By Vernon Khelawan, email@example.com
This column is a tribute to my younger sister, Barbara, of whom I am very proud, for the love, care, dedication, courage, and intensity of purpose which she displayed in caring for her totally disabled son, Kareem for some 36 years.
He was a bubbly baby boy, full of life and the pride of the family bringing great joy to all who encountered him.
Then it happened. A virus struck him down at the tender age of 16 months.
There were trips to several doctors, public and private hospitals, and a host of other medical professionals all of which proved fruitless. Kareem would live his life unable to speak, walk or grow.
His condition did not stop the family from loving him. He was an integral part of our lives. He would react to touches and voices, was cognisant of whom was speaking and would break out in different grades of smiles leading up to a raucous laugh at times.
When he was eating do not expect any reaction. He just wanted his food. His caregiver Annie and he were truly great friends.
And so it was for more than 36 years, everybody cared for and loved Kareem, virtually the star of the family show. His disabilities brought out the best in my sister, Babsy (to those close to her), for over the years she showed immense strength and exemplified most of all an all-encompassing and total mother’s love, a poster mom for all our Catholic mothers.
Balancing the rigours of her job at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and caring for Kareem was a herculean task for Babsy. But she did it with a smile and true love of a mother which motivated her niece Kendra-Ann (my daughter) to write in Kareem’s eulogy such beautiful attributes.
She wrote, “He could smile. He could giggle. He could let you know he was hungry…and he could quarrel too! He was so aware of what was going around him. Kareem could feel unbridled happiness. He could love without condition. He could show love without ever saying a word. Not everyone has those abilities.”
He was a special needs child and that made him very special to us. This caused Kendra-Ann to write these words, “Kareem taught us how to be happy because he took joy in simple things— delight in seeing his family and caretakers; in hearing familiar voices and sounds, tasting simple foods, gentle loving touches, having life…”
For my sister to bear this burden for so long, she must have had an extra heart, because it took a lot of love and dedication to care for his needs day after day. To nurture someone so completely, takes commitment and a depth of love that is hard to comprehend: truly, love without condition. And this is perhaps the most beautiful and pure example of love that exists. Kareem made it possible.
Kendra-Ann described his life this way, “Kareem gave us the gift of beauty. His life wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t glamorous. There were a lot of hard times for him and for our family. But he taught us that we can see past the difficulties and find the beauty; for there is always beauty.
“Finally, Kareem gave us the gift of perspective. He reminded us that most of our problems are not really problems and to be grateful for what we have. We must savour the sweet, beautiful moments we have every day because ultimately life is fragile and someday all too soon, we must say goodbye.”
Kareem has fulfilled his purpose here on earth. God must be smiling. Many of us spend decades trying to do what we are called to do. And while some never fulfil their calling, Kareem has done more; through him, souls have been saved.
And as God surely welcomed him to the real paradise, he is smilingly looking down at his mother saying mutedly, “Hold strain Mummy, we will be together one day.” May he rest in eternal peace.