A worker and a man carry grocery bags during a nationwide curfew to stem the spread of COVID-19, as they leave a supermarket in the Saudi capital Riyadh on April 9, 2020 ahead of the fasting month of Ramadan. Image Credit: AFP

In recent months the global pandemic has dominated the news. It has created a morbid fascination in some who rise early every day just to see the numbers; numbers that are churned out in the form of statistics released by the respective government bodies reporting on the death count.

As of this writing, over 191,000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19, lives quickly interrupted because they could not fight on the ravages of this destructive virus. But as the numbers grow, so is the fear that they simply become statistics, faces forgotten and figures to pique the curiosity of the unaffected.

Those working in the media can be forgiven for reporting the rising death count in what appears to be a coldly manner. They have rising numbers daily to deal with and do not see much beyond the figures. But these numbers are real and are more than just that. They represent living, breathing souls that were a source of joy and comfort to their loved ones.

Through my grief I began to realise that I was not alone. The numbers daily are not just statistics. I share their grief. They were real people. Across the globe, relatives of the dead are sharing similar sorrows at the loss of their loved ones.

- Tariq A. Al Maeena, Saudi commentator

I should know that as earlier this month I lost my father, a man who had been a rock behind my existence. He did not succumb to the ravages of the coronavirus, but passed away peacefully due to his advancing age. Nevertheless, his departure has left a void among all members of my family who had to deal with this loss in very difficult times. After a hasty burial amid a tight curfew, family members were left devoid of the opportunity to process the loss as they had to conform to curfew guidelines that kept them apart.

As I thought back on my life with my father with tears streaming down my cheeks, I began to think of other fathers who were among the statistics, fathers we probably didn’t give much thought to, but human beings in the real, of flesh and blood, who played a great role within their families. While I was fortunate to have spent many years with my father, other sons and daughters among the 191,000 were not so fortunate as some of the victims were barely into fatherhood when the virus took away their lives.

My father was a gentle man, a man who left this world behind with many professing that he was a kind soul, words of comfort to the family he left behind. This gentle mortal brought together his large family, who in his last moments at the hospital were fervently praying for his recovery. But his time had come.

Lessons from my father

While my father taught me many things and exposed me to the love of travel at an early age, I slowly began to realise that there were others who were not so fortunate. He took me on a DC-3 when I was barely six, along with my mother and siblings, to India. I barely remember riding the train from Bombay to Delhi, and being welcomed by the incessant heat at the time. The trip to Taj Mahal in Agra stayed forever etched in my mind, and years later I took my own children on a similar journey.

How many sons and daughters have been denied the opportunities that I was provided through the loving and comforting presence of my father? How many of them were taught to walk and grow alongside their beloved fathers? How many of them would no longer open their mouth to be fed titbits when they were young?

How many of them have been denied the opportunity to go fishing with their dad, or to the beach or the gym, or a trip to the fruit market after Friday prayers? How many of them would wake up to find books of all subjects, books that exposed me at an early age to the fascination of life beyond my borders. There was the National Geographic, Life magazine, Readers’ Digest and a host of other periodicals that our father faithfully exposed his children to, allowing our young and unfettered minds to soak up the knowledge of the world like sponges?

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How many among the relatives of the 191,000 victims can remember their first air gun, brought to me by my father to shoo away lizards, something he was very averse to? He would even hand me out a riyal for every successful venture. Or their first bicycle, which my father would gently encouragingly guide when I first started learning how to ride? During Ramadan, we would break our fast together, and later stand alongside during the Taraweeh congregation for prayers. I will miss him this Ramadan.

Yes, my beloved father died early this month. And through my grief I began to realise that I was not alone. The numbers daily are not just statistics. I share their grief. They were real people. Across the globe, relatives of the dead are sharing similar sorrows at the loss of their loved ones. For some, the unexpected shock at the loss was far more than what they could bear, and yet life must go on. They can only hold on to the memories.

God bless and grant you everlasting peace in the hereafter, dear father. And thank you for making me who I am today.

Ramadan Mubarak and blessings to people to people across the world.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena