Khadijah Abdel Majid (aka Kaidy, wife of Ali Khasawneh), passed away at 11.30 am on June 13th, in her home in Amman. She was 77 years old. She was the mother of Lina, Lulu, Mahmoud, and the author of this piece, as well as the proud grandmother of 9 grandchildren. Her loving husband of 58 years gave her the nickname “Kaidy” as far back as 1959 and never called her anything else since.
Kaidy was born in Nablus, Palestine. She was the reason I have always proudly reminded people that I am half Palestinian. Most importantly, she was an extraordinary human being; as a mother, wife, citizen, and in every other measure. In celebrating and honouring her life, I honour so many other women around the world whose commitment to family and human values makes this world a better place. At the same time, I honour a unique individual whose fierce intelligence, patriotism, and passion for life make her worthy of recognition regardless of gender.
It is difficult to express the sense of void and sorrow that envelops anyone on the death of a mother. I will borrow a few words from my sister Lulu:
“My feisty, dynamic, lionhearted mother is no more.
All I know is that I will never ever be as loved as I was by her.”
My brother Mahmoud calls her the “center of gravity” of our family. She was the pillar on which everything stood. She lived through and for her family, but not in the dependent, self-effacing way. My mother made it her life’s mission to make us all a success, and in doing so, she never forgot or diminished herself. On the contrary, she enlarged her consciousness and being to encompass us all.
Kaidy and my father were a living embodiment of what a great marriage looks like. A companionship through it all. A memory that will linger with me forever is how my dad literally spent every moment of my mum’s last months silently watching over her. In that Shmeisani living room, he would just sit with his gaze fixed on her and her every move. My father’s extraordinary love for her transcended death. The way he has missed her every single moment since her passing is part of the beautiful legacy they leave us.
I was fortunate to spend a number of days at my mother’s side during her last week on earth. I will always be grateful for the privilege of staying next her through the night. I would hold her frail, tired hand, and keep checking on her as she battled the scourge that is ovarian cancer. No matter how hard the illness battered her, she never lost her wits or bearings. Until 10 days before her death, she would talk to each of us and get the usual updates. She would advise and listen, and, as always, she made each of us feel like the center of the universe.
In her very last days, she was aware of all that’s around her, but her voice was giving way. Speaking would tire her but she would still express herself in a hushed, coarse voice whenever it was necessary. I will not go all stoic at this point and tell you that my mother stared death in the eye without fear. In fact, I would say that throughout her life, she was terrified of illness and death. But, three days before her death, she told me: “I know it’s a matter of time. And who cares. We all go. But I don’t know why, I’m worried. You stay worried.” She worried about us and what would become of us when she’s gone.
She also told me: “Your father is an angel. Rukaya [her sister] is an angel. I’m nothing.” It pains me, because I didn’t stop her to say that she was actually everything. But looking back, I feel that she wanted to leave me with a clear memory of how strongly she believed my father and her sister were extraordinary people, which they are.
My mother’s love of my father was ferocious and absolute. The term soul-mate is overused, but these two really were the ultimate partners. The conventional view would be to say my mum was a housewife who didn’t have a job since 1959, but I never saw it like that. Kaidy was involved in my father’s work day in day out. She was his best and favorite advisor. She knew of all the challenges he dealt with and tough decisions he had to make. A memory that will stay with me forever is of the extraordinary support my mother gave my father after his resignation as Chairman and CEO of the Arab Potash Company. My father essentially led the construction of the Potash Company from scratch to successful operation, making it one of the top 3 largest national exporters of the Jordanian economy. And as it tends to happen, success breeds enemies.
My father resigned as CEO and Chairman of the company on a matter of principle regarding the need to have one executive chain of command. As soon as he resigned, a number of questionable folks came out of the woodwork and criticized his legacy and manner of resignation.
In response, my mother set up an operations center in our house in Shmeisani. Working the phones, she created a whirlwind of activity against anyone who was openly or surreptitiously disparaging my father. One prominent member of the government told a mutual friend, “please ask Um Mahmoud to get off my case!” And my father’s record as the builder of the Potash company stands undisputed today. What remains with me from those days is an image of what unconditional loyalty and support look like.
My mother shared with my father an unswerving view of patriotism. There were no shades of grey: Someone is either a patriot (in Arabic “watani”) or not. My own name reflects that. I was born a few months after the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser and was named after him. Kaidy could tolerate many things, but she had zero patience for anyone who dared criticize the lion of Egypt. When Abdel Nasser resigned in the aftermath of the 1967 defeat of the Arab armies, my mother impulsively left our house in London and joined the masses who took to the streets around the world, demanding he rescinds that resignation.
Until her last breath, Kaidy had an intense interest in politics. She was good at analyzing and reflecting on the issues of the day. But her true gift was that gut feeling that made the right call on so many thorny issues in recent Arab history. I gained a lifelong interest in politics from listening to her and my father talk passionately about Arab issues and beyond. I remember how she disliked Margaret Thatcher and how she got us all rooting for Neil Kinnock in the 1987 General Election in the UK. In fact, every election in the UK and U.S was a major event in our household.
As a proud daughter of Nablus , it goes without saying that she was a passionate supporter of Palestinian rights. Her view on the so many Palestinian and Arab politicians who screwed up in standing up for Palestinians was unforgiving. There were scores of “non-watani” folks in that field.
In bringing us up, Kaidy didn’t stick to outdated principles. As one of my friends told me upon her passing: “You can tell what a great mother she was by looking at your sisters.” Kaidy brought up Lina and Lulu to be confident, modern women and did not care about any social norms that in any way limited the role of women (and there are still plenty of those in the Arab world). Lina’s and Lulu’s individuality shines through today as a direct result of Kaidy’s empowering form of motherhood.
Despite all the closeness in our family, there were some idiosyncrasies. For example, hugging, kissing or terms of endearment were frowned upon. I’m not sure if this is the result of the many years lived in London, or the “no nonsense” attitude that is encouraged in Nablus (or Amman and Irbid for that matter). I don’t believe we ever said “I love you” to each other. And I deeply regret that, in those last days and nights, I didn’t tell Kaidy how much we all loved her.
I wonder now whether death teaches us anything. Is it simply a brutal fact to accept and move on? As we go through life’s joys, trials and experiences, what does the certainty of death mean? As per the movie “Before Midnight,” we are all “just passing through.”
The greatest consolation to us all is that Kaidy passed through this life in style. She had the complete devotion of a giant of a man, was blessed with good looks, an amazing mind, and never really had a day’s worry about finances. She loved life. The scores of friends and relatives who came to mourn her were united in one thought: she was “too alive to die.”
And as I remember my mother now, I still have far too many memories of days of sickness. I also remember the anger and negativity she erupted in at times as she raged against the dying of the light. But with time, the bad memories are slowly overtaken by good ones. More and more, I am remembering mother in the time before cancer and all its crap came along. Those days when I was in the Terra Sancta school in Amman and I was taking my time in learning to read and write – the hours she spent teaching me. The great advice she always gave me as I went through the tribulations of love. The coaching and wisdom whenever I sought her advice in matters of work.
One random memory that eclipses everything else. A summer day in London in June 1999. It was beautiful and sunny. Kaidy and I went for a walk through Gloucester Road and Earls Court. I remember her blue top and back tracksuit trousers, and how she walked with such drive and energy. We spoke about my latest job move and other matters. We stopped at a café. Spoke some more. And that one mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant memory stands out and brings Kaidy out in all her unassuming grace and glow.
My sister Lulu sent me this Edna St. Vinecent Millay quote recently, and it speaks to me, and it will speak to anyone who’s suffered such bereavment: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
I speak to friends who also recently lost their mothers. It’s hard to explain that sense of loss. Nothing in life prepares you for this moment. Nothing at all.
I love you Kaidy.