A Beautiful Death
It was his 44th birthday. He was with his mother in an ambulance, on their way to UM Medical Centre.
The mother didn’t go without resistance. She wanted them to just stay in Seremban Hospital. She was very tired. Since her third child was diagnosed with pneumonia, and then TB, that aged body of hers have been tasked with a lot of physical work. Not that she was complaining. She would take care of her son by herself, even if it would kill her. She would brave the long hours at the hospital, she could help wash him up, clean his vomit, even carry him if she had to – he was just skin and bones anyway, didn’t weigh much. Taking care of him wasn’t anything new to her. Wasn’t hers the first face he saw when he was born? Didn’t she wash him when he was just a wee little boy? She could do it all over again. Looking after her son was not a chore at all. She took it as a privilege, a rezeki, it was her pleasure. But she needed to be in Seremban. Her husband had a weak heart. She wanted to be near her husband too.
‘It is your choice, makcik. Your son agreed to go to UMMC. If you want to come along, get in the ambulance. If you don’t want to, we will still take him there.’, said the white-coated young looking man to her when she voiced her reluctance.
'But I don’t want him to go there too. Why cant he just get the treatment here?', she pitched in her last try.
‘Do you want him to die?’
‘No. Of course not.’, she replied, bewildered at such preposterous suggestion.
‘He must be transferred, makcik.’, the doctor said to her, the tone is now kinder.
And that was how she ended up in the ambulance with her son. There were a lot of scary looking machines in the ambulance. They all had tiny bulbs that wouldn’t stop blinking and beeping. And the fact that there were no windows to look out to, made her feel suffocated. Not that there was much to see outside, since night had curtained down the day. The handphone – his son’s, was busy beeping away too.
‘Sobri, your friends are texting you. They all said happy birthday. Do you want to read the messages?’, she prodded her son.
She knew he was tired. But she had to wake him up. She would feel nervous if he slept too deeply, you know, she had to be sure.
‘No, mak. I will read them later.’, Sobri whispered, she could barely hear him. His throat must be parched dry. The last drink and meal he had were, well, she couldn’t remember. It felt like so long ago. Sobri could take sips of water, but he couldn’t swallow any food. The IV drip was his only source of energy.
When they checked in at the UMMC, it was already very late. She was tired but the cough just wouldn’t let them rest. And the nurses kept disturbing their sleep – taking Sobri’s temperatures, blood pressure and pulse, and every so often trying to draw blood samples. They seemed to have a tough time at that.
She once read, that if your time was near, the blood would stop circulating. Is that why they couldn’t get blood samples, she wondered. But she pushed the thoughts away. My son is going to survive this, my flesh and blood are strong, he would come out of this, help him ya Allah, help him, she prayed for the thousandth times.
'Must you? Cant you just stop poking at him?’ once she chided a nurse, as Sobri winced with pain. Another episode of too-many-tries.
‘We must, makcik. I am sorry,’ the nurse did look sorry. But sorry or not, she kept on jabbing at Sobri, to no avail. The blood just refused to flow out.
Friday, 10th January.
It was 6.30am. Makcik just did her Suboh prayers. As she gave salam, she saw that Sobri was looking at her. He smiled at her and pointed to his wrist.
'Ha ah, it is 6.30 in the morning’, she smiled back. A smile from Sobri was a rare thing nowadays. How she missed that smile. As skinny as Sobri may be, as changed as his facials may be, that smile was the same.
She went to him and put her hand on his forehead, trying to see if his temperature was raging. But it felt cool to her touch. Oh, good, he is getting better, Alhamdulillah.
'You want to drink?’, she asked gently. Searching for her smiling Sobri inside those deep sunken eyes.
'Yes, please, mak.’ As she was about to spoon him water, he turned his head away.
'I don’t want that water. I want the water from that cup you just used.’ Sobri said. She obliged but again Sobri resisted.
‘No, mak, don’t let me trouble you again. Let me hold the cup.’ Her heart skipped. Was it happiness or hope? Was it fear? She wasn’t sure, but she let him. And when Sobri settled in again, she gingerly put her hand on his forehead. No fever, insya-Allah, he was getting better.
‘Mak, that feels so nice.’
‘The feel of your hand on my head. Don’t move it. I like it there.’ Sobri said. His eyes were like a bottomless well. Deep and dark. What went on in your head, son?
'And you know what I really wanted now? A bathe from the well at Wan’s house. The water is always so cold, so refreshing.’, that smile came back, lightening up his tired face.
Nobody lived in that old house anymore. Childhood memories of the days spent romping around in Juasseh made him smile. And Makcik was reminded too of those days - when she was still young and Sobri was just a small package of enthusiasm and potential, a boy like any other, full of hope and promise, and mischief. They both went quiet. Each lost in their own version of the past. And Sobri soon fell asleep again.
The hour went by, with her Sobri drifted in and out of sleep. The cough persisted, shaking him like a rag doll. She kept her hand on his forehead - caressing the hair that had gone coarse and matted from an illness that had raged for far too long, or massaging his creased temple. Ya Allah, ease of his pain, ya Allah help him, the prayers had become a mantra, a zikir now to this mother. Throughout, she kept her hand just where her boy wanted it to be.
'What time is it, Mak?’ he asked her at 7.30. What is the time to you, she wondered, but answered him anyway.
At, 8.30, when Sobri just signaled his question by tapping his wrist, she told him the time.
He asked her again at 9.30.
At 10.30, Sobri woke up again. His eyes held his mother’s gaze. And she knew. It was time. He then took a deep breath, closed his eyes. He did not breathe out.
She exhaled. She didnt even realise that she was holding her breath watching him leave.
She didn’t cry. He had made her promise. He wanted her face to be the last face he saw. He wanted no tears on that creased face. He did not want tears to mar that face he found comfort from.
That was how I found her. Strong and steadfast – a well-weathered solid rock that somehow felt out-of-place in the cold unyielding morgue. The occasion was somber only she wasn’t. She was as warm as her son was.
Alhamdulillah, she told me, God gave me him for forty-four years and two days. I thank God for each day of those forty-four years. He was a good son who had my redha, he left a good daughter who would be generous with her doas. He would be fine in the other world, insya-Allah. Why wouldn’t he be, he was a beautiful son, even in his death.
Oh how blessed you are my friend. To die with your mother’s hand on your head, to die with her gaze fixed on you, to have her redha and her doas.
Farewell, my friend. May Allah place you among His favourites. May all the good that you have done; all the sedekah you have generously given; all the redha from your mother; all the love from your father, siblings, Hez and friends; all the ilmu you have shared with us all; all the good in your daughter, will help make your journey easy, insya-Allah.
I remain as ever,