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A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Loss

Verily to Allah belongs what He took and to Him belongs what He gave and everything with Him has an appointed time.

My mother, Surtiningsih Wiryo Taruno, died beautifully in my arms after a very long fight with an illness that had forced her to struggle for breath. My father and my sisters were present at her last moments, reciting the Quran to usher her into the Hereafter.

I witnessed how she drew her last breath as gently as the sudden rain that fell outside the windows of the clinic where she had been treated for the past two weeks.

Pain had been my mother’s constant companion for years, more so after she was diagnosed in 2001 with breast cancer, which later spread to lungs already ravaged by TB and other infections. She also struggled with heart and hyperthyroid problems. But she had never been idle or unproductive in her life.

She gave birth to nine children and raised seven of us to adulthood, always telling us that she would not care if our school reports were full of bad marks, but that she would never, ever tolerate wickedness and meanness in her children.

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She brought us up to be decent people and she raised all her five daughters to be accomplished women and fighters. “It doesn’t matter if you have a flat nose or if you limp, but you girls have to grow up strong,” she always told us.

She wrote dozens of children’s books, several of them jointly with my father, Soekanto S. A., who wrote more than 30 children’s books.

In the early 1980s when President Soeharto’s intelligence agents spied on any Islamic movements or activities, she risked her own and our safety for da`wah by opening up her house for Quranic studies, She would stand outside on the lookout, in case any suspicious people passed by and noticed the gathering.

She designed and had Muslim dresses made for girls so they could appear nice while adhering to the Islamic ruling on how a Muslim woman should dress.

She was instrumental in helping build the foundation for what is known today as the Tarbiyah Islamic Movement, because she basically supported the forming of the earliest cadres of that movement.

She read the Quran haltingly because when she was a little girl growing up in a small city in East Java, she was not taught well, but she memorized a great deal of the translation of the Quran by H. B. Jassin.

She was a devout Muslim, and this remained evident in her last days that were filled with pain and an incessant, racking cough. By her last day, she was struggling to breathe, even with the help of continuous oxygen, but she still said her prayers and she put her affairs in order.

From her bed, she told one of my sisters to prepare food “for the guests who are coming.” She waved her hand toward the door and told us to open it because “the guests are coming.” She told us that she looked toward us with blessings.

In her last hour, she slid from her bed to the floor, still unable to breathe properly, but no longer struggling. She said she was tired. I stopped praying for her recovery and began to pray for a good ending, a gentle death.

She slept briefly on my sister’s chest then she woke up and asked whether she had died. My sister said, “No of course you’re not dead, here, feel my kisses.”

At around 1 a.m., all the fight went out of her and I could see the change in her pallor. She became so white, her breathing became labored. We recited the Quran. My father sat in front of her, declaring how pleased he was with her, that she had his blessings, despite the fact that she was a much better wife than he ever deserved.

A gentle rain fell outside of the window. I gathered my weakened, fighter mother into my arms, and I whispered into her ears, “Astaghfiru Allah Al-`Azhim, la ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad Rasul Allah. Please God forgive me. We testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” This was the prayer that the Prophet Muhammad taught Muslims to recite to somebody on their deathbed.

Her breathing became even slower, and a long sigh escaped her open lips. That was her last breath. I placed my right hand on her heart and felt no beating. I touched her wrist and found no pulse. The doctor came in to confirm what I knew already, that my mother had passed on.

The rain stopped and peace descended upon my beautiful, beautiful, Muslimah mujahidah. I placed my lips on her forehead, now no longer marred by the frowns that resulted from having to endure so much pain, and whispered, “Raditu billahi Rabba, wa bil-Islami deena, wa bi Muhammadin nabiya wa rasula. I accept and am pleased that Allah is my God, that Islam is my religion, and that Muhammad is my Prophet and Messenger.”

Her five daughters and two daughters-in-law bathed her after the Fajr Prayer and we said prayers to send her off, flying through the seven skies in the protective hands of the angels. We laid her to rest and told her we would continue with the jihad to be good Muslims.

Beloved mom, till we meet again.