a woman worth remembering

My first memory of my dada is hilarious and poignantly indicative of our 26 or so years together. I was probably two or three, and dada was watching Essence of Emeril on Food Network, and I was aching to watch cartoons. I stood in front of the television, pressing the channel button until Cartoon Network appeared on the screen, with a rerun of a Looney Tunes Classic. I then held my finger over the television sensor and stuck my tongue out at dada, mocking her inability to change the channel.
Dada promptly went to the kitchen, where she brought a wooden spoon as a light threat, and chased me into our room, where I hid. She took that moment as opportune, and switched the channel back to Food Network, where I heard Emeril’s distinctive “BAM!”
***
Dada is a queen; born Zahada Khatun, her name means a noble woman striving for a better life. Her name is a reflection of the regality, modernity, and feminine independence seldom afforded to girls growing up in the confines of East Pakistani society. A forever rebel, dada indulged in the banned writings of Rabindranath Tagore. She embodied the message of her name – dada was married in her teens to my grandfather sometime in the late-1940s. They had a respectful and loving relationship, but it was cut too short in 1970, when my grandfather suddenly passed away from liver complications.
Widowed with seven children in her mid-thirties, she struggled financially but never allowed pity to ruin her resolve. She vowed to never take handouts, but instead learn how to navigate life with seven children in a politically and socially unstable landscape. After several hardships, dada was able to go from Sylhet to Dhaka, eventually emigrating to the United States in 1991.
In coming to America, dada became the mother of the Connecticut Bangladeshi community. All of my father’s friends – despite where in Bangladesh they came from, or when – regarded her as “ma.” I remember hearing, “khalama, amara aschi,” every weekend in my youth. She, along with my mom, would cook mountains of rice, daal, beef, and chicken to feed all of her adopted sons. And, when they eventually got married, dada would meet all their wives, bringing them into the family. She would visit their houses on a weekly basis, and often go to New Haven and New York with anyone who had time off of work to take her.
***
My aunts and uncles arrived in the States between 1997 and 2005. During this time, I saw her beam with joy. With her children all here in the U.S., she finally felt peace. There was no longer any worry of instability – financially, socially, educationally. Her family grew in size, and so did her heart.
Wherever Dada was, we congregated around her. At home, aunts, uncles, and cousins would come on a nightly basis to visit her. If she was at the hospital, our family would trek to either one of the hospitals near our house – Yale or Midstate. At night, hospital waiting rooms would erupt in chatter as everyone milled in and out of her room, as she scolded and engaged each of us. Dada always had a colorful language, and the ones closest to her were fortunate – or unfortunate – enough to be at the receiving end of her sharp tongue. Despite her sailor’s mouth, dada was unbearably cute. Every nurses aide, personal care assistant, therapist, and registered nurse who came to my house to provide services for dada, she would talk to them, make them laugh, and scold them for preventing her from sleeping.
***
Dada loved sleeping. She could lay in bed all day, and never feel the need to get up – unless you asked her if she wanted to go shopping.
When I would come back home from work, school, or vacation, her face would light with joy. She would ask me how my commute was, and if I was tired. Regardless of my answer, she would always ask me when I could take her to the mall. Her favorite stores were Macy’s, TJMaxx, and Boscovs’. The one time I took her to Forever21, she lost her faith in humanity. She loved shopping; her closets burst at the hinges, filled with sweaters, blankets, purses, and shoes – because no one could say no to her.
She would also help me buy clothes, always telling me that the skirt or shirt I picked was fashionably acceptable, or that I had terrible taste if I dared to buy that horrendously ugly piece of shit. Some of my favorite pieces of clothing were the ones she picked out – an over-sized navy blue skirt with white polka dots, a fluffy gray sweater, and multiple button down shirts in various colors.
***
In January 2001, dada suffered a heart attack, requiring an emergency bypass surgery. The doctors operated on her for hours; we were lucky to have an Iranian surgeon, who recited Surah al-Yaseen as he operated on her. Following her surgery were months of recovery. Dada relearned how to walk by herself, and struggled to eat a heart healthy diet on a daily basis. Yet, she persisted. She proved to herself – and others – that a heart attack couldn’t stop her. She was the epitome of resilience.
It wasn’t until 2010 that her health began to decline again. Despite her body becoming weak, she was mentally stronger than we realized. She had many close calls with death, yet she came back stronger and fiercer. Despite being on life support eleven times within one and a half years, she would find a way back home.
***
I would come home from grad school every few weeks, knowing that I would find her as I had left her. She would be in bed watching her favorite documentary, Tiger: Spy in the Jungle, or Planet Earth. She loved animals, and loved watching shows about lions, tigers, monkeys, and bears.
She would always ask me to stay in her room with her, and appreciated whenever I napped with her. We centered our days and weekends around her, making sure that she felt loved and was never alone.
Dada loved us fiercely – she would yell and scream and curse us, but in the same breath let us know how much she appreciated us. We would get into arguments frequently; but that was the essence of our relationship. We would yell at each other, but at the end of the day, we relied on each other for comfort.
***
Acute Chronic Renal Disease happens when an individual’s kidney reaches stage 5. When this happens, they must go on dialysis to purify their blood of the toxins that the kidney is responsible for filtering out.
This last hospital visit, we thought she would come home. Her hospital visits in the past two years became less frequent, only happening when she had an anxiety attack, or had complications from congestive heart failure. Upon her admission, we learned that her kidney functions diminished, and as she stayed in the hospital longer, she reached the end stages of kidney failure. She was too weak for dialysis, however. Regardless, she never wanted to live her life relying on a machine.
***
I remember New Years’ Eve 2013; it was unreasonably warm outside. Dada wanted to go to Hubbard Park, where there were lighted sculptures of reindeer, snowflakes, and swans, arranged to look like a winter wonderland. As we drove around, the warm lights reflected off of dada’s face, and she rested her head against her hand.
When we came back to the house, dada was happy – she had a look of pure joy on her face, something I always looked forward to. Dada’s happiness, colorfulness, and presence meant home. Her happiness and peace felt like sunshine on a cold day.
I love you, dada. Thank you.

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