Nyctophobia – The irrational fear of darkness looming inside me and others who fear the dark. My earliest recollection of losing a loved one goes all the way back to the sixth grade. That’s when we received the news of our friend Muhammad Ali’s father’s sudden death. The news shattered us. We were in class as usual with one of our weekly lessons in progress when someone from Administration came to take Muhammad Ali away from the classroom. I still remember the entire process vividly with all the scenic details alive in my mind as if it were yesterday. We went to the hospital to collect his body from the morgue and then carried out the long process of the funeral prayers and the sorrowful burial. Merely 2 years later my dear cousin Saeed passed away.
I still remember when the news of his passing came. We were at school as usual, and our uncle Mahmood came to get us. The drive to one of my paternal uncle’s house where everyone had gathered upon getting the news, was painfully long. There were six of us in the car, and none of us spoke a word to each other. Apart from the fact that we were stunned into petrification, the news took some time to sink in. He had gone to work early in the morning as was his routine, and during one of his field visits that were a part of his job he had suddenly collapsed dead; the death caused by an instant cardiac arrest. He was 34. We were shell-shocked. An entire life spent with him kept flashing through my mind, and I still struggled to understand why the ugly reality of death is part of the process called life. When I entered the mortuary where they had placed his body after the ritual pre-burial bathing for one last homage before they shipped his body back to Pakistan (we were in Dubai, UAE), I remember being scared.
My teenage mind could not contextualize why he just lay there as still as timber covered in a white sheet. The emptiness, helplessness, and grief that I experienced in that moment alone made me averse to the passing away bit of life, from that moment on. And then, as I grew older, one by one, losing dear ones became more and more difficult to deal with. Cousin Saeed’s young and tragic death was followed by the passing of my maternal grandmother. Again, I remember that day to the last detail from what the weather was like to the expressions on each and every family member’s face.
I have a confession to make here, I have had a persistent fear of the dark from a very young age; Nyctophobia. My babysitter in my toddler days locked me up in a dark bathroom by way of discipline on a few occasions, once literally pushing me in despite my vocal yelps in resistance. That powerful jerk into the bathroom made me hit my chin against the sink and I instantly started to bleed. That association of the dark with pain and physical torture has made me fear the dark for as long as I can remember, and every time I hear the news of a dear one passing,
I visualize them in their grave in the dark and that scares the living jeepers out of me. So, to me, death is not just a tragic experience of losing a loved one, it is also an elevation of my subdued fear, and that causes me immense pain and discomfort. She loved me a lot, my grandmother, and in an instant, she had stopped to physically exist. But, forever, she would be alive in memories and conversation. Two of my maternal uncles passed away in a gap of some years and to this day their absence is tearfully felt. I fondly remember academic conversations with my Uncle Imtiaz to this day even though I was merely a pre-teen at the time, and those priceless moments will always be cherished by me for as long as I live. At times though, I am baffled by the abyss that’s left behind in a person’s ascent to the parallel. I am scared of the dark, I have an immense fear of the dark; Nyctophobia perhaps.
I find it to be the deepest void that not even a thousand verses nor can the profound dialogue ever fill. In between my granny’s death and the present day with the recent death of my father, several loved ones have made the journey beyond; each death-causing more grief and making the abyss deeper. Sometimes I wonder that what if instead of death, the way we know it, God had instituted some other way of making us leave, some other way that isn’t so hurtful. I read in a statistical survey once that the biggest fear in the human race is the fear of death; well, rightfully so. But, in my case, I am equally afraid of the silence, the lull, the grief, and the emptiness that follows it. Or maybe it’s just my looming Nyctophobia.