“I’ve been holding off from properly grieving because there’s so much at stake.”
My mom, Mahmooda Shaheen, lived a long, vivid life — that was tragically cut short by Covid-19. When the pandemic hit our Brooklyn community, she helped me organize an initiative feeding over 12,000 hungry first responders, and over 1,000 families affected by Covid-19.
After her death, I’m continuing the work, in her honor. In light of Mother’s Day this year, I am sharing her story.
My mom was born in India and migrated to Pakistan in 1948. She was one of 11 children, and had a bright, energetic spirit: She went on to coach the national women’s badminton and volleyball teams in the 1970s.
Once she met my father, they moved to Saudi Arabia, where he became an architect and she became a physical trainer. That’s where all of her three children— myself and two younger sisters —were born.
Following the first Gulf War, we moved to the U.S. As we landed at JFK, we fell in love. We didn’t know it yet — but Brooklyn would become our forever home.
It was not easy in the beginning. We moved from one place to the next, for many months. My father couldn’t work as an architect, because his degrees were from back home, so he worked in bodegas and grocery stores. I joined him eight hours per day while attending high school.
Our mother became our financial manager. She had dreamed of her children being educated in the U.S. With strategic saving, wisdom, and sacrifices, she helped us become successful individuals.
After her death, secrets came out about her life: While we were growing up, she helped orphans pay for their education, and countless others with rent, groceries, and other bills. She earned the name “Universal Mother,” in our community.
My mom lived with me even after I got married in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Our Haitian neighbors became a part of her family. My mom would often watch the kids during the day, and she’d feed everyone her amazing cooking — basmati rice, butter chicken, daal, and more.
Her drive to help people made me the public servant I am today. She was passionate about giving back to the U.S., a country that has given us so many opportunities. Because of her, I founded a few non-profit organizations, including the Pakistani American Youth Society.
When Covid-19 hit NYC, although she had diabetes, my mom wasn’t worried about herself —but about others. Tragically, my dad tested positive for the virus, and my entire family was exposed to it.
This situation is so common across the city, where many people live together in the same apartment. The state and city failed low-income communities and communities of color by not providing accessible testing sites in these neighborhoods.
My worst nightmare became a reality when five days after being exposed, she developed pneumonia. As her health deteriorated, we called 911, and she was transferred to SUNY Downstate Hospital. She was placed on a ventilator, and three days later, her heart stopped beating, at the age of 71. We got an unforgettable call at 11:41 a.m. on Tuesday, April 7th.
Grieving in quarantine is unbearable. And we faced challenges in retrieving her body from the hospital and performing religious rites, per the Islamic code, before burial. Her death sent shock waves through our community, and thousands are mourning. As I write this, it’s been weeks since her death, and my phone won’t stop ringing.
I wanted to continue her legacy: Our new campaign, for the month of Ramadan, is called “Come Break Fast With Us.” It’s in loving memory of her, and everyone else lost to Covid-19.
We have three Gyro Food carts situated in three parts of Brooklyn, and a mobile food truck we’ve been sending to hospitals and the hardest-hit communities. We’ve served over 5,500 meals and our goal is to continue serving free Halal hot meals daily through Ramadan’s end, and beyond.
This Mother’s Day, I hope to take my whole family to my mom’s grave. We still haven’t had enough time to really get any closure about her death. And I know that I’ve been holding off from properly grieving because there’s so much at stake.
Donate here to help Kashif’s initiative.
Editing by staff writer Amanda Svachula.
This originally appeared on Medium.com