| This is the 565th story of Our Life Logs® |
My story begins amid sad circumstances in the 1960s. My parents were both born in India and later migrated to Pakistan at the time of partition. Everything was under chaos as they migrated. And me? Well, I was in my mother’s womb. Not long after the journey, my father fell extremely sick and left this world. The grief broke my mother and she feared that she would lose me from all the stress she was under. Thankfully, I was a healthy baby.
Now a broken-hearted widow, my mother raised me all by herself in Lahore, Pakistan. She was a hard worker, my mother. A very devoted and passionate midwife, I was in awe of her. Seeing her deep desire to help others made me want to become a nurse too.
My mother believed that all human life was sacred. To bring one into this world and to save one were great deeds. And the ones who help with both have the most blessed souls. Even in those tormented times when she was pregnant with me, my mother never refrained from her duties. She would help pregnant women deliver their babies whenever she could. I wanted to be like that, someone so devoted to helping others even if they’re struggling. You see, we grew up not having much. I watched my mother work all day and night to afford one meal for us. But it wasn’t the money she was after. No, no, not my mother. She lived for the satisfaction of saving a life.
Since we didn’t have much money, we never had a place of our own. We would live in tents, camps, and sometimes hospitals. Education was just another luxury we couldn’t afford. But that didn’t matter because my mother taught me all she knew about becoming a nurse. That education was rich enough. In those days, all one needed to become a nurse was practice. My mother would take me to hospitals and camps to learn by observation. I spent years doing that, content and learning under the experienced eye of my mother. Until one day, she fell extremely sick.
A severe stomach infection began ripping through my mother’s body. It all happened so abruptly, and while I tried to help her, I was no match for the deep infection. I’ll never forget the devastating day her eyes closed for the last time. Just like that, she was gone.
My mom had taught me everything except how to live without her. She was the only one I had and the only person I loved. I was left all alone. No parents. No home. I was only 17.
I had a small space in the corner of the hospital where she worked and I used it to curl up and cry at how badly I missed her. My mother’s fellow colleagues would come and feed me sometimes, but everything was so bland that I just wanted to die. I was crestfallen, and there was nothing in the world that could have made it better or have fixed it.
After my mother died, the staff took me under their wing to try to help me in my grief. I was offered a job as an assistant to the doctors and nurses. Back then, there were not enough doctors and midwives for the number of patients who needed them, so, they welcomed any extra help they could get. My heart ached without my mother, but I knew this was a path she would have loved to see me on, so I accepted and started working.
Carrying on wasn’t easy. I was a young girl, all alone, working through a major loss while trying to give good patient care. For years, I treated the hospital like my home. I slept in the lounge, ate cafeteria leftovers, bathed in the hospital stalls, and dressed in the bathrooms. I didn’t have many clothes, but about once a year, I would have enough saved save to get some used clothes. Most of the time, I had nothing to my name. Still, I didn’t give up because I was carrying on my mom’s passion.
As the years passed in a blink, decades began to feel like deep breaths coming and going. Life was a rigid routine. I would work all day and night, learning by watching doctors and nurses. I couldn’t read, so I spent more time observing so I could get better at my job. Still, life became a bit boring. After years of feeling like this, I had accepted that the monotonousness of my life was never going to go. Then, I met a sweeper named Sikander, who brought color into my black and white days.
Sikander was like a kaleidoscope of colors. He brought such joy and comfort into my life simply by being around. We used to have free tea together in evenings during our breaks. Apart from doctors, he was the first man I had ever talked to in my entire life. We bonded over the fact that we both had last family, and the rest was history. Around Sikander, I felt understood, less isolated. I had never thought of getting married until he asked me. And I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying no. We married in a court not long after and began our lives together.
My married life was like my upbringing—getting by with very little. Sikander lived in an abandoned house that was broken and destroyed. But that didn’t matter to me. Together, we made it a home. I’d never had one before. I carried on my job as a nurse, and he continued being a sweeper.
Our family grew with two sons. Our elder boy was born blind, and there was nothing we could do to help him see again. That helplessness reminded me of those devastating days with my mother. I wanted to take away his pain, but I couldn’t. My younger son was born two years later. Together, we tried to live as happily as we could. The veil of poverty always hung over us, but we did our best to find happiness despite it.
As my boys grew into young men, my career as a nurse was growing too, following in the footsteps of my mother. My husband and I had a loving marriage that lasted for decades, and I never regretted the impulsive decision to marry him. Times changed, but our bond only got stronger. Then, 2020 came and I questioned the foundation of everything we’d worked to build.
When COVID-19 began to spread in Pakistan, I sprang into action, helping those who had become sick. I was doing my best to remain cautious, but with my husband and I being essential workers, we were always put at risk. Still, we both wanted to provide for our family. My husband was growing old, but still he worked every day, no matter what. He knew that our blind son could not work, and the other son had a family of his own that he could just barely provide for. We started working in more hospitals and clinics to make extra money. We knew the risks, but we were desperate to help and make a little more money. It was a very busy time. We hoped the virus wouldn't come for us. But fate had other plans. COVID-19 took hold of my husband.
I couldn’t handle the news. I was completely devastated, especially when he was so weak, he couldn’t get out of bed. I was supposed to quarantine away from him but how could I leave my husband alone? He needed me to take care of him. I was the best woman for the job. I’d been helping others for decades, after all. Unfortunately, you cannot get someone to heal by sheer will. It doesn’t work that way. As days passed, his condition never improved. Things began to look very grim. I knew in my heart that he wasn’t going to survive, and there I was going through the same feelings I had when my mom was dying.
In 2020, I lost my beloved husband of 40 years. He was only 66. Words could never be enough to describe how it feels to lose a loved one, knowing there’s nothing you can do for them. To lose someone else so close to me crushed my soul into dust.
Just when I thought things couldn’t sink any lower, I was fired from the hospital. Since my husband had contracted the virus and possibly spread it to others, I was asked not to return. I was in shock. Not only had I lost my husband, but now I had lost my career following in the footsteps of my mother. When you live a life of loss after loss, one would think it gets easier, but it truly doesn’t. My career was my last connection to my mother. Without saving others like my mother, what purpose did I have? I felt like I had failed her.
For months, I looked for work elsewhere at other hospitals but by then, everything was overrun. Plus, in 2020, nurses need certificates and degrees to prove their status—things I do not have. Over the years, I changed several hospitals and clinics and never had there been my complaint. But now in the days of modern medicine, I was at a major disadvantage. Desperate to provide for me and my blind son, I wound up finding work as house help for months instead. As I dusted off furniture and swept floors, I felt like a failure.
Then, I remembered something important my mother had taught me. No matter how hard things get, even when you have nothing, you cannot give up. When we struggled getting by, she kept working. She kept looking for ways to help others. So maybe I wasn’t working in a hospital anymore, but that didn’t mean I had to stop looking for ways to help others.
To do this, I started lending a hand to people in the neighborhood with medical questions, and I even had a couple mothers-to-be approach me for help with their deliveries. I still work as house help, but it’s small moments like helping a neighbor that keeps me connected to my mother. I don’t have to find that connection by working in a hospital. I can find it anywhere. It’s not the place, but the act. Maybe in a few months I will apply for hospital work again and have better luck. Until then, I will keep doing what I can to carry on my mother’s legacy however I can.
I want to die a hero like my mother. One way I can do in my current state is to be there for my sons. As long as I am alive, I will do whatever it takes to make them happy. A mother can never stop fighting for her children. I may never become like my mother, but I hope that I am making her proud. I hope that one day after I’ve died, I can face my mother and tell her that I lived up to her teachings. I will do what I can until the day I die.
This is the story of Haneefa Sikander
Haneefa, 60, is a very strong woman and a true fighter. Even after bearing so many losses including her mother and husband, she chooses to stay steadfast and determined to carry on the helpful service her mother taught her. Today, she works hard for her son who is blind. She wants to be there for him like her mother was for her. She is sending him to a school for the blind. It costs her a lot, but she knows it’s important for him. She continues to look for ways to help others and carry on her mother’s legacy.
This story first touched our hearts on December 10, 2020
Writer: Noor Pasha | Editor: Colleen Walker