Peace be Upon You

By Sandy Burgham

My mother used to instruct me not to take life too seriously, to be really present every day, as you never know when something unexpected could occur and end life as you know it. For her it was a blinding flash of light, then a bomb that destroyed her school, many friends, and in fact her whole city of Hiroshima. Just one random day. And of course for so many New Zealanders and people around the world, on March 15, it was a gunman.

Someone said to me recently that it will take 21 days for New Zealand to get over the Christchurch massacre, and that after that point there will be an urge to resume normal transmission. That had been his experience in similar traumatic incidents in India. We both found this a devastating idea, that New Zealand could just move on and by the time this column is published, there would be some sense of normality in our country.

I don’t want to write a friendly Mother’s Day column for this edition; I don’t want the issue to go away and be relegated to becoming some sort of recent ‘unpleasantness’. I want us to keep going on about it, keep hugging people, keep weeping over various media reports, keep mulling it over, and keep grieving. Rather than relitigating the horror, many might prefer to focus on the supreme job that our Prime Minister has done, on a global scale. She has said herself that being a new mum allowed her to feel her grief more acutely. I commend her for wearing a headscarf, her reasons being not about political tokenism but in solidarity for those Muslim women who felt unsafe wearing their hijab to express their beliefs. I love that our Prime Minister is a new mother — whose own mother moved in to her household to help care for her baby — and for that she has now joined the club of the forever-vulnerable human being who will only ever be as happy as her unhappiest child.

But that’s not the mother I want to acknowledge. All I want to   do this month is acknowledge the mothers who suffered the most  as a result of the massacre. Husna Ahmed died after protecting the children of the Al Noor Mosque and then, returning to look for her disabled husband.  Karam Bibi, who came to NZ recently with her husband to see her son, and was gunned down. I am sure there are more. There are more mothers who lost a son, daughter, husband, father, sister, and brother that terrible day. Saud Abdelfattah Mhaisen Adwan, who died literally of a broken heart, mourning the loss of her son Kamel Darwish. The wife of Mohsin Al-Harbi, and mother of Sazada Akhter, who both suffered heart attacks when hearing their loved ones had been shot. I am sure there are more.

I wonder how the mother of three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim is coping. I send her love. Assalamu alaikum. Somewhere out there is the mother of four-year-old Alen Daraghmih, struggling at Starship. I send her love. Then of course there are those people who have lost their mother or mother figure and remain bereft, bewildered and no doubt drawing deeply from the well of their faith to remain a functioning human being. Assalamu alaikum.

And finally, there is the mother of the gunman, currently under police protection for an undisclosed period of time. What goes through your mind? What maternal guilt has flooded every crevice of your brain, leaving you incapable of dreaming that you will ever feel normal again? How much love do you have left for your son? How much compassion do you have for yourself? If “they are us” and “we are one”, then assalamu alaikum to you.

Whatever your faith, beliefs or family rituals, this Mother’s Day, make time to light a candle for those mothers who feel it the most. Perhaps one day, peace will be with them. — Sandy Burgham


This article first appeared in the May 2019 issue of The Hobson Magazine.


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