Grief Is The Window Through Which Light Enters

Ananke’s Empower Program Fellow, Madiha Mughees shares Her Story celebrating Women’s History Month.
Grief Is The Window Through Which Light Enters

“Decide today whether you want to live with me or your Ammi”, uttered my father while I was boarding the school bus to take my Grade III Science Exam one dreary winter morning. I didn’t feel anything at that time; or maybe I felt so much that it is still the highlight of my life.

My father was a repressed yet principled public servant who never accepted bribes all his life. However, consequently, he never accumulated any assets. My mother was a homeopathic practitioner who had to discontinue her practice after getting married. She attempted to resume it years later, but unfortunately the practice could not flourish. Meanwhile, she was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, so her health never allowed her to work again, leaving her financially constrained..

They were both lovable individuals but together they were unhappy. As a child, I surmised that my father was solely responsible for our struggles as he frequently failed to pay our bills on time.  This resulted in frequent moves and feelings of destitution. I failed to understand why he lost his temper whenever the lender asked for dues. I thought it was my father’s fault that all my friends had ‘normal’ homes with landlines, modern furniture and well stocked pantries, and I didn’t. I was embarrassed when my father could not even pay the milkman and other basic utilities. I blamed him for not being able to drive a car. His occasional public outbursts and unnecessary chatter made me frustrated and mortified. I erroneously concluded that everything that made us unhappy was because of him.

On the other hand, my mother was frequently fatigued, hypertensive and drained. Her blood pressure was always high. She had depression and withdrawal symptoms. She was irritable and cranky all day long. I believed if papa could only manage the expenses more efficiently, all our miseries would end. I also blamed their incompatible personalities for the mess I was stuck in.

Only after losing him at age 15 did I realize that all the misery that surrounded our lives was due to his mental illness. He was a Schizophrenic. He grappled with life all those years and tried his best to be a ‘proper’  father he could never be.

He was not a ‘normal’ father because he was greater than that. He has enriched us in ways no ordinary father could. Walking aimlessly with him and listening to his stories enlightened me more than he could have imagined… His extensive collection of Urdu Classics taught me more about life than all my education combined.

In an attempt to give us a secure life, he helplessly cried one evening when he had no rent to pay and the landlord had insulted him and asked to vacate the house. He somehow managed to rent a new house for us and left, never to return. My mother also passed away three years later when I was 18, her liver had given up. But in truth it was depression that killed her.

My parent’s marriage was an unthinkable union of a man struggling with schizophrenia and a woman battling depression. I still feel the shivers of fear that would run down my spine when things got out of control at home. Those fights, the yelling and chaos.  My only refuge used to be a quiet corner where I scribbled my thoughts in the journals I still cherish. God teaches all of us some survival scheme. Mine was solitude, contemplation and the written word.

After my father’s passing, we were left to face the world all alone. We underestimated him as a feeble man. But only after losing him did it occur to us that he was the roof over our heads and our shield from the predatory world outside. When my mother, my two sisters and myself started living on our own, we were met with pointed fingers and harassment from men who thought we were easy prey. One of our neighbors used to follow us to ‘figure out’ where these orphan girls were going. We were harassed right, left and center. Too much to recall. I can now comprehend the insecurities my mother must have experienced and how she was still able to instill in us  a sense of liberty and independence despite her fears.  “Make your own life and fulfill your own needs” was a constant sentence on her lips. These apparently inefficacious words had such a profound  impact on our personalities that they saved us from doom. These words frame how I view adversity. I earned my first income when I was 16 by providing tutoring to a fifth grader only because I was too eager to become independent.

After my mother’s death, we found ourselves without a home. As three young girls, we knew we couldn’t sustain ourselves alone in a society as judgmental and predatory as ours.  We were provided shelter and affection by our maternal uncle and aunts. I am forever indebted.

As it is said ignorance is bliss. I had no clue how vulnerable I was. The self efficacy that Ammi had taught me, and the childhood trauma rather made me rock solid. I was head on and ambitious. Grief does strange things to us. On one hand it makes us very sensitive to the world around us; on the other hand it makes us resilient and unbreakable.

I was grief stricken but got my second job at age 19. I cannot say it was easy. I was drowning into the depths of depression when God gave me the courage to take control. I worked as a content writer while studying for Pre-Engineering and also later, while studying Computer Science at a private university. I tried hard to keep up with my mother’s dream of seeing me as a STEM professional but I could not. I wanted to drench into the world of words, stories, emotions, aphorisms and epiphanies. I continued my computer science undergrad for three years then I decided to quit. I wanted to work as a writer and a social worker.

At the age 22, I made the unexpected decision to get married. I was considered fairly young in my circle to get married but I was confident of my decision. My marriage resulted in my move from Karachi to Lahore. People who viewed me as an ambitious young girl were now surprised at what I had decided to do. I had faith that my marriage would help me become the person that I wanted to be. It was because of the person I was marrying. His trust and affinity gave me the assurance that my marriage would be vastly different from my parent’s troubled union. In my society, marriage is considered to be a full stop to a woman’s progress, I wanted to change that.

I had found my bliss in his form as Iftikhar Arif, an esteemed Urdu poet eloquently puts

“dayar-e-nur mai teera shabon ka saathi ho” -My companion of gloom in the city of lights!

I started another undergrad in Mass Communication. However, life took another turn and I was confronted with another encounter with Schizophrenia. This time even fiercer. This time in the form of my mother-in-law. My husband’s father also had just passed away, leaving him to take on the role of father to his siblings and complete his father’s unfinished tasks. I recognized that and decided to take a backseat to support him in fulfilling his responsibilities. As I tried to suppress my own yearnings and ambitions while dealing with another encounter with Schizophrenia,  depression once again took hold of me.

Again I needed to pull myself out. This time those who I considered ‘disadvantaged’ saved me. While my domestic conditions and my two little daughters didn’t allow me to write or work full time.  I decided to volunteer for an NGO called The Citizen Foundation only over the weekends. I was supposed to life coach teenage girls from underserved communities to lead better, hopeful lives. This process of mentoring and explaining the dream-to-destiny cycle made me cross paths with some of the most precious human beings I had ever met. I developed deep and enriching friendships and crossed paths with my mentor. Now that my inner discourse had experienced a complete shift and I had discovered some concepts that had nourished my spirit– I decided to keep going with the organization, I gave little and gained in abundance.

As an alternative to my limitations of going out of home to work, I decided to establish my own online business. I partnered with my sister and started the venture. The business also gave me a much needed boost.

Now was the time for another adventure that life offered. Unfortunately my husband’s mother passed away last year. It was a huge emotional shock. In the meantime my husband was given an opportunity to move abroad for work. Upset with the circumstances, he wanted to respond to the offer: Again I was faced with the choice to move onto a new adventure or stay.

As I prepared to leave my homeland, the plight of the underserved children, the bonded laborers and the pervasive poverty and misery in my country haunted me and mocked me. The decision to move to a developed country felt like a betrayal of my people and my roots.

Despite my reluctance, I took the leap of faith , decided to embark on this new adventure, on advice of my mentor – trusting it would provide personal and collective enrichment.

Just six months after my move I came across this  Empowering Fellowship with Ananke along with a promising Specialization opportunity by a Public University here. I am getting to fulfill my lifelong dream to write. My husband is my pillar and my confidante, pushing me daily to become my best self.

I am excited  for what the future holds. Though my vision may be limited,  I am certain that all these odysseys take us one step closer to our destined selves. As Shams Tabriz said:

Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That is the hardest part and that is what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow.”

The reason behind my decision to share parts of my story here, is the fact that by revealing our reality we lose nothing but our ego — beneath the layers of all our vanity and pride exists a heart that beats only to get aligned with its purpose.

Grief is the window with which light enters us, it is the central theme of life, let’s embrace it!

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

This article is lightly edited for clarity.

Share This: