Eid is the most important festival in the Muslim calendar. It is a time for families to get together, give greetings & gifts, and share lots of special food & festivities. As a child, I couldn’t sleep the night before Eid, because of all the excitement, and even into adulthood the anticipation keeps me up the night before!
Every year I have always been excited for the Eid celebrations, apart from one Eid- Eid 2014. It was Musa’s first Eid-ul-Fitr and he was in hospital having chemotherapy for leukemia. By that time we had spent over 3 months in hospital, away from home and then rest of the family. We had adjusted to hospital life. Musa had been through quite the ordeal, from being in intensive care on a ventilator, not knowing if he will make it to the next day, to taking his first steps, getting his first tooth and starting to recover from the chemotherapy all in this time.
I was grateful that Musa was responding well to the treatment and would be able to return home in the coming weeks, but even then, the lump at the back of my throat would not go away knowing that on the morning of Eid, we wouldn’t have our traditional breakfast spread, or go to the Eid prayer and embrace many familiar faces, everyone smiling and happy, kids playing with balloons and the smell of oud and attar (Islamic perfume) intoxicating the air. Instead, we would wake up to the sounds of IV pumps beeping, alerting us the transfusion was complete. Doctors coming in to invasively examine him and nurses recording his every bowel moment and stool quantities.
I accepted this, I had to. Musa needed treatment and that was top priority. What I couldn’t accept is that for every other occasion, the celebrations would be bought to the hospital; beautiful decorations that lightened the atmosphere, gifts that made the children cheerful, and messages of hope and remembrance that bought some relief to families. But for Eid, there was absolutely nothing. I struggled to come to terms that the leading children’s hospital, in the most ethnically and religiously diverse city in the world, that has a large percentage of Muslim patients and staff, there was no effort for Eid.
Sure, I tried to do what I could, to make the most out of our situation. We made some colourful decorations and put it up in our room, but was also a bit irritated that almost every staff that walked through our door assumed it was his birthday, even some of the Muslim ones. Musa's blood counts were looking good and he was fit to go out to the park for an hour. Following the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition), we dressed in our best clothes and in that brief hour we had a picnic with our family over some Sainsbury’s meal deals. It was short but sweet. The hour was almost up and I started feeling anxious again, the dreaded feeling, of spending the rest of the day in the hospital. In essence it felt like Eid was just for that one hour. Despite feeling a bit down, I was very grateful that Musa spent time with his brother and cousins, and we had some normality. In hindsight, I appreciated that short picnic even more. The rest of the day was the usual, Musa had his routine; we played with some toys watched CBeebies, in between his checks and treatment.
Later that week I spoke to a couple of other parents, we discussed how Eid was. It was interesting to see how different it was for everyone. A mother had said this was her son's 3rd Eid in hospital, so she was used to it. She ordered pizza for the staff of their ward, and shared some cake. Another father was very angry, his daughter was really unwell, and they were in no mood to celebrate. This made me think, that perhaps if there was more external effort for Eid for families like us, then it might’ve lifted their mood and spirits. Sometimes it can be very arduous to find the will power and mental capacity to make the most of a difficult situation.
Months later, after Eid-ul-Adha I discovered a dear friend of mine and her son were back in hospital. Initially, her son looked like he was well on his way to recovery, we even managed a play date in the park, but suddenly his condition deteriorated very quickly and in just a matter of a few days he was admitted to hospital. No one was aware of the severity of his condition because he looked well on the outside, and was getting on with school and playing with his toys. She didn’t tell him it was Eid, she didn’t make an effort as she did previously and they didn’t have any visitors. She spent the day trying to hold back her tears and felt this heavy weight of sadness and grief overcome her the whole day. Sadly, that was his last Eid and of all the struggles and obstacles they faced, one of the most painful memory she has was that his last Eid was just so dismal, lonely and miserable. It’s days like Eid and birthdays where we as parents want to see our children extra happy, regardless of the situation.
Though we both had varied Eid experiences in hospital, we both shared the same sentiment that the community had forgotten about our children. It’s often easy to overlook. After all we are in a developed country, safe and with adequate healthcare, but it’s doesn’t take away the fact that these children are fighting battles of their own.
By Sultana Aktar - Muslim Aid Volunteer