Fearful Love (Part II)

“I am aware that it is your Islamic right to remarry, but if you truly want to honour his memory I would suggest you do not”

My sister-in-law.

Naharat by Nawal Al-Ajmi.  Exhibition at Desert Designs, May 2009

Naharat by Nawal Al-Ajmi. Exhibition at Desert Designs, May 2009. Via Hobnail.com.

Noor,*my sister-in-law, and I have never met in person. Yet, we have become close after Saad’s passing. Our first contacts were messy, confusing and, of course, emotional. Neither she ever imagined that she would have to deal with the woman she considered to be her brother’s “youthful indiscretion,” nor did I ever think I would feel the need to connect with Saad through her.  At the beginning she was hostile. In fact, she wrote me letters asking me not to talk, write or publish anything about her brother because her family felt I was tainting his name. However, within a few days, she realized that much to her surprise, she did not know her brother very well.

Saad and I always had very different relationships with our families. Mine is widely dysfunctional, but open. We share things, we talk, we keep in touch and we tend to know what is going on in each other’s lives. Saad learned from a very early age that in his family the collective good was above everything, and that private “indiscretions” put everyone at risk. His family is extremely tight and loyal, and they are governed by communal responsibilities. Thus, Saad kept the peace by just not sharing anything personal and abiding to kinship rules.

The first family clash we faced showed us how differently we dealt with family. When we got engaged, roughly a year after we met, no one was happy for us. What it came down to, for both families, was the fact that they felt we were just too different, and they did not approve. While I fought my family and strained my kinship ties a lot by being vocal about my decision, Saad just quit mentioning it to his. He did not fight because he knew he would never win, and he was planning to live far away from them so he had hoped the problem would eventually dissipate.

It was not easy, and his approach to the whole situation eventually became a source of conflict and resentment. Never, in my entire life, had I faced a family that did not like me or approved of me. What is more, I could not understand how someone who loved me so much was not willing to fight his family for me in the same way I had done for him. But when he died, I realized that it was not about me. Saad had decided to keep the things he held close to his heart private, untouched and uncomplicated.

When Noor and I started talking I noticed that the family knew very little about Saad’s eight years in Canada. They knew only the basics. I, on the other hand, and despite the distance, had become the keeper of his memories, his likes and dislikes, his plans, his pictures and all of his time in Canada. In an instant, I had become their only source of information. Thus, my sister-in-law put aside all the disagreement and the anger, and she made a deliberate effort to get to know me a little bit better and to keep in touch… something that she still does today.


Noor was married for about four years before she got divorced. She is a survivor of domestic violence and a single mother. He ex-husband has terrorized her for the past 8 years reappearing once in a while trying to fight the custody of their kids. Yet, he has never provided child support and he has never kept in touch with the kids. Broadly speaking, Noor was “lucky” enough to have her family’s support. Although such a thing should be a right, we very well know that it is rare for abused women, in many settings, to be protected by their families financially, emotionally and physically.

Saad always defended her sister and looked after her kids. In fact, I knew that once we got married, her kids would become my responsibility as well. Noor’s experiences of abuse and her divorce brought her and Saad closer. Also, these experiences triggered in her an interesting sense of loyalty through which she has immortalized Saad. Do not get me wrong, Saad was great. In fact, despite the bad times, I often fear that no one will ever love me the way he did. However, things were not always easy, and the compromises were sometimes nasty and painful.

To anyone who asks me what my relationship with Saad looked like after so many years I tell them this: Relationships are cycles. The first year you may be completely infatuated with your partner. You may feel like there is no one else in the world. The second year you may become comfortable. You get used to their habits, their temper and their presence. The third year you start noticing their faults, which may trigger dislike and a lot of conflict. The fourth year, you may really hate them… you wonder if you really love this person and you question the “why.” On the fifth year, the cycle starts again.

In my experience, the trick is making it through the cycles… and when things get nasty we must ask ourselves, do I want to stay? And if so, HOW do I want to stay? This is the part where we must be accountable to ourselves, our partners and to the relationships that we build. Believe it or not, these are some of the hardest questions I have had to ask myself.

But somehow, all this tends to be invisible to others; for instance, to Noor. She does not know the struggle, the fears, the conflict or the healing that Saad and I experienced through our relationship. She seems to think that since we were together for 8 years, her brother must have been the most wonderful man in the world; thus, he deserves a loyal partner… one that would have never betrayed him while alive, nor will betray him while dead… one that will preserve his memory in celibacy.


Noor and I will probably keep in touch for a while longer. We still find healing in each other. However, I often find myself conflicted after talking to her. She is my only physical connection to Saad and, as such, she behaves as the guardian of Saad’s memory and honour. As long as we are so intensely connected, a part of me will not be able to move on. This part of me will always feel that I am breaking a sacred vow by being with someone else and by feeling what I feel right now.

Sometimes I fantasize about getting Noor’s blessing to move on although rationally I know that I do not need it, and that she will probably never give it to me. Pragmatically speaking, I know that when the opportunity presents itself to get married, Noor and I will become estranged. I fear that day… I fear that Noor will walk away taking with her any kinship connection I may have to Saad… I fear that she will leave with the part of me that still considers itself attached to his memory… I fear…irrationally…but I fear.



*My sister-in-law’s pseudonym.

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