Latifa may be gone, but she’s not forgotten
Kyla Lowe was just 14 and preparing to start studying for her GCSEs when she was told her brother's wife Latifa had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, days after giving birth to a son.
Latifa died six months later and the Bermuda High School student — who viewed her sister-in-law as her sister — wrote about her family's devastating experience in an essay at school, which she has kindly allowed The Royal Gazette to reproduce here.
“Regrets are odd. You feel justified and completely convinced that you're right ... but, later on, when you have time to reflect upon your actions, you think ‘how could I be so stupid?' or ‘what was I thinking?'.
I remember years ago, when my sister-in-law and I would get in the biggest fights over who got to sit in the front.
Both of us were so high strung and spoiled, which is why we clashed for attention.
When we first walked into the hospital, [we were] so excited at the birth of a new family member, which is always the most exciting part of life. But what we didn't know was that with this bundle of joy came bundles of unstoppable tears.
I recall sitting in a grand green recliner chair reading a National Geographic magazine on ancient mummies that were found in Mexico.
My mum was sitting on the cream-coloured hospital bed talking to my sister Latifa.
She said: “They found spots on my liver. I'm getting what I deserve.”
At this point I was utterly confused, because I did not understand what's so bad about spots on a liver.
My mum explained to her: “No, of course you don't deserve this. You have done nothing wrong.”
Latifa replied: “Yes, I have. The whole time I was pregnant, I asked for God to take my life. The pain was just too much to bear.”
Later on that dreadful evening, the doctor walked in to explain that the spots on her liver were a rare form of liver cancer that had no cure.
As he explained I was still quietly reading my magazine.
I looked up and saw my brother holding Latifa, tighter than he was willing to hold on[to] his own life, as she wept into his arms, blaming herself for the cancer.
I didn't realise I was crying until I looked down and saw the wet magazine paper.
My mum held me and said: “Everything will be okay” but I knew that it wouldn't be okay.
I knew that numerous amounts of people died from cancer every year and to think that my own sister would be one of them.
After this, my mum, Latifa's cousin and I went into the nursery to visit the new baby, Khaleel.
As my mum held him, we all cried together as my mum said to Khaleel: “Your mummy is going to be fine and we are all going to get through this together.”
The next few weeks were going to be the hardest weeks of my life.
They kept her in the hospital for about a month and every single day we were there, it was important to us that she knew how much we were there for her and that she wasn't alone, by any means.
Eventually, she couldn't take it anymore. She begged to come home so she could be with us all the time.
We brought her home and it was so good to finally see her happy for the first time in months.
She got to sleep in her own bed with her newborn right next to her; she got to take care of her baby without the help of the nurses constantly giving her medicine but with the help of her family.
Over the next month, we tried so hard to get to eat healthy herbs and natural vitamins that were sure to help cure cancer.
We practically had to force feed her because she was so stubborn and didn't like the taste of the natural medicine; she was so hardheaded.
I felt like shouting at her and saying: “Just drink the tea, just eat the herbs, just do it. Don't you want to be healthy so you can watch your son grow up and grow old with your husband?”
But I didn't say that. I held my breath because I could see the pain in her face and I could see how tired she was and I could also see the love that she had for my brother and her son.
I knew she wanted with all her might to stick around but this disease wasn't going to let her.
She spent all her time with them and went to all her chemotherapy appointments.
I could see that she was getting worse every day. She was getting skinnier by the minute and just losing weight like crazy.
It was like the cancer was just eating away at her. Ultimately, she developed jaundice and ended up back in the hospital.
One day in October we visited her in the intensive care unit and I hadn't seen her in so long that when I turned the corner it was a shock to see her.
She literally looked like the living dead. Her skin was no longer light beige, her cheeks were no longer rosy and pink and her face was no longer full and fat but rather yellow and so skeletal that you could see the outline of her cheek bones.
Her eyes were so indented that you could see the outline of the eye socket bones.
Finally they moved her out of the intensive care unit and into a regular ward.
We celebrated her [30th] birthday with cake (which my brother then ended up putting on Latifa's face) and the whole family in the hospital.
It was good to see her happy and talkative.
It was good to laugh with each other, rather than looking at her and my nephew and just crying with each other.
The rate of her cancer progressed to the point where her body resembled those same ancient Inca mummies. She couldn't speak English or even her native language Arabic anymore.
She couldn't smile; she couldn't move. Her life was simply drifting away right in that hospital.
Finally, my mum couldn't pick me up from school one day and I wondered why.
She got one of my best friend's mums to pick me up and I went to their house. I was walking up stairs to put my things in my friend's room when her mum called out to me.
Of course there were a number of possible things that were going through my head about what she could possibly want to talk to me about but when she walked up the stairs and I saw the expression on her face, I knew what happened.
She said to me: “I'm so sorry but Latifa has passed.”
I put the fakest smile that I could stir up on my face and said: “Thank you.”
I walked into the bathroom and cried on the floor. After a while, I said: “Get it together, Kyla” and I stopped crying. I walked down stairs to get the phone to call my brother.
I said to him: “Are you okay?” to which he replied: “Not really.”
I have no idea why I said what I said. I mean of course he was not okay. His soul mate just died.
He asked me if I wanted him to pick me up and I said yes.
I swore I wouldn't cry in front of him but I broke down as soon as we pulled out of the gate. He put his hand on my back as if to say ‘we'll make it though'.
Later he said to me: “She smiled before she passed.”
It was like I was flying; the weight that lifted off me after hearing that was immense.
Later that evening, the whole family met at my grandmother's house. As soon as I walked in I hugged my aunt and cried in her arms.
I really tried not to because I hate crying in front of people but I could not help it.
Latifa left a video for Khaleel saying how much she loves him and how sorry she is; my brother watched it for the first time that day.
As he watched it my tears began to resemble the Niagara Falls. I ran into the bathroom fell onto my knees and just asked why.
In our religion, the close female family members and the husband wrap the body in a pure white cloth before burial. As my mum, my brother, my aunt and two Muslim women wrapped Latifa's body, I went down to the morgue with Latifa's cousins to check how much longer they would be.
I walked into the icy cold room and saw her body lying cold and frozen on the silver table.
Her face was the only thing that wasn't covered yet. As I looked at her, I realised she's actually gone.
I couldn't move. I was as still as a rock. My mum said to me: “Do you want to say anything?”
I replied “No”, and I'm so sorry for that now.
The next day at the funeral, I managed to get through the funeral service without crying in front of everybody in sight.
Now all I had to do was get through the burial. We all got to the site and I looked over at my brother, devastated, watching his wife being lowered into the ground. As I watched her slowly descend I realised this is really the fate of this family.
Even seeing her body in the morgue didn't fully make me realise that she was gone.
Her body fell lower and lower. My knees were shaking. I could barely stand up. My heart had the same cracks in it as the ones on the sidewalk.
Yet even though my sister is gone, she's never forgotten. I think about her every single day.
She is in my dreams every single night. There are those countless ifs: if we did this instead of that, what would happen?;
If I said I love you more would she know in her heart how much I truly loved her?; if she didn't pass when her son was six months but rather five, would he remember her?;
If I had spent more time with her would she be able to remember me in her afterlife?
I guess I'll never know.”