Two weeks ago, on a Sunday night at 11pm, I got a call that would change my family’s life forever.
My aunt, a mere 50 something years old, had just died hundreds of miles away in Mombasa, Kenya, due to post-surgery complications. I was alone in bed with my two sleeping toddlers and all I could think of was how surreal this news felt. My aunt, whom my husband had taken a funny selfie with just a few hours earlier, had fallen down on her way to close her living room window at night two days prior, and fractured her hip. I’ve been told that this was an accident waiting to happen, that her hip ligaments had been worn out to almost nothing, and that they had given in to the weight of her body. I’ve been told that this was fate.
At first I was angry. I was angry that the hospital had been negligent in giving her care: perhaps the anaesthesia was messed up, or they mismanaged her diabetes before surgery. Had they been careless enough to let her go hungry for over 24 hours before going into the operating room? Shouldn’t they have referred her to a bigger hospital, one with more facilities and more expertise in surgery and diabetes? I had a pile of questions but everyone I talked to who was there with her in her final days told me simply that her time had come.
I talked to a doctor friend of mine and expressed my feelings over the whole affair. “Was it medical negligence”, I asked her, “or was it fate?”
“It may be both,” she replied back after much deliberation on the topic. “The alleged negligence may have been the catalyst in enabling fate.”
I wonder: Are we really in control of anything?
I think of my aunt every single day. When she was widowed over 20 years ago, she had 5 children to feed, house, and educate. With nothing more that a Singer sewing machine, she made barely enough money to make ends meet, yet she was never one to complain about what she didn’t have. Sometimes when things were really tough, the family would go quietly hungry but nevertheless, they thrived under the loving canopy of their mother’s presence. The children were each other’s greatest wealth and their mother was Queen of their kingdom.
For most of her life almost everyone called her Aunty but since becoming a grandmother, they resorted to calling her Nyanyaa. She was the communal aunt and grandmother because not once did she ever show preference to her own biological relatives over non-relatives. Everyone respected her merely for her endless capacity to love indiscriminately. And in her death, people from around the world- those who spent years by her side and those who had the pleasure of spending a few hours with her- mourned for her.
And as I wind down writing this post I come to the realisation that maybe we are in control of our lives. Fate may have given my aunt markers that signify major life events-her birth, marriage, her husband’s death- but she was fully in control of her life. God chose her first and last page but she wrote her own story. She was her own author and her book, her legacy to the world, is a bestseller.
This post is in loving memory of my aunt, Fatuma Mohamed Ali Peni, who was my mother’s best friend, our family’s guiding light, and my inspiration. In the past few years, I have drawn so much strength and resilience because I had her shining example to emulate from.
May Allah rest her soul in the highest levels of Paradise.