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             THE DEATH OF A YOUNG SON            
A Young Mother’s story of loss and courage

PROVIDED and WRITTEN BY: Yasmin Riyaz Nasser (d/o Fatma & Ebrahim M. Kermalli)

1992 (Age 14) - Toronto, Canada

1996 (Age 18) - Dar-es-salaam

Click here to see late 1950s family group photo
Click here to see family group photo of Abbas Murad M. M .D. Kermalli wedding
Click here to see Mohamedhussein (Bha Mamdhu) M. D. Kermalli 90th Birthday Photos - August 2005

"Mummy, York University in Toronto has accepted me!!" Aarif was beside himself with excitement as he swept me up in his arms. We were both laughing with happiness and joy as we savored the fruit of months of hard work. Watching him read the many papers in the acceptance package, I smiled at the endearing way he impatiently pushed a wayward hair out of his eyes. How my son had grown up! It seemed like only yesterday that I was watching him take his first steps, saying "Mummy" and putting his first sentence together. Now at 18, he towered over me and his youthful, charming looks took my breath away. His friendly personality drew people to him like a magnet and his sense of humor often had the whole family laughing together.

As he chattered on about campus housing, tuition fees and course selections, my thoughts were far, far away. Having him move so far away from home would be so difficult. How would I be able to get through a day without his bubbly presence in my life? The past year had been so busy for him and I was already missing our mother and son chats because of his long hours at the library. He had successfully completed the last challenging year of his International Baccalaureate at the International School in Dar-Es-Salaam and I was looking forward so much to spending more time with him now that summer was here.

"Mummy thanks for all your support this year," Aarif’s voice interrupted my thoughts and I looked up to find him standing beside me. His ability to express his affection like this always filled my heart with so much love and gratitude. The past year, although a very busy one for him, had inexplicably brought us even closer together. He freely spoke to me about his dreams, his wishes and his fears and together we would discuss his future aspirations. Aarif going away to university was a dream that the whole family had shared and I was ready to do my part in making that dream come true. "We have a lot of work to do," I told Aarif. "Let’s start making the travel arrangements to Canada". He smiled his lovely smile and I knew that someday my son would make me very proud of him.

The next few weeks went by in a whirlwind of events and activities. Aarif’s many friends regularly dropped by to say goodbye, family members came to visit and we became busy packing for his upcoming trip. Soon, only 2 weeks remained for his departure and there was bittersweet happiness in all our hearts. I could see his 14 yr old brother, Alireza, was having the hardest time. He was extremely fond of his one and only sibling and would miss him the most. Everyone was trying to keep up a brave front; at least Aarif would visit during school breaks and summer holidays. We would make up for lost times during those vacations, we vowed. It was only a matter of few years and they would go by fast. The plan was that I would be accompanying Aarif to Toronto to get him settled so the house was busy with preparations of the impending trip.

When Aarif began to complain of nausea, stomach aches and dizziness, we took it in stride. The doctor confirmed our suspicions: it was malaria. In East Africa, this common, mosquito-borne illness has been experienced by mostly everyone, sometimes even 2/3 times a year. So we weren’t overly alarmed when Aarif was admitted to hospital since we knew malaria can often dehydrate a person and may require close monitoring of the patient. Nevertheless, I was at Aarif’s side day and night for 3 days.

It was late at night when my brother-in-law offered to stay with Aarif so that I could change, shower and get something to eat. I reluctantly left for home and was at home only a short while when I received a call to come back to the hospital. Again, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in Aarif’s case to cause us any alarm but when we reached his hospital room we were suddenly met with a crisis atmosphere. The doctors were working hard to revive him and I was shocked to see that Aarif’s condition had deteriorated. Within minutes, I was holding my teenage son close to me as his life slowly left him. My husband and I looked at each other in bewilderment and utter shock, unable to comprehend the words that were being said to us. Our 18 year old, beautiful, vibrant son had passed away. Our tiny family had been shattered forever.

