It took the death of my grandmother to wake me up.
I had just gotten home from a Syrian refugee camp when I got the news. I had spent the day interviewing widows and sick children, and witnessing the filth they lived in. Yet all I could do was feel bad for myself.
I’ve been in Lebanon for a month, and I haven’t sold a story yet. Am I wasting my time? Will I ever accomplish anything?
I decided to call my mom and vent. That’s when she told me.
“Tayta has cancer. The doctor is only giving her a month to live.”
But it wasn’t a month. Two days later, Tayta passed away. I was in Lebanon, nearly 6,000 miles away from home, trying to build my career and better myself. And as a result, I never got to say goodbye to one of the most important people in my life.
Tayta Lou Lou was the matriarch of our family. This was the woman who left Lebanon, not knowing a word of English, to try and give her 11 kids a better life. This was the woman who baked bread out of her basement in South Buffalo to provide for her family. This was the woman who would give her company the best meat she could afford, and quietly go into the kitchen to eat bread and oil for dinner. This was the woman who, despite losing the love of her life and oldest child in a span of six years, never took the rosary off of her neck or stopped praying. This was the woman who instilled morals and values into each of her 11 kids that would last generations. This was the woman who had 49 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren, and somehow made each of us feel like we were her favorite.
For the past few years, I’ve been on a mission to better myself. I work hard to be a better journalist; I eat healthy to better my body; I get 8 hours of sleep and meditate to better my state of mind.
But I haven't been focusing on the most important part of the equation: being better to others.
My cousins and I held a memorial for Tayta here in Mazraat Al Toufah, her hometown. Although she left this village 42 years ago, more than 100 distant relatives and old friends came to give their condolences. They hugged me tight and told me how much Tayta touched their lives. And that doesn’t include the hundreds who attended her wake and funeral in Buffalo.
Tayta didn’t leave behind published articles or an extensive resume. She left behind a legacy — an example of how to treat others, from your heart, and show your morals and values through your actions.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to Tayta, and I’ll never get the chance to. But what I can do is try to keep her spirit alive — and try to be a more selfless and loving daughter, sister, aunt and friend.