strong and determined man that he was. I will always miss him. I know it will be a while before I can set foot in his house without getting emotional at the site of his empty dining room chair. I don’t know how much time must pass before I can tolerate the sounds of the smooth jazz he loved so much. But I am not angry anymore because I know Vito left this life exactly the way he would have wanted to: with his dancing shoes on.