In May 2012, 19 people, including three-year-old Hana Sharabati, died in a fire at Villaggio Mall. Today, her family will mark the third anniversary of her death. Mother Raghda Kabbani shares with Doha News readers the impact losing her youngest child has had on the rest of her family.
It never occurred to me before that I needed to write you a letter simply because I am always engaging in an ongoing conversation with you. But let me start off by telling you that your father, siblings, babysitter and I miss you sorely.
Our only consolation is that you are in a much better place than us and this makes us feel happier whenever the gravity of your absence takes its toll on us.
Hana, you have left a tremendous void in our lives and we are all dealing with it in different ways as best we could. The house is awfully quiet without you and I think we all miss your laughs and activity around home the most.
Let me tell you a bit about your siblings: Your brother Kenan has become quite irritable since you departed.
He finds it difficult to control his temper and for the longest time, has has refused to talk about you with anyone.
It is as if he carries you in his heart like a beautiful, sacred secret that he does not want to utter a word of. As for your sister, Lulwa, she complains about being the only girl in the family now. She channels all her longing and love for you towards other children your age in the extended family.
Deep down, she might be thinking of them as you. They remind her of her little sister who left terribly soon. Everything she cannot enjoy with you, she tries to do with them when she sees them.
Being the eldest, Abdallah is still protective of you and sees you as the prettiest girl ever. I was walking at a mall with him once and I pointed out a girl who resembled you. Abdallah gave me a stern look and said: “Hana was prettier than any and all of them!”
With regards to your father, your passing simply devastated him. You know how you were the closest to him, the most pampered and the one who accompanied him almost everywhere he went.
After you left, he was silent most of the time as if to teach himself to speak again without calling your name. He wanted to leave Qatar altogether and when we couldn’t, he insisted on changing homes.
He could not carry on living in the same house whose every corner bore a memory of your playing, laughter, jokes or tears. Whereas I feel as if I am betraying you if I even drive near Villagio, he makes the conscious decision never to pass from there, not anywhere near that vicinity.
His fondest memory is still that of taking you on the bicycle behind him to go to Aspire, buy popcorn then come home.
And what he misses the most is the daily routine you two had, that one that you came up with when you finished lunch, went to the kitchen, grabbed chocolate and returned to sit on daddy’s lap for you two to share chocolate and Perrier.
Tina, your babysitter, says hello. She thinks the house is very boring without you and I often find her busying herself by sitting next to the small closet that you treated as your house and looking at a few of your toys that she still keeps and looks after. Told you that your absence has wrecked us all, sweetie, didn’t I?!
Before I tell you how much I miss you, I first owe you an apology and I want you to please forgive me. I looked and looked and looked before choosing Gympanzee for you as a nursery.
And when I did, I thought I was being a good mother for making sure I gave the best available option of a nursery I could find my daughter. I thought I found you a safe place in the most elegant and prestigious mall.
I wanted you to be close to the house so that if anything happened or if you needed me I could pick you up in no time. I had no idea that Gympanzee was not a licensed nursery and that the mall itself lacked in safety measures. When you ended up needing me the most, there was nothing mama or anyone else could do to save you.
At the beginning of the trial when our lawyer showed us some of the CCTV footage from the mall and I saw a shot of us walking into it together as I held your hand, I felt as if I was walking you to your demise and for that I pray everyday that you forgive me.
Now that I have attended one court hearing after another, I know that this tragedy was preventable and this is what still makes accepting it more difficult. With little effort, keenness on safety and the protection of people’s lives and good conscience, we could’ve all been spared the heart-wrenching pain and you and your friends at the nursery would have still been with us in the arms of your loved ones.
If only people had done their jobs properly, maybe things would’ve been different.
Perhaps our pain will be relieved if your and the other victims’ legacy is that all malls, nurseries and buildings in Qatar become safer. The least that could come out of this misery is that this tragedy is not repeated.
Mother of four
Hana, do you want to hear about one dilemma mama frequently faces? Well, whenever a stranger asks me how many children I have, I pause and have to carefully formulate my answer. I cannot respond spontaneously any longer.
If I say three, then I am betraying you. If I say four, I am probably creating drama for that poor stranger and letting them into a sad story that they have not anticipated when they asked that simple question. But do know, habibti, that mama will always be the proud mother of four, the eternally youngest of whom is you, apple of my eye.
Every time we fly back from a trip and as the plane touches down, a strange feeling takes over me.
I start thinking of the soil of Qatar you’re buried under and I cannot breathe. I have to close my eyes and think of you happy and peaceful in that beautiful remote place called paradise to know that you’re safe and then I am able to breathe again.
Although I desperately want to hold you and take wafts of you in, to see how longer your hair has reached and how bigger your hand has grown, I know I cannot.
But if you want mama to really feel better, then visit me in my dreams. I’ve been asking you for that since you left our world, but you’ve been playful and elusive. When you appear in my sleep, you don’t let me see your face.
I hear from others that you make it to their dreams and that you often look joyful and beautiful. One relative has recently told me that you visited her and said: “My mummy is very nice; I love my mummy.”
Do you have the slightest inkling how ecstatic that made me feel? I wanted to walk around and tell every mother I see shouting at her children or chastising them:
“You don’t know how precious it is what you have. Don’t ever take your children, their smiles, temper tantrums, nagging or bouts of illness for granted.”
I still remember your final day. It was a Monday and you had not gone to the nursery the day before because you had a rash and was not feeling well. I woke you up and asked you if you felt like going in and you said you did.
It was your first day back at the nursery after the graduation party they had held the Thursday before. I did not understand then that not only were you graduating from that nursery year, but from the entire life as we knew it.
I dressed you up, drove you to the mall, walked you to the nursery and we waited outside its door, as was your habit, until Ms. Shameega, your favorite teacher, came out to take your hand.
You refused to go inside without her escorting you. You two held each other’s hands and walked to a very remote place. This is how I remember you: smiling and skipping your way into heaven.
View the rest of the Letters to Heaven here.