TORONTO, Canada, May 11, 2014 — As a young child growing up in a small town in Tanzania, there were a few people that made an indelible impression on me: a couple of teachers, a handful of business people, older cousins, an aunt I was particularly fond of.
And then there was Shah, a woman some 17 years older than me. She was a mother, a sister, a friend to everyone. She had the ability to relate to me as a youngster and to my mom as a fellow volunteer serving on various committees. I remember one day in Moshi when my very strict dad allowed me to go to a social event just out of town. That evening, Shah and her husband took to the floor and ballroom danced. I was transfixed. I was mesmerized. I had never seen anything so beautiful. Two people moving in complete harmony, hand in hand, twirling and working the room. I imagined that this was the scene Cinderella encountered when she went to the ball. I have no idea where Shah learned to dance like that – ballroom dancing was a foreign concept in Africa. All I knew was that I had been exposed to something beautiful.
Over the years, our lives took different paths until we met again in our new home — Canada. I saw Shah a couple of times a year. Each time I met her, I was struck by the person she was. Kind, compassionate, strong in values, spiritual, loving, family centred, spirited. When she spoke with you she had the magic of making you believe that you were the most important person in the world to her. And even though I didn’t see her regularly, the bond and the connection when we met was strong.
When Shah found out I was ill, she reached out to me to tell me that she was praying every day for my speedy recovery and good health. I believed her. She conveyed this to me every time we spoke, and her prayers and support were a lifeline to me. A few months ago, I learnt that Shah was very sick. I reached out to her and we talked for a long time. I sent her a couple of CDs I had recorded that I thought would give her a sense of peace.
Yesterday I went to Shah’s funeral. It was an emotional ceremony and I allowed myself to cry for a moment, and to mourn the loss of someone whose life had been taken too quickly. At the funeral, I talked to family and friends who had been touched by Shah in small ways and big. Everyone had a “Shah story”, and most of these stories revolved around the love she spread and the help she gave. Shah left many footprints behind and her legacy will live on forever. More than 1,000 people attended Shah’s funeral, said prayers in unison and wished her well as she begins her journey in the hereafter. I visualize Shah entering heaven with grace and music, greeting her brother, Alnoor, and her parents in warm embrace. Most of all, I see her happy as she ends her suffering on earth and starts a new adventure.
On this Mother’s Day, as I reflect on the fragility of life, I make a mental note to tell my mom everyday how much I adore her. And I say a deep thank you to all the moms around the world and those who are no longer with us. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to the unconditional love of a mother.