CHANGE: The Ebb and Flow of Life
C-H-A-N-G-E. Why does that word cause dread in many of us? Is it because it implies: a new situation, another decision to be made, a detour, rerouting, recalibration, etc.? Should we really perceive change with such consternation?
Our ability to cope with change begins with our accepting it as a challenge, a learning opportunity, and a normal part of our life’s journey. Change is the ebb and flow of life itself. When I’m faced with a change, I see it as a point in my life where I need to stop, reassess, make a plan, and then move ahead. It’s not easy to change course, especially if I’ve become comfortable in travelling a familiar path for a while.
We feel at ease when we have developed habits and a routine that we stick to. We fall into safe patterns to deal with familiar situations or when we are faced with a decision that we have confronted before. But how did those habits or safe patterns start? Didn’t they begin with looking at a solution to an issue we hadn’t confronted before (a change) and as a result we had to create a procedure to deal with that new situation? Once we figured out the procedure that worked best with that situation, we stuck to it, and it became a habit. Therefore, a change is just another challenge to figure out.
By accepting that “change is the only constant,” we realize that change is just par for the course. Rather than resist change, we should welcome it as an opportunity for growth. On a daily basis we are confronted with changes in the form of many unanticipated issues and decisions. Our mindset is critical to how we confront those challenges. We can have a fixed mindset and resist the change until we have to resentfully conform to it as a permanent situation that stunts our growth or keeps as stagnant in that space. Or we can have a growth mindset and confront the change as a yet another challenge to figure out, methodically adapt it to our own needs for our self-improvement, and keep moving forward.
Stopping at the point of panic and acceptance is not the purpose of change. Its purpose is to make us focus and assess the situation. Granted sometimes a change must be accepted as is. But often, even then, it should bring about contemplation of other things in our lives that might need to be focused on as a result of the change or that we have ignored for too long.
The biggest change of my life was oddly when everything stopped: the death of my infant son. Obviously, I would never wish this change on anyone. However, despite my initial shock, panic, and grief, I had to figure out how to adapt and move forward. I was not going to let myself figuratively die with the passing of my son because then his sweet life with us would have less meaning. His life brought us all so much joy, that his memory had to also bring us joy and not leave us with pain.
The death of a child is very difficult to deal with. Up to that point, we had been living comfortably in modern day suburbia. We were happily married; my husband had a good income, which allowed me to stay at home with our two children, an almost four-year-old girl and an almost one-year-old boy — we were living the American dream. Then God sent us a huge change. Our son became ill, and all within 36 very stressful hours he died. The little boy, who began smiling from his first week of birth and never was ill in his short 11 months of life, got a nasty flu virus, which made him vulnerable to a secondary bacterial infection. The antibiotic resistant “streptococcus pneumoniae” bacteria invaded his body quickly and its toxicity led to meningitis, an inflammation in his brain, which ultimately was his cause of death.
Our daughter was our first pride and joy. She was so fond and proud of her little brother. We could not let our daughter down by no longer functioning and falling apart. As the adults in her life, we were committed to keeping her safe and helping her understand the loss of her best friend, her brother. Like us, she had difficulty understanding how her brother was there one day playing with her and two days later never coming back. Her pre-school friends could not understand, but her pre-school teachers and friends’ parents were very kind and caring.
She was completely blameless in her brother’s passing, and yet how could we make her understand. But as we came to find out, it was our daughter who was the light that guided us out of the dark tunnel we’d found ourselves in. Some people told us to just stop talking about her brother and she’d just forget him. Others, told us to tell her that her brother left. This advice was illogical to us. We felt we needed to tell her everything about her brother’s death, but gradually. His life was valuable to all of us, and we needed to remember him. All of us also needed to know how to deal with death and understand that it is a part of life. We brought our daughter to the ICU where he was actually in a coma, and she whispered to him “Don’t worry, you’re going to be ok.”
We did not take our little girl to her brother’s funeral, because we weren’t sure how she would handle knowing that his body was in a box that was going into the ground. On the day of the ritual washing of his body before his burial, we had not yet told her that her little brother was not coming home. My mother decided to be the one to stay home with her granddaughter that day. While we washed our son for the last time in a designated facility of our mosque, our daughter stayed at home with my mother. No one had yet told our daughter that her brother had died or that his body was being washed to prepare him for burial. When we returned from the funeral prayers and burial, my mother told us that her granddaughter surprised her by skipping around the house all morning singing joyfully, “My brother is having a bath today.”
That afternoon, we decided to tell our little girl that her brother had died. With family in the living room, we took our daughter to our bedroom and closed the door. We wanted to make sure we were all fully focused on each other. We told her as simply as we could that her brother was going back to God, because it was his time to go. We are sure her response was divinely inspired. She began with a frown, “I’m upset!” Then her face changed, and she matter-of-factly stated, “He was just a visitor.” My husband and I looked at each other in awe. Our little girl understood what was happening more than we did.
My husband was on his knees at eye level with our daughter who was sitting on the bed. She saw that her father was crying. She looked at him, smiled gently, and said, “Don’t worry, Baba, good things will happen.” When her Baba asked her “Like what?” She giggled, “It’s going to be a surprise!”
We had to be present for her and for each other. We also had the compassionate support of our extended family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers who were focused on helping us get through the grieving and healing process. It took us at least one year to be able to see the light at the end of that very dark tunnel. However, our little girl held our hand all along the way. Eventually, we were also blessed with two more children, two lovely daughters that have only enhanced our lives and have become best friends with our oldest daughter. These two other sources of pride and joy were the “surprises” we believe our oldest daughter was talking about. Our children have continually affirmed the Dickens’ quote, “It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”
I’ve heard many stories of people who could not move on after the death of a child. I understand their pain, and I know that I can’t know their exact circumstances. But I knew that I had to pick my self up. I was warned that some couples divorce after the loss of a child. Some stories I’d heard were about parents who would not allow themselves to love their other surviving children and would not allow their surviving children to overcome the guilt of being the ones who survived. Why such added misery? Why not move on and strengthen one another? Of course I miss my son, and I wish I could have watched him grow. But I do believe that we all have a specific time of death that we cannot change, and if that was his time to leave us, then he fulfilled his life’s purpose of providing us joy and helping us grow.
The passing of our son was a huge change and a critical point in my adulthood. I became more grateful for every day I was given. I was able to realize how many blessings that I indeed had. I also became more empathetic because I’d experienced such a loss and had to work through it.
Many people who came to console us had their own stories of death or illness. One man told us that he had had meningitis at the age of six and was in a coma for several months. His parents had all but given up hope for his recovery, thinking that he might remain bedridden all his life; but then it was not his time to go yet, and he recovered. He grew up to become a university professor, married a dentist, and they had two children together who are now in college.
Another story we heard was from a woman whose baby was perfectly healthy in her womb, but due to labor complications and the loss of oxygen to his brain, her baby became mentally impaired. This was the youngest of her children. He was not able to function on his own as he’d grown and needed 24 hour care. The woman and her husband remain strong for their youngest child and their two older children, but they can’t help but worry about what the future holds for their mentally challenged son. This mother told me that had my son survived, he may have remained in a vegetative state in his bed all his life, and that would have been much more difficult of a responsibility to bear.
I do still remember my son once in a while. But I remember him as he was: a joyful, sweet, little baby boy. Some have told me that he’ll be waiting for us at the gates of heaven as a young man. I feel blessed and honored that he was a part of our family, even if it was for a short while. While I held his still warm dead body in my arms in the hospital, I sensed his soul in the room, but I could not reach him any more, because we were no longer in the same dimension. I knew that his limp little body was once very alive only a few days earlier, which strengthened my belief in the spiritual world. My faith became more solidified due to the lesson my 11-month-old baby taught me.
My husband and I also came to have a stronger and more mature relationship. Even though we were happily married before our child’s death, we still had our small spats. But after the death of our child, we no longer fussed with petty arguments. It no longer mattered who was winning an argument, instead we discussed what would be right for both of us as a couple, for our entire family, and what would be right in the eyes of God. We were at peace with each other and grew in our relationship having gone through the change together.
Our daughters are aware that they have a brother in another realm and that makes them appreciate each other even more. As a family, we also found a closer spiritual connection to our Maker, each other, our children, and people in general. The passing of our son, and their brother, was a challenge that continues to teach us 20 years later. I believe his being a part of our family and his passing will continue to have an effect throughout our lives as we navigate the challenges that life’s changes bring.
I believe we are all given life on this physical planet to learn how to grow spiritually. I see life as one long journey where we are constantly being given lessons through tests and challenges along the way. I believe that we have both free will, which tests us through our choices, and we are also destined for some very specific things, such as our time of birth and death. I don’t see a contradiction in a combination of free will and destiny, because I believe that there is a higher power guiding us and wanting us to succeed. Some times we have choices that can offer multiple paths (free will), while some choices will all lead to the same path (destiny). The purpose of changes or new situations that come our way is to help us focus and improve in an area that we might not have focused on before or enough. With more changes, come more challenges and experiences, and with more experiences come growth and a richer more meaningful life.