Hi, I’m Aisha Elmasri. Aiche Elmasri was my dear taita, and my namesake. I stand here, overwhelmed by precious memories. Overwhelmed, yet thankful, for these precious memories serve to preserve my grandmother for me and my family forevermore.
I first wanted to say thank you to all of you for being here today to support my family and me during this time. Your presence here means more than you understand, and I am so thankful to each and every one of you. May God bless you and those you love who have also passed. I truly believe that love is eternal. Its immortality persists in our memories and in the hearts of everyone we love. Taita may be gone, but there is so much love for her in this room today.
Death has a way of grounding us back to this life. We remember the fragility of our human bodies, and the temporary nature of this life we are so consumed in. My grandmother always served as a humble reminder that even the fiercest souls belong with our God. Even those who seem invincible will always find their way back home. I truly felt that she was invincible.
Alas, on February 25th, 2018, my grandmother, and the matriarch of our family, whom outlived her beloved husband, some of her children, and even some of her grandchildren, returned to the God she worshipped and loved so well. I am comforted knowing that her pain has surpassed, and she is resting in the everlasting peace that awaits all of us.
Right now, I embrace the impossible task of attempting to describe the indescribable soul that has left this earth. Please know that nothing I say will do my dear Taita the justice she deserves. She was so special.
My grandmother was the kind of woman who made anyone feel comfortable, no matter who you were, she did not care. As soon as you stepped into her house, you would be bombarded with kisses—usually quite juicy ones—and immediately be given various hot coffees, teas and appetizers. If you were lucky enough, you may have been forced to endure one of her delicious and hearty meals. Taita was the most generous and loving person I’ve ever known. Her warmth was contagious. Her presence felt like rays of sunshine hitting you face on a cool day. It hit you to your core.
My family and I were blessed to have my grandmother live with us on and off throughout my childhood. Our house was truly different when my grandmother was around. It was literally warmer, because Taita was one to feel cold. There were fresh meals at every given hour, and the house was always spit-spot clean, for Taita was the cutest Domestic Warden. I would argue with my mom about chore assignments, but I could never bring myself to fight with my dear Taita. She had us on lock. In fact, I can’t recall even one time when she scolded me. When I would fight my mother about cleaning the bathrooms, a task I dreaded, my Taita would simply look at me, and say, “3b Aisha, that’s your mom. Go give her a kiss.”
I remember her style of complimenting my sister Nana for doing her chores without putting up a fight. I, on the other hand, would make posters delineating why I thought the bathrooms should be a boy task. I definitely inherited my taita’s defiant spirit. I wouldn’t do anything unless I absolutely wanted to.
Taita would sleep in my bedroom with my sister and me. We would literally fight over who got to sleep on the bed with her. Nana would often win because I was known to “play soccer” in my sleep, and my grandmother had very painful aches in her legs. I remember my cousins, siblings and I constantly taking turns to help her walk. She would lean on us, and whisper prayers of gratitude. She was so appreciative of anything. Even simply walking alongside her.
I also remember her night-time routine of rubbing some sort of powder on her arms and legs. I don’t know what it was, but my sister and I wanted to be exactly like my grandmother, so we always had her put some on us as well. It smelled like rosewater, and it made us feel fresh. Every time I smell rosewater, I will think of my Taita.
When Taita was here in the US, her life completely revolved around my siblings, my cousins and me. Her sole reason for existing was to feed us, raise us, love us, support us and spoil us. It was never a monetary relationship. I don’t think my grandmother ever bought me a present. And I didn’t even realize it, because I felt like she gave me everything I ever needed. She sewed me ugly sweaters and she made me my favorite foods. She cured my ailments, and she comforted me when I was sick. She did what she knew she could to help everyone she loved. She loved nearly everyone. I know I am not the only one who felt taken care of by her.
Taita spoiled us with her time and attention. Irreplaceable entities.
I distinctly remember how she came to every one of our soccer games. Now that I am an adult working at a middle school, I understand this act of pure love—watching little kids run around and get sweaty. I still remember seeing her and my beloved Gido sitting underneath our obnoxiously bright umbrellas on the sidelines. You see, this isn’t an image you forget, for Taita stood out in her characteristic brown abaya amongst the casually dressed families in shorts and t-shirts in the crowd. But Taita wore her floor-length gown, and she rocked it. And we loved her being there. It felt perfect.
Every morning before school in 3rd and 4th grade, my grandmother would braid me and my sister’s hair. We quickly became known for our braids. She would call me to her. I remember Taita patiently sitting on the couch, me on the floor as she braided my delicate, baby hair. My hair is really soft and fine, so it’s hard to braid—even for my own mother, yet taita always told me that she could do it because it was like her hair. I loved having my hair done. It was 5 minutes every morning where I felt solely doted on by my grandmother. She always doted on me. When she looked at you, she gave you her full attention. Her shiny, droopy brown eyes were focused on you. I miss that. I miss her.
Our grandparents made our family feel whole. You see, we grew up here, mostly without any family around. I always felt jealous of my friends who had large families and cousins and aunts. I remember the noticeable happiness in my father’s heart when his parents were around. Baba and my Uncle Abdl Salam were Taita’s only sons to leave Lebanon. I know Baba missed his family so much, for he does everything to help them, even from thousands of miles away. When my grandparents were here, my dad was at his happiest. He literally glowed. So, we glowed too.
My dad has always had immeasurable pride in his mother. He would always brag about her domestic skill-set. Her ability to make zaatar, rose-water, mlukheyah, and pretty much any difficult Lebanese meal you can think of, from scratch. She was the epitome of a super-mom. His mom spoiled their family, and she got my dad accustomed to the delicious meals he would soon demand us to learn.
Although, I could argue that my mother may love my grandmother more than my father. My grandmother was my mom’s most prominent pillar of support. After my brother was born, Taita came to stay with my family to help my mom. The first day Baba returned to work after Omar’s birth, thus leaving my mom alone with my grandmother for the first time, she kept asking my mom for a “tunjara.” So my mom went around the house bringing her nail clippers, pencils, scarves, random tools. For a half hour. Granted, my mom had just delivered my brother through a C-section. Her patience was low and she was probably going through post-partum. After 30 minutes, she had had enough, so she called my dad and started sobbing into the phone for leaving her alone with my grandmother even though she didn’t speak any Arabic. My dad asked what she wanted, and my mom sobbed out, “A tunjura!” My dad laughed: “Lupe, she wants a pot. Let her cook!”
From them on, it was love. Taita taught my mom Lebanese slang, and all of the delicious idiosyncrasies that only a life devoted to cooking and raising a family can teach someone. Taita’s life was dedicated to this. My mom was a quick and avid learner. She loved my grandmother, and they were the perfect team. During the week, when we were still babies, Taita would tell my mom to clean the house, so she could cook the meal, and then they could go to the mall. Taita was fascinated with the mall.
My mother loves Taita like her own mother. She was a blessing to her, and she was a blessing to our family.
It was my mom who insisted that I get my grandmother’s name. My dad will say it was her attempt to kiss-up to my grandmother, but my mom genuinely loved Taita. I hated my name for the longest time. I wanted to be called Jasmine, and I wanted to fit in. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized what a privilege it was to have my grandmother as my namesake. I also started noticing uncanny similarities between us, and I wasn’t sure if it was because of our name and my mind was playing tricks on me, or if it was true. I can only hope for the latter.
My grandmother and I had a special connection. I was always getting compared to her. Whether it was the power of our voices, the size of our fingers or the candor of our personalities. Even our hands and fingers were the exact some size. My grandmother even gave me her wedding bracelet and wedding ring. I couldn’t tell you why, out of all of my cousins, second-cousins, aunts, she chose me. But she did. And I’ll wear it proudly, my dear Taita.
I went to see my grandmother when I was 19. The previous nourishment my taita provided for my body quickly became nourishment for my soul. At the time, my brother had been in Lebanon for nearly 5 months, and I was anxious to see him, my family, but mostly, my grandmother. It was around 5:30 am when I got to my Uncle Adel’s house in Tripoli, Lebanon, where my grandmother was staying due to some unrest in the part of Tripoli her house was in. I walked into the living room to find my Taita praying Fajr in the peaceful dawn. She was seated on a bench prostrating her head and whispering the beautiful surahs of the Quran she was so devoted to while the pink rays of sunshine were shining on her perfect little face. It was a beautiful moment, and I knew then that I would remember it forever. Her commitment to her prayers is something I continue to admire today.
During that trip, my grandmother was still as fierce as ever. She had a strong voice, and she loved to exercise it. I mean, my grandmother was constantly talking. One of my grandma’s favorite past times was yelling at my dad’s youngest brother, Azaam. My grandmother had a powerful voice. She shouted from her diaphragm, akin to singers like Whitney Houston. She could really give her a run for her money—and she never even had lessons. I distinctly remember the juxtaposing nature of her addresses. My grandmother was either complimenting, praising or saying prayers for him—like “May God Bless you Azaam and grant you heaven, thank you for picking up our olive oil…” Or, she was using colorful expletives to criticize him and reprimand him for failing to complete his chores—but I’ll leave those to your imagination. Let’s just say Taita had a comprehensive vocabulary.
When I was 23, my family made a trip together to Lebanon. This was the last time we saw my taita close to healthy before age fully took its toll on her. I remember the moment my Dad greeted my taita after 12 years of not seeing her. It was late, so my grandmother was already in her bed. My dad bent his head over and kissed his mother on each of her cheeks. He told her to stay in bed and that they would talk in the morning. My grandmother, being the stubborn woman she was, got up as fast as she could—so it took her about 3 minutes to prop herself up. She kept calling to Yusuf for help, and Yusuf stared at her, smiling, not knowing what to do. Finally, we yelled at Yusuf, “Help her up!” He said, “Sorry, I don’t speak Arabic!!” Yusuf got her up, and after 5 minutes of her penguin walk, she arrived to the living room.
I think Taita was the happiest I’d ever seen her that night. Her face was radiant, for her son had come to see her. Taita was easy to please.
For the rest of the trip, my siblings, cousins and I laid around with her, showing her videos and photos and manipulating her face with snapchat—which she found hilarious. She asked us questions about our work and our jobs. When my sister got a bad haircut, like a really bad haircut, and cried—and kept crying and complaining for the remainder of the trip. My dear Taita was so concerned to see her upset, while the rest of us were secretly mocking and laughing at her terrible haircut—which was truly terrible. Taita hated to see anyone in pain. Her empathy was incomparable—she couldn’t handle it, so she would do everything in her power to comfort my sister through her vanity. Our dear Taita. It mattered to Nana, so it mattered to her.
The last time I saw Taita was this past December. I spent some quality time sitting with Taita for hours in her house without electricity in the ibbeh. I distinctly remember her telling me, “Aisha, take care of your mother, she doesn’t have any sisters. You have to play that role for her.” Taita was always telling me to take care of everyone, yet I couldn’t help but think that she was the one who needed to be taken care of.
We also talked about my job, my academic ambitions, and of course, when I would be starting a family of my own. I told my Taita how I felt, and she looked at me, earnestly, with her powerful gaze, and told me, “Aisha, remember what you want. Always do what you want.” We had many heart to hearts, and I found myself crying constantly. I would lay on her and massage her shoulders. She would play with my hair and compliment me for wearing Gold. I knew her time was coming, and I couldn’t handle it. I tried to memorize her face and preserve every last precious moment we had together. I would face-time my family a lot because it made Taita so happy to see my family.
This most recent trip also got me thinking about this idea of contentment. You see, for someone like me, who grew up in the United States with all of its amenities, it could seem as if my grandmother had very little. She lived in a small apartment in Northern Lebanon her whole life. She was accustomed to going without electricity for hours every day, and she was happy to watch soap operas on television. She never had a cell phone, a computer or any electrical tablet that we are so dependent on. All she needed was a kitchen to cook, and her family to love. My grandmother wasn’t traditionally educated, and she never had a real job. The idea of earning an income was a fascinating affair that my grandmother never dabbled in. She was shocked to learn that I got paid to do my work, for she worked all day long and never got paid for it. Yet, my grandmother was constantly worshipping God through her devotion to her family and her commitment to the people around her. I realized then, that my grandmother was actually wealthier than anyone I knew.
Her relationships were pure. They were not derived out of a monetary connection. Her relationships came out of a pure and sincere desire to simply connect, understand and love you through time, attention and prayers.
My grandmother simply had enough because she was content. She was content because she exercised gratitude. She was grateful for everything she had, and she was grateful for any time you spent with her. Time was all she ever wanted. In this world of materialism, Taita taught me to practice contentment, gratitude, and most of all, to cultivate sincere relationships. Value your time. Use it wisely. We can never get it back.
I know I speak for my entire family when I say that we value the time we spent with my grandmother over all else. When we spoke about her this very morning, it was with bittersweet and heavy hearts. We have so many good memories of her. Lifting her heavy legs on the bed. Laughing at her clever insults. Listening to her constant banter. Our taita.
I recite these last words in loving memory of my dear, precious, irreplaceable Taita. Taita, you are so deeply loved, and we will pray for you. I’ll do my best to make you proud. One day, when I start my own family, I’ll make them drink may zahar when they’re sick, and I’ll tell them about you. Most of all, I will pray for you every day until my time comes to join you. Your presence on this earth will exist long after you’ve gone, my dear Taita. I’ve never been more certain about someone’s fate. There is a house in heaven waiting for you. Rest in your eternal peace. You deserve it.
God bless all of you, and thank you again.