Friday, November 04, 2016
My Speech "Grief Unveils Creativity: An Experience of A Bereaved Mother." Healthy Ageing and Women. Bapco, Wellbeing Project 2020. 3 Nov 2016
I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to Bapco for inviting me as a speaker tonight. Those in the Wellbeing project and in the Safety Division at Bapco know me at the professional level since we collaborate in several areas. Today is special for me since I am not here as professor Hamadeh but as Randah, the individual, mother and author. Bapco has taken the lead in several initiatives since its inception and today it takes another by having me here to speak about how I became a writer after the loss of my daughter. I am very much touched by your gesture and I am honored to be here to share my experience with Bapco family.
Since my school days I have always enjoyed Arabic and English literature. My high school had a system of providing its students with a list of books in both Arabic and English to read over the summer vacation, which I looked forward to. Reading in both languages became a habit since then. Whenever I completed reading an Arabic book, I had to read an English one after it. I loved to read poetry as well and found that reading poetry exposes the reader to emotional experiences that even the best of novels cannot describe.
In my final years at high school, I was not sure about what to study at university, especially as my love of literature made me think that I should be a journalist. However, in my junior year, I chose the scientific Baccalaureate track. At that time, there was a myth that students with good grades should never follow a literary track but the scientific one instead. Subsequently, I sat for my second baccalaureate in sciences and continued my undergraduate and graduate education in health sciences, specifically in public health and community medicine. I did not take any courses in Arabic or English language after entering university but I maintained reading Arabic and English literature whenever I had the chance and time.
As years went by, I was blessed by having a lovely family, my husband and my three children. I never thought that the unthinkable would happen to my family. It is because human nature always makes us think that what happens to others will not happen to us. But it did!!!!.
A hand wave accompanied with “see you later, Mama” was the last words I heard from my youngest child, Samar. That evening, she had gone to comfort a friend who had lost her passport, needed for her travel to college abroad. My 18-year-old daughter left, but never came back…. It was on 4 September 2006, two weeks before her departure to the University of York, United Kingdom where she was to join my older daughter.
Samar’s death was the biggest blow I had in my entire life. The pain of losing her is indescribable. As a mother, even in the saddest moments, I continued to love and protect my children and had to be strong. It was not easy….
In addition to worrying about my children both of whom were still at university, I had another concern - keeping Samar’s memory alive and to ensure that she is not forgotten. Feeling my concern, my son created a blog for me few days after Samar passed away. Having a blog carrying Samar’s name was extremely helpful to me as it continues to serve as a platform where family, friends, Samar’s friends and peers, her teachers, and others would share their feelings and memories.
I had never written poetry before my precious Samar passed away, except for the short poems I had written when I was seventeen and two more, to my surprise, on my son’s and my older daughter’s graduation from high school. My children’s graduation was an extremely emotional experience. They were ready to go abroad and start a new chapter of their lives. However, unlike her siblings, I was unable to write a poem dedicated to Samar on her high school graduation. I remember apologizing to her for not writing and explaining that I had no control over the whole thing. She was most understanding and told me that I need not worry. This saddened me, since as a mother; I always wanted to treat my children equally. Who would have guessed then that I would be writing not only one or two poems for her, but several, and in two languages? Little did I know then that Samar will be my muse and I will publish poetry books in her name.
Exactly a month after the accident, I woke up in the middle of the night with stanzas of a poem flowing through my head. I was staying at the time with my son in Guilford, United Kingdom. I ran out of bed, grabbed a pen and started writing immediately. It was my first poem entitled
"هل تعرفون ابنتي سمر؟"(Do You Know My Daughter Samar?)
The poem was in Arabic. It came spontaneously with its title and stanzas wanting me to reveal who is my lovely Samar. I wrote with tears flowing on my cheeks in shock with what has happened. I remember that when my son woke up I told him, ” You wouldn’t believe what happened to me”.
I was so astounded by the fact that I wrote a poem that I started reading it to him without thinking that I might be causing him pain? At that time, I thought that it was a one-time miracle that happened to me. I then realized, after continuing to write, that it was a blessing from God to help me cope with my loss. In less than a week, I wrote my second poem,
"هذه هي ابنتي سمر"(This is my daughter, Samar) trying to continue to portray her. My first three poems were written in Guilford and on my return to Bahrain, the poems continued to come, one after the other, regardless of time and place.
Few days before Samar’s first death anniversary, I was at the airport waiting for my son and daughter to arrive when I wrote my first poem in English “A Year Has Passed”. I remember that I looked for a paper but did not find except the supermarket receipt. I had to write in a small font as the words kept on coming. I am thankful to have been able to write in English, since it has allowed me to share my feelings with others around the globe.
Most of my poems were written after words woke me up from my sleep. Some were developed while I was driving, and I would repeat the words in my head until I could write them down. Others were written on airplanes, trains, at the university, supermarkets, malls and elsewhere. I keep a note pad and a pen next to my bed, in my car and my handbag, as I can never predict when a new poem would flow. Comments, remarks, special events, occasions, family gatherings and songs usually trigger me to write. I do not plan when to write a poem, nor its theme nor its language. It just comes with its title to me.
Samar’s website became a platform for posting my poems to express my longing and love for my daughter. To maintain my daughter’s memory alive, I decided to publish my poetry. My first poetry book " سمر غروب وشروق" (Samar: Sunset and Sunrise) was published in 2007. A year later my second book,"سمر شمس لن تغيب" (Samar: The Sun That Does Not Set) was published. In 2009, my first book of poetry in English” Summer Rays: Solace for Bereaved Parents” was published in the United States. Having it available through the publisher iUniverse, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, enabled me to have my poems within reach of anyone who experienced such a loss to find solace in knowing that she/he is not alone in this journey. Bereaved parents can relate to my words and feelings, as I would be mirroring their own.
In 2011, my fourth book "سمرمعنا "(Samar Is with Us) was published and last August, my second English collection of poems, “Longing for Summer: A Season of Grief” was published. I planned to publish this book to honor my beloved Samar memory and commemorate the 10th anniversary of her passing.
All the five book titles, include Samar’s name. My poems show my raw feelings as a mother who expresses her longing and love to her daughter. Death cannot alter these feelings and there is no closure to a mother’s love for her child.
In addition to poetry, I started to write prose to the Open to Hope Community Website whose audience are bereaved parents. Interacting with parents who experienced loss of a child and sharing my feelings with them was comforting. To further console other bereaved parents, I created a Facebook page, “Bereaved Arab Families and Friends”, in memory of Samar, to serve as a venue for bereaved Arab families and friends to get support and solace.
People grieve differently and we need to respect that there is no right or wrong way. For me, it was important to have time spent doing something dedicated to my daughter. I found writing essential in my survival. It helps me endure the loss of my daughter in my grief journey. My poems are means of being in touch with Samar, communicate with her, express my love, let her feel my kisses in every word and know that she is with me in every breath I take. Several of the poems are in a dialogue form between Samar and I, where in some she affirms that she is with me and comforts my aching heart. Expressive writing also helped me to share my loss and my experience to others who chose to read my poetry.
I hope that bereaved parents find what I write helpful in their grief journey. This journey is for life; it is personal and I am sure that each bereaved parent would find her/his own way to survive and find means of comfort to soothe the longing and the pain of the most dreadful loss. Those who are still in the beginning of the grief journey will also know that they can survive, as others did, through their love to their children and the beautiful memories they shared together. I also believe that parents who did not experience such a loss would appreciate the mother-child relationship and the bonding that is portrayed in my poetry. They would also learn not to take their children for granted and appreciate the gift of each day they live with their children. In addition, people who have relatives or friends who experienced loss of a child would benefit in knowing how the bereaved feel and how to provide support to them.
I am blessed to have my two other children; Omar and Qadar who helped me go through this journey. I am particularly thankful to having them especially when I think of other mothers who experienced loss of an only child or two or more children.
For me, Samar is not a memory. She is my third child, alive in my heart, thoughts and my poetry. Thank you for participating in keeping Samar alive tonight. May God bless you, your children and families.