It’s a pleasure to share this space on alternate Mondays with an old friend and journalistic colleague, Dr. S. Amjad Hussain.
His columns about his homeland of Pakistan and its neighbors help us understand a part of the world few of us know much about. His essays about the more personal side of his life reveal a man who is not only an intellectual but also a romantic.
It is the latter Amjad we get to appreciate in his newest book, With Whom Shall I Talk In The Dead Of Night. Published by the University of Toledo Press, the book is a series of touching letters to his wife, Dottie, after her passing in late 2006.
For two years, Dr. Hussain shared the trials and torment of his new life, and his slow climb out of the numbing sadness of losing his soul mate — a nurse and fellow medical professional — in letters written everywhere from the mountains of his native Pakistan to a rest stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
Several of the letters were penned in his hometown of Peshawar, Pakistan, a place Dottie Hussain had come to know and love during her many visits over the years, and a place where her death produced an outpouring of grief as profound as that in Toledo.
Perhaps Dr. Hussain’s most touching letters were those he wrote in the first weeks after her passing, including one written on Christmas Day barely three weeks after she died. He speaks of the frustration over the simplest things, such as locating a specific bill. He implores Dottie to “just drop it on my desk when I’m not looking.”
The grief is palpable. “My life is in tatters,” he confides, after acknowledging that the somber mood of a family holiday gathering has been lifted somewhat by the excitement of a grandson not yet 2 years old.
Just four days later, Dr. Hussain writes again from Peshawar, a painful but necessary journey — to console and be consoled.
At one point in his letters, he wonders whether Dottie even hears him. He confesses to her an irony: She used to speak to him at the breakfast table while the good doctor had his head “buried in the newspaper.”
Many months later, in 2008, his letters suggest a slow but subtle shift — while the sadness lingers, it is mourning of a different sort. He is sustained and buoyed by her memory and her love. His spirit brightens.
In one of his final letters, in December, 2008, he describes how the gloom is lifting. Whenever Dottie’s name comes up, he tells her, it is no longer in a forlorn context of depression and sadness: “It is love, plain and simple, interspersed with jokes and reminiscences about the fun times we all had together.”
And, by the way, he informs her: “I now have a dog.” Good company, Dr. Hussain acknowledges, but he reminds Dottie of an old Persian saying that if you do not have any worries, get yourself a goat. A dog, he decides, is just as demanding and engaging as a goat.
It is nice to see that Dr. Hussain’s sense of humor, muted for so long after her passing, did not die when Dottie did.
Dr. Hussain’s love letters — how else can they be described? — to his departed wife are followed in his book