After suffering another loss, a Christchurch shootings survivor looks for lessons from Covid-19. David Williams reports

Within days of the Christchurch shootings, Farid Ahmed publicly forgave the man who shot his wife, Husna, dead.

In a time of vulnerability, he turned to his faith, but was also buoyed by the outpouring of public support – the prayers, the homemade signs, the flowers.

It was an important part of the Muslim community’s healing. “I appreciated that and I valued that highly,” says Ahmed, whose book, Husna’s Story, was the country’s third-best non-fiction seller in late March.

Now he has suffered another loss – the death, on Saturday, of his mother, Mokbul Nesa, who was in her late 90s, and lived in his native Bangladesh. (She died of old age, he says, not Covid-19.)

He won’t get to say goodbye in person. First, the Sylhet district isn’t wheelchair-friendly – a factor in Ahmed not returning about seven years ago when his father, Mokarram Ali, died. And, most obviously, because of the coronavirus lockdown.

As is Ahmed’s way, he’s thinking of others, particularly those affected by the virus. “My heart goes out to all of them, and I share my feelings with them and I wish them well.”

He also has a small request – to rekindle his connection with the public love that meant so much to him a year ago. “I also ask people to wish me well, and give their good thoughts for me and also, if possible, to pray for me and for my mother.”

“It was very sad for me, it was very sad for them.”

An extra layer of sadness about his mother’s death is an unfulfilled promise Ahmed made more than two decades ago.

He visited his parents in Bangladesh in 1997, nine years after first coming to New Zealand. His parents were getting older and he’d promised that, when he’d completed his homeopathy training in Aotearoa, he’d return to his home country and look after them.

“I came back [to New Zealand] and after six months, bang!”

Ahmed was run over by a drink-driver, and was left a paraplegic. Recovery was hard, physically and mentally, and took a long time. The dream of returning to Bangladesh to care for his parents was shattered.

“It was very sad for me, it was very sad for them.”

News of his mother’s death came by phone from his brother Moin Uddin. Ahmed repeats that he dearly wanted to look after his parents. “But I could not do that, so this is one sadness I will always have.”

The news was grief over grief, one hammer blow on top of another. “There is a saying that misfortune does not come alone.”

His main message is to look after your parents before you lose them. And if you’ve lost your parents to be good parents to your own children.

Islamic faith teaches when an epidemic or pandemic comes, distance is maintained until it is gone, Ahmed says. Also, saving one life is like saving all mankind.

On Covid-19, he says: “I appreciate that our Government has taken the good step to control it.”

Ahmed pays tribute to those on the frontline trying to protect people from the virus. While he’s not making a big contribution during the lockdown, he says he’s doing three things: staying home; doing good, whether through donations or prayer; and looking after himself, by eating and sleeping well, so he’s not a risk to others.

“I believe that everyone has some way has opportunity to contribute to our people, to our country. At least if we can’t do anything we should follow the rule and we should make our homes happy.”

The virus contains many lessons, he says. One is that human beings are one family.

“Corona attacked us as humans – did not differentiate between religions or races or nations,” he says. “We should also take the lesson that we have to face it together.”

Covid-19 has caused us to be physically restricted, Ahmed says, but our hearts are still free.

“And we should use that freedom to exercise our love for our families. We are going through a tough time and life is a combination of tough and good, hard and smooth. In tough times we have to be patient. And we have to be positive, and in easy times we have to be appreciative for all the good things we have.”

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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