By Maryam Sultan
Yellow is my favorite color. It’s the color of the purse my sister gifted me on the day that I completed my memorization of the Holy Qur’an. It’s the color of flowers that my husband makes sure to include in every bouquet he brings home. It’s the color of the gold in the earrings my grandmother gave me when I was 10 years old. It’s the color that my living room is painted every morning at sunrise. Yellow is also the color of my patient. Her face looked like she had been painted for a middle-school play about fruit when I walked into her room the day that we met. The day that we met was also the day that she died.
I had never before been in the presence of someone so close to death, and I found myself terrified. I was frightened for my patient, who seemed to be fighting against her fate. Pain was apparent on her face. Her breathing was loud, uneven and ragged. I found myself recalling the Qur’anic verse: “When the souls reach the throats”, signifying that that is their route of exit from our bodies during death. I wondered if that’s where her soul was at that moment. I felt a tightness in my own throat, and reminded myself that my tightness was very different from hers.
I was frightened for the beautiful family gathered around their mother, grandmother, and great-great-grandmother, all of whom lay limp in one bed. Would they wail and make her passing more painful? How many photos of this once-smiling matriarch, similar to the one that stood on the windowsill of a hospital room, also existed on windowsills, walls, and dressers throughout their homes? Will they tear up each time they pass by these images mourning her death, or will they continue to celebrate her life?
I was frightened for myself. The second Qur’anic verse that I recalled upon stepping into this hospital room says that “every soul is a taster of death”. The Arabic of this verse is notable in that the word for “taster”, due to its spelling, requires that the reciter take 6 full seconds to say the 5-letter word. This always causes reciters and listeners to pause and reflect on the fact imparted by the verse. I have recited this one verse probably close to 100 times in my life so far, but it was only on the day that I met this very special patient that I realized something about it: Every translation of the Qur’an that I have read translates this verse as “every soul will taste death”, but that’s not what it’s saying at all. The verse puts this “tasting” of death in the present continuous tense—we are all dying. This patient and I are not very different at all; she was just getting a larger dose of death than I was at the moment.
I wonder what, ultimately, my moment of death will be like. Will I be in an overly-sterile, unfamiliar room? Will my family be gathered around me calmly awaiting my passing? Will a recitation of the Qur’an be playing in the background? Will my favorite color be plastered onto my face like a gruesome prank? I pray that it won’t be. I pray for comfort, peace, and acceptance for myself, my family, and my patients at the times of our passing.