I went up to Ottawa on Monday.

It was another beautiful fall day. Did I mention that fall is my favourite season?

And yet it was bittersweet. So many memories!

There’s a picture in our old family albums of me and my sisters and brother, at the picnic area on the shores of Silver Lake. I must have been about six or seven. If I remember right, my dad and the rest of us kids were all huddled in the water and my mom took the pic. She never came swimming. She was always afraid of the water.

Women just don’t swim much in Pakistan.

My older sister died seven years ago, and going to Ottawa always means feeling incredibly nostalgic, almost to the point of feeling her loss all over again.

I wanted to stop at the picnic area.  What for, I don’t know. But I was really tempted. It’s just off Highway 7. Even though I was tired and I was expected at my younger sister’s for lunch, and the time was short, I wanted to stop. Shuffle through the leaves, I guess. And perhaps dip my toe in a lake that wasn’t the same.

But I didn’t stop. I told myself I was being silly, and I thought of one of the first books I read about children’s writing that said that kids are not prone to nostalgia, so there’s no point in including it in literature for them.

My sister is buried in a cemetery just off Carp Rd. on the way to my younger sister’s house. I can’t remember the name of the road you turn down but I always remember the church that sits at the corner.

It’s got a silver roof and a white steeple with a tiny graveyard adjacent that has those really old white marble slab gravestones that lean slightly.

I didn’t stop at the picnic area but something did make me turn down that road, on a whim, and go visit her grave, or at least the vicinity of her grave.

I know she’s buried near this row of pine trees, in the Muslim area of the cemetary. Hers was one of the first graves opened up, but we never did get a gravestone for her, and when I got there, I couldn’t find the exact spot she was interred.

You always think you’ll never forget where they’re buried, and then you do.

Islamically we don’t really believe in headstones.

My brother was going to get one for her but I discouraged him saying that she would have rather had the money spent on her kids. And that’s true.

Somewhere beneath the years’ deposits of pine needles there’s a little metal marker with her grave number on it.

I couldn’t even remember what number it was.

I said salam to her but I felt silly, like I was talking to the air.

And I read Surah Fatiha for her, with the niggling doubt that doing so was not a practice of the Prophet (peace be upon him) but a later innovation.

In Islam women are discouraged from visiting the gravesites. I think a lot of women can’t control themselves and will start wailing (which is prohibited) uncontrollably.

We are supposed to accept death as part and parcel of life.

So I didn’t even think that Islamically I should be there.

In the past I sometimes felt my sister’s presence there, but I wonder now if it was just my imagination.

I don’t know.

I didn’t stay long.

I said Salam, told her I was watching out for her kids, and walked back to the car, trying not to step on the top of other graves.

There are many descriptions of what happens to a person when they die. If you want to know more about Muslim beliefs check out this pamphlet:http://www.islamicbooklets.com/booklets/muslimbeliefs/Life,%20Death%20and%20the%20Hereafter.pdf

Suffice it to say, my sister is sleeping. I will not see her again till the day of judgment, I guess, and by that time I’m sure I’ll have other worries on my mind.

But I hope we will be reunited in paradise.

I got in the car and left the dead behind.

I had a lovely lunch with my younger sister. The time went way too fast! And I was scheduled to meet the teacher who’d invited me up for the presentations at the school.

I’d offered to do a literacy event at the Islamic school, the night before, but when I got there, there were just a handful of people.

It wasn’t until after Maghrib that people showed up in numbers.

I spoke for a short time, not more than forty minutes, but I guess I said some things that really touched the people because the reaction was phenomenal.

All in all it was a very good visit. Sold a LOT of books!

And then coming back along Highway 7, the way I had come, passing by the turnoff that would have taken me once more to my sister’s grave, I just mentally wished her salam (peace) and didn’t slow down.

I often wonder how it was that she was born in a country so far away, in a small suburb of Lahore, Pakistan, and God had willed that she would die in Ottawa, on the other side of the world.

Even before she was born, it was written that she would marry the man she married and eventually be buried in that spot, that she might have passed by umpteen times to and from our younger sister’s house.

And again, for the umpteenth time I wondered if I too was passing by the spot of my eventual rest.

God knows where it will be.

This week was crazy.

After I got back from Ottawa, I spent one night at home, then went down to my mom’s to put her garden to bed for the winter. (Haven’t even done mine yet.)

I slept there because this morning I had three presentations in Kitchener.

It’s not good when you tank up on coffee and caffeinated beverages just so your eyes don’t close while you’re driving.

And then somehow I was still in that fey mood when I got home. And even while I washed the bathtub and caught up on laundry, I was picturing my sister. Thinking of the shortness of her life and reminding myself not to waste any time.

She was barely 44 when she passed.  It was a few weeks after her birthday.

I’m already 48. And there is still so much I want to do insha Allah.