Thinking About Our Own Mortality

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

I was in my office, in between patients one morning, when I got a phone call from my sister.

“How are you doing?” she asked.

“Fine,” I replied.

“Is everything OK?” she asked again.

“Yes,” I replied again, starting to get a bit confused.

“I just got an email saying that ‘Hesham Hassaballa’ had passed away,” she then said.

“Really?” I said, in amazement. Obviously, it was not me, and I did not think of it again until later that night when I got a phone call from my good friend.

“You should sit down for this,” he tells me. He then proceeded to tell me how he was on a business trip in New York when he received a voice mail message from a mutual friend (living in Washington, D.C.) asking whether it was true that Hesham Hassaballa had passed away. My friend did not hear anything, but he called his mother (who is a good friend of my mother) to find out.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” my friend’s mother said. “Why, I was just with his mother today, and she did not say anything like that to me.”

Still, to absolutely make sure, my friend’s mother called my mother back that same day and made some small talk, seeing if my mother would mention that I had passed away. My mother said no such thing.

My friend then called me on my cell phone to see if I would pick up, and when I did, he told me this whole story. It really warmed my heart to know that he cared so much about me. It also comforted me to know that at least one person (outside of my immediate family) would care if I had passed away. The truth of the matter is that another Hesham Hassaballa, a man about my age who lived in Virginia, had passed away overseas in Egypt.

I pray the Lord God gives healing, comfort, and relief to Mr. Hassaballa’s family, and I also pray the Lord God grant Hesham everlasting life in His presence. Amen.

Yet, this entire incident brought home to me my own mortality. It reminded me that death is an inevitable part of life, and I do not have wait until old age to think about death and dying. Being a doctor, especially one who sees patients with cancer and in the intensive care unit, death and dying are not that far from my mind.

Still, this incident got me thinking: how do I want to die (as if I have a choice in the matter)? I have said many times in the past that I want to die in my sleep: I want my heart to simply stop beating, and that will be the end of it. After what I have seen some patients go through in the medical system, this would be the easiest and most peaceful way to go.

Yet, that would mean that death would “sneak up” on me. What if I was not ready? What if I had sins for which I had not yet asked God’s forgiveness? What if I had wronged someone and had not yet asked his or her forgiveness? What if my death had come at a time in my spiritual life when my faith was in a low spot?

On the other hand, if I was given a “forewarning” of my imminent death, that would likely mean that I would have some sort of terminal disease, like cancer. That may mean terrible pain and suffering. Yes, I would have some knowledge as to the possible time of my death, and I can prepare myself for meeting my Lord, ask His forgiveness, etc. But, then again, that may mean that – as I am preparing for my death – I am suffering miserably, and I don’t want that, either.

It is a tough choice (again, assuming that I even have a choice, like Meredith Grey). What would you choose?

When I reflected on this matter, there was only one thing for me to do: always be ready for death. Always ask God for forgiveness for the loads of sins that I commit on a daily basis. Always make sure that I have not wronged anyone on this earth, because, when I meet my Lord, the person I wronged has a right to take his or her retribution from me on that day. I do not want that to happen. I need to always make sure that my relationship with my Precious Beloved is solid, so that, if it is my time, then I can meet Him with a “heart free of evil,” as the Qur’an says (in the words of the Prophet Abraham):

and do not put me to shame on the Day when all shall be raised from the dead; the Day on which neither wealth nor children will be of any use, [and when] only he [will be happy] who comes before God with a heart free of evil.” (26:87-89)

For sure, death should not dominate my thinking: I should always look and plan for the future on this earth, as the Qur’an also says: “O You who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God and let every human being look to what he sends ahead for the morrow! And [once again] remain conscious of God, for God is fully aware of all that you do.” (59:18)

Islam does not demand that we abandon all earthly pleasures and pursuits. Rather, I must maintain a balance between my (temporary) life on this earth and my (permanent) life in the next world. That is best achieved by my always remaining conscious of God.

In fact, I must use this life as a vehicle toward achieving everlasting peace, love, and happiness with my Lord in the next life. If I can do so, then I will have been most successful. I pray that I am able to do just that, and I pray that Br. Hesham Hassaballa from Virginia had done the same.


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