A catastrophe, when it hits you, it routs you.  Paralyses you beyond imagination.  The impending depths of despair await you with hungry eyes. Your world of dreams and aspirations is blown to smithereens in just a split second.  Every passing moment is like a raging storm.  Life seems so worthless, so empty, so incomplete:-  If there is anything that can salvage your soul from this tempestuous tornado, it is the help of God and the resilient support of your loved ones.

Grieving for Aarif has been the most challenging ‘imtehan’ of my life. My grief knew no bounds but as a mother, wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, I had to support the grief of everyone around me, as well. It can be difficult to search for the strength to give to others when your own tears and mourning leave you feeling totally spent and empty inside. The process of healing was a long and difficult one with the usual unanswered questions, feelings of immense sorrow and inability to go on with day to day affairs. The support of loved ones, family, friends and community, was like a constant cushion against the pain that threatened to consume our family, and yet we began to realize that true healing would have to come from within ourselves.

I have learned that for many, the subject of bereavement or death may not be the most comfortable one to talk about, more so for those who have been closely affected by it. In fact, people often shun it and would rather talk about something else, and yet it is that reality of life which presents itself all the time as a constant reminder of our mortality. So when it does come, how do we deal with it? When an elderly or ailing member of a family , say a grandparent, for instance, passes away, there is a good chance that their children and other members have mentally and emotionally conditioned themselves to this normal progression in life. The parents would have probably talked and explained to the younger ones that there will come a time when they would have to say goodbye to grandma or granddad. It's a kind of preparation for that time when it does come. Of course the sense of loss and pain is still there and nothing can change that.

However, the situation is totally different when a young person, a child passes away. The pain manifests itself many, many times over. The family is suddenly caught in this hurricane of deep pain, profound sense of loss and bewilderment that leaves the world around them shattered and changed forever. Things just don't make sense anymore.

The family unit can suffer when such a tragedy occurs within it and everyone grieves in their own way. For all of us, this was a lesson that made sense very slowly because we were so deep in our own pain that we looked at each other through a blurry haze of grief. The hearts and minds are not able to comprehend; emotions are tossed around in turmoil. Healing can go through a cycle which spins back and forth instead of like climbing a mountain with an upward trend. Sometimes you can wake up feeling that you will now be able to cope, and yet, there are days everything seems futile again. On top of that, you are living with others who are experiencing their own fluctuations and cycles. I have learned that what is required is unending patience and understanding. This is the only way that one can wait for the other to catch up on the road of recovery. If the family unit is not strong to begin with it can be destroyed since each one may perceive the other as being selfish or uncaring of the deceased or personally isolated and unloved.

I feel that there comes a point when the parents are faced with two options: to either give up the world and resign to grief for the rest of their lives, or to go on, but look at life from a changed and totally different perspective and try to gather the strewn pieces of life once again.

The Qur’an – ‘How it continues to heal my wounded heart’

Ultimately, I found true healing in the one thing that gave me the solace and answers that I was seeking: the Holy Qur’an. Deep pondering, analyses and discussions of the Quran gave me the answers to the questions and thoughts that had been plaguing me and I cannot begin to describe the immense feeling of relief I was experiencing. My fears of the unknown were being allayed, and I felt at peace with God, with myself, with what had happened around me. I was comforted by the fact that death was not annihilation and that my son was now in a better existence, in the safest of hands and in His Divine Mercy and Compassion, we would be re-united again, some day.  The recitation and reflection of the Quran, itself, began to fill me up with a sense of well-being and love. Together, with a group of friends, I embarked on tadabbur  group discussions and the Quran offered philosophies on living, death, loss, after-life, Allah (s.w.t)’s compassion, mercy and will. I would say, with full conviction that the Holy Quran truly saved me.

There are ethical and moral aspects that death attaches itself to and a deep understanding of what religion teaches us on the philosophy and purpose of life, death and the hereafter can become instrumental in helping the family to comprehend, reflect and accept. Perhaps most beautiful of all, is that when the mind  just cannot comprehend due to it's limitations, we can find solace and comfort in just submitting to Allah's will, knowing that in His hands there can be nothing but good even if that 'good' appears in a way that is hard to accept.

People often ask me what wisdom I have gained in bringing up my children. Would I do anything differently if I had the chance to bring up my child once again?

The death of a child will always remain one of the most painful experiences in any person's life for the simple reason that we love and care for our children so much. A mother-child relationship is probably one of the most unconditional kinds there ever will be. A mother's love defies all norms and reasoning. We love our children no matter what and we value them so much that many times we ask ourselves "Am I doing enough for my child?" The truth is you can never do enough. No matter what their age, there is always something to impart and in order to do that, we need to be knowledgeable ourselves to ensure that they have a good foundation in human relationship. This way we can help to mould them into happy, caring, successful members of the family, community and society at large with a good sense of values, the quality to distinguish between right and wrong and act accordingly. A good education, healthy sports life, love and support at home cannot be over-emphasized. Many times our children face their share of growing pains, especially as they approach adolescence. Give them their space. They usually need extra doses of patience, understanding and firm advice at these times. The important thing is to be there for them whenever they need you. No matter what a rough day they may have had out there, the feeling of knowing that everything will be all right when they come home is what is so important. It is important that we as mothers endeavour to do our best for our children so that when they grow up into the wonderful people we want them to be, we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our toil and labour. If, on the other hand, destiny parts them from us, we may at least have the comfort and consolation of having given them the best that we could.

Over the past years since Aarif's death, I have slowly come to terms with the many unfulfilled dreams and expectations that I, like any mother, had built in my heart. This difficult process, which I continue to undergo, has had its own small miracles.  Friends and family have recounted detailed anecdotes about the different ways that Aarif had helped or touched their lives. Some spoke of Aarif's acts of kindness, others remembered working alongside him towards some social cause (volunteering at leper colonies and orphanages) and many described conversations where he had said wise and caring words. Hearing these stories from adults and his own peers has illuminated a wonderful, hidden side of my son's life that I had never known about and the joy this gives me has filled my heart with pride and love. Aarif, being the modest person that he was, had not revealed the extent of his affectionate and caring nature to me until after his death.  Allah (s.w.t) had truly blessed me with a gift to savor all my life. Even in death, Aarif has managed to fulfill the dreams and expectations that every mother has. I knew that someday my son would make me really proud of him.

Article appeared in:
-Toronto, Canada - Jaffari News magazine, 2001
- Federation Samachar, April 2004                                                    



Eulogy read by Philip Bradley at the Secondary School Assembly

Tragically in the early hours of Sunday June 30th, Aarif Nasser, a member of the IB class of 1996, passed away.  Aarif was taken sick only a few days before and died of cerebral malaria.  The funeral was later the same day and a number of teachers from International School of Tanganyika (IST) were there along with Aarif’s family and many school friends – in all there were several hundred mourners.  Like many people, I was unprepared for such grief, I wanted to be brave, I tried to fight back the tears.  It was not possible and it is a most silent and eloquent mark of respect to Aarif that there was not a dry eye to be seen. 

Aarif joined IST in 1987.  Most of you will have encountered Aarif’s warm and pleasant nature, he always had a smile and was a friend to many.

Exactly one year ago Aarif was part of an expedition, by train to the Mahale Mountains – a memory he was fond of and an adventure that all will remember. 

Within interact and at Mother Teresa’s, Aarif was always a joy to work with – never loud but always impressive, always dedicated – I  have a mental picture that takes place at Mother Teresa’s – Aarif is swamped by joyful children he has nothing for them other than himself, which is exactly why they are so delighted. 

In the variety of programs in school, Aarif was there – often back stage on the lights or sound but he also appeared on stage in Our Town as a Policeman.  Aarif’s response to so much he was involved in was to say thank you.  He was never looking for thanks but just happy to be there and a part of his community. 

Aarif’s Yearbook Motto was “Never say Never” – he never did. 

Our thoughts at this time are with Aarif’s family and friends. 

Please stand for a moment’s silence. 

Request for Suratul Fatiha for Marhum Aarif and all Marhumeen.



Click here to see late 1950s family group photo
Click here to see family group photo of Abbas Murad M. M .D. Kermalli wedding
Click here to see Mohamedhussein (Bha Mamdhu) M. D. Kermalli 90th Birthday Photos - August 2005


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