“Children taught me that death is okay”

Two valuable lessons I learned from children and the elderly.

By Noor Al Sayegh

As soon as I heard the news, I called my sister to ask if they were all okay. I thought of my brother-in-law, and I thought of her. But most importantly, I thought of the kids. They didn’t know what loss was – who would explain it to them? My nieces were up to date regarding their grandmother’s illness. They mentioned her every chance they could. They went to her home often, and had several outings with her. When she fell ill, they were not able to visit at the hospital because of how young they are. But they never failed to raise their hands up in the sky when they heard the call to prayer to ask Allah for her to return home safe and sound. 

“How are the kids? And when are you going to tell them?” I asked my sister. “I told them already!” she replied assertively. I was surprised, yet impressed that my sister could tell her kids about their grandma’s passing shortly after the incident. “How did they take it?” I was afraid to ask, but I had to. “They were happy! They went to their father and greeted him as if they were congratulating him rather than consoling him” she replied. “I told them your grandma’s gone to Heaven.”

Later in the call, I was asked to babysit my nieces while she dealt with the funeral, and I gladly agreed. I took a quick shower and went straight to their home. My hair was still dripping while I sipped some warm tea and waited for them at their kitchen table. When they realized I was in their home, they came running to the kitchen with their happiest looking faces. They were well dressed and their hair was neatly done. “If you were planning to look this good, why didn’t you inform me? At least I would’ve dried my hair instead of rushing to your home and forming a pond in your kitchen – a frog might pop out of there!” I joked.

I watched them as they played, and soon after, their cousins joined. They all looked ecstatic. I looked at my younger niece’s face and thought: that little soul doesn’t know why everyone is making her feel extra loved and cared for today. As she picked up her toy from the floor, she turned around instantly, as though she had remembered something super exciting and was eager to tell me: “Did you hear that my grandma went to Heaven?! She’s with Sheikh Zayed and Sheikh Sultan! A lot of people are there now!” She went on listing some other family members as well. She hit me with her news, that was stated as if it were, without any doubt, a hundred per cent facts, and continued jumping and playing around. I looked at her, relieved, and thought: Thank you for the reminder. If I didn’t have to babysit, I would’ve been at the funeral, mourning the elderly way. But instead, I’m here, having some Kentucky Fried Chicken, celebrating with children an entry to Heaven.  

A few weeks later, I was invited to an old man’s birthday who lived at the elderly home that I often visited. I was thrilled to attend, for I had never been to an old man’s birthday in my life. I must take a cake! I thought to myself. I opened Google images and started looking at different designs. Throughout my life, I only chose cakes for children, or for family and friends – and I was brilliantly creative at it. But what does one choose for an old man that lives in an elderly home?  I thought. I was torn. I asked my sister, and she suggested a plain, off-white cake. I kept her suggestion at the back of my mind and kept scrolling, until I found a pastel rainbow cake. My heart told me that this was it. That old man is getting this! He’s certainly got no time for a plain one!

After I made that bubbly choice, I purchased other things as well: balloons, colourful hats, and candles (you know – the whole birthday package). If I wanted to go bubbly then I had to do it properly. But as soon as I reached the place, I started questioning my choices. All this for an aged man at such a formal place – am I for real? They would think I’m taking all of them as a joke. I decided to leave everything I had bought in the car and just took the cake in. After saying hello to the workers there, I started getting comfortable, and I told one of them about what I had bought. We shared a laugh and she said, “We don’t really use candles here, so it’s better you kept the rest of the stuff in your car.”

Seeing all the elderly men and women gathered around in a circle, all of them seated on their wheel chairs waiting for something entertaining to happen was such an indescribable view. I was glad to see that scene on my last day of 2019. They were expecting a birthday party to start. We had to give it to them! And frankly, their heads looked empty without hats. Or they probably looked empty for me because I knew there were birthday hats just lying on my car seat waiting to be worn. I went back and got everything I left behind. The same worker gave me a look as I held on to the things, and said: “You know what, Noor? For you, I will pass on the hats, and I’ll even wear one myself! Life’s too short!” They were all happy to wear the hats. Nobody felt like it was a “joke”, and the pastel rainbow cake had more than enough space for a wishful birthday candle to be on it. 

Throughout my life, I have always celebrated birthday parties with children, or people that are close to me. And as an adult, the first place I find myself in when a close person passes away is clearly at the funeral. But in these few weeks, I have experienced being with children when a soul was taken back to Allah, and I celebrated a joyful birthday with the elderly, and not children. What I learned from this swap is acceptance, and reassurance. The elderly showed me that it’s okay to live and celebrate life, no matter how old we get. Our age is in a constant move, but our desire to celebrate the life that we were given should always be in us. They taught me that nothing should age except our fear to age.  Children taught me that death is okay, too. They reminded me of what we have all been taught – what we have always repeated, and what we always keep on repeating, yet somehow, the pain of loss makes us forget: “To Allah we belong…and to Him we shall return.”

If we took a minute, and just imagined who we lost being by Allah’s side: Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, our grandmothers and our beloved fathers…

 What a celebration…

bigger than any birthday

…wouldn’t that be?

The views of the authors and writers who contribute to Sekka, and the views of the interviewees who are featured in Sekka, do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Sekka, its parent company, its owners, employees and affiliates.

Noor Al Sayegh is an Emirati writer with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services. She has found her passion through writing and has written a collection of reflections while she lived shortly in London. Noor is also passionate about charity and has started her own project called “Letters from Noor” through which she writes encouraging words to people, believing in the Prophetic saying: “A good word is a charity”.