Remembering Shafiq Hussain, Taken Too Soon By COVID-19

Remembering Shafiq Hussain, Taken Too Soon By COVID-19
Photo via Almas Shafiq.

MIDWOOD –  When Almas Shafiq, 23, got accepted into the NYC Teaching Collaborative a few months ago as a partner teacher, her father was proud of her. She remembers getting the acceptance letter with her anticipated salary. She remembers her dad got up, hugged her, and told her, “I love you puttar. I am so proud of you.” She remembers him kissing her on the forehead. She called him papa. And now, these are the very moments she will hold on to dearly.

Two months ago, her father Shafiq Hussain, died from the coronavirus. He was 59.

To date, there have been 17,636 lives that have been lost because of the coronavirus in NYC. In the entire country, the number is 122,000. Each one of those numbers was a human being. They were someone’s mother, husband, sister, brother, grandmother, friend. Hussain was a father.

Hussain’s is the story of many immigrants.

He emigrated from Pakistan in 1985 to create a better life for his family, so that his children could get the best possible education. And through hard work and sacrifice, he accomplished just that. The love of his life is Sadia Shafiq, who he was married to for 28 years. Together, they have five children: Adeel (26), Atika (25), Almas, Abdullah (21), and Ammarah (11). Almas is smack in the middle. About nine years ago, Hussain was diagnosed with arthritis. It was particularly bad on his knees, and the doctors told him to get a lot of rest. But, for this hardworking man, rest was not an option.

Shafiq Hussain. (Photo via his family, with permission)

He had a routine. He’d sleep for about three hours in the night. Then, he’d wake up and pray tahajjud. He’d worship Allah for about two hours. He’d do dhikr. His thumb would move down the beads of his tasbih. He would make duaa. He’d pray Fajr. He’d read the Quran. And then he’d go back to bed for about three hours before waking up again for work.

Hussain was a small businessman. He operated his own electronics store in New Jersey and would trek there every day in what would be a two-hour commute. Despite the fact that work was difficult due to competition from online marketplaces, Hussain remained patient as ever.

“Can you describe how your father looked like? We’d like to see him through your eyes.”

Shafiq let out a soft laugh. And then she took a deep breath.

“My father was a very handsome young man who had a huge beautiful smile,” she said. “He would dress very classy and carry himself with grace. He would walk upright. He wore glasses. He was six feet one inch tall.”

Hussain was very affectionate. He’d constantly hug his children, kiss them on the forehead, and offer words of affirmation, she said. Shafiq remembers when she’d have a busy schedule. She’d go to her teaching residency early in the morning and come back later, have university classes, and sometimes would go to the library to study. When she’d come home, her dad would ask her, “Did you eat?” And she’d respond, “I am too tired to eat.”

He would slide the plate of food toward her and tell her to eat. And she’d eat just because he told her too.

The Shafiq family at Fatima Tariq & Hassan Bukhari’s (family friends) wedding in December. (Photo used with permission)

In April, Hussain came home showing symptoms of the coronavirus. Soon enough, his entire family was sick with coughs and fevers. On April 5, he had trouble breathing and so he was hospitalized. On April 6, Shafiq’s maternal grandmother, her nano, was also hospitalized for the same reason. Hussain was soon put on the ventilator. And he stayed on the ventilator for three weeks until he passed away.

In the beginning, hospital visitations were very restricted. Shafiq got to see him during his last week in the world. The first time she saw him was the first night of Ramadan. She was dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) and a nurse accompanied her to Hussain’s room. She wasn’t even inside the room yet, when she first caught a glimpse of her dad. She remembers she bent over a bit, forcing herself not to break down on her knees. She remembers the nurse patting her back. And soon enough, she finally gained the courage to walk inside. She remembers saying salaam. He didn’t respond.

“There was a tube in his mouth and he looked like he was in so much pain,” Shafiq told us, breaking down in tears all over again on the phone. “His body was swollen from the ventilator. It was so scary seeing someone like that who was once so happy and healthy.”

An old photo of Hussain with his two daughters. (Photo used with permission)

“This disease is unpredictable. It really is. One minute you might receive a call that your family member’s oxygen levels are improving or their fever broke, and the next day you can get a call that their kidney is losing function,” Shafiq said. “Families are constantly in anguish. They are in constant prayer.”

On April 25 at around 1:30 a.m., Shafiq’s family got a call from the hospital. Usually, such calls were made in the morning. But, this one was made late at night. Her family was already awake and had been praying for her dad and grandma’s recovery. They were told on the phone that it didn’t seem like Hussain would make it through the night. Shafiq remembers dropping onto the floor on her knees and crying. She didn’t know what else to do.

Shafiq’s mother decided she wanted to stay at home and pray for her husband’s recovery. Shafiq and her brother went to the hospital. Once there, the nurse informed them that Hussain had just a few heartbeats left.

In Ramadan 2019, Hussain took his two eldest daughters with him to perform umrah in Mecca. Shafiq explained how her father very patiently taught them all the rituals. (Photo used with permission)

“Next to the ventilator, there is a screen. And on the screen, there are different numbers. I was standing next to my dad and saw those numbers go down. It was so scary to see the numbers go to zero except for his heart,” Shafiq said in between tears.

Shafiq remembers putting her hand on her dad’s heart. She remembers whispering to him, “Please don’t leave me. I won’t be able to live without you.”

She saw her dad’s heartbeat on the screen go down to zero. And then, he was gone.

“The nurse said it seemed like he was saving a few heartbeats for me,” Shafiq said. “Before my dad was hospitalized, he used to tell me, ‘You are my heart.’ And now I am very thankful for the honor of being able to see him during his last heartbeat.”

Shafiq’s grandma died a few days ago. Shafiq’s father died in April. (Photo used with permission)

Hussain leaves behind his five children and his wife who miss him immensely. He was their strength and their heart. And they are his legacy. Every single day without him is tough, but his family’s intense faith in Allah keeps them going. You just have to be patient, Shafiq explained. She referenced a line from the Quran (8:46), “And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.”

On Saturday, June 18, Shafiq’s grandmother died. She had spent two and a half months on the ventilator fighting for her life. Back in Pakistan, Shafiq’s uncle’s mother also died from the coronavirus. These losses hurt deeply, but it gives Shafiq reassurance that they are in a better place.

“My home feels permanently different. I feel the absence of my father on a daily basis,” she said quietly, taking deep breaths. “I miss his hug. I miss his smile. I miss the routine. On a hard day, I would go outside for walks. But even that doesn’t help anymore. Because when I go for a walk, my feet remember that I won’t be walking toward my father to hug him anymore.”

After Hussain died, Shafiq sent up a LaunchGood campaign for building water wells in honor of his name. The project raised all the money it needed and is now closed. Her family is currently raising money to build a masjid in honor of her grandma. You can donate to that campaign here.