It has been 7 days of waking up to the emptiness on the other side of the bed. At times, my brain still thinks that my wife is warded in hospital for one of her long hospitalisation spells, and I can get up, get dressed, and be by her side to accompany and comfort her. This would then be rudely and quickly replaced by the memory of her taking her last breath on this very same bed, the funeral rites in this very house, of me climbing down into the ground to lay her lifeless body to rest, and looking back to only see a pile of earth to mark her final resting place.
Over the past days, I have also received hundreds of messages from family and friends, close and distant, mine and hers. Unfortunately, I am incapable of replying individually to each one of you, but please know that I am deeply grateful for the condolences, tributes, and check-ins. I have read it all, and it has been both heartwarming and heartbreaking to be reminded of what a wonderful woman Mizah was, and that we all have to refer to her in the past tense.
In Mizah, I found a true partner in life and work. In her, I found someone who was my better half in every sense of the word. In her, I found love and hope. Our lives were intertwined so deeply and she was the sun which my life revolved around. I have no doubt that she was a blessing from God to me, both in good health and when she was ill.
She was the kind and gentle queen of many hearts. Her own heart was beautiful, her self was beautiful, and she made everything and everyone around her more beautiful. A quiet calmness descends when she is around, and her light always made the people around her feel comforted and safe even in the darkest of times. She was also always thinking and caring about others even when she herself needed the most care.
Someone half-joked that while Mizah was small, she left big shoes to be filled. She found her purpose in giving a voice to others in the design process, and used her talents and willpower to make it a reality. She was a quiet force of nature who was fiercely determined and courageous as she ventured for what she believed in. She achieved more in her short career than what some of us can ever hope for. Yet, despite being recognised all over the world, she was always humble and was never motivated or distracted by fame or wealth. The impact of her work will continue to reverberate for many years to come, and the light that she has lit in the field of participatory design in Singapore will continue to guide many others.
Unfortunately, everything will be taken away from us at one time – inevitably.
For Mizah and me, that started in April 2018 when she was diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer. It was unexpected and shocking. Only close family members and a small circle of friends were made aware of it, and I had the privilege to walk beside her at every step till the end. This privacy enabled Mizah to live on her own terms and for us to navigate through it in our own way. We went through and learnt much, and she was brave and graceful throughout it all. But in the end, cancer broke her body and my heart. In the end, I found myself comforting her for the last time as I received her body in the grave and buried her.
Today, there is a choking pain that sits between my throat and chest. There is an intense emptiness everywhere I look. Even as I try to find my feet again, my spirit shatters silently everyday. And yet, I know she would want me to find the courage to live with love and joy without her because that’s the kind of person she was. It was also her wish that I find the words in me again so that I can write my way through my grief and offer some light to those who may have to go through what we had to.
It will be difficult, but for her, I must try.
Dispatches is my monthly letter to you about our shared humanity and life in cities. I send it out on the last Tuesday of every month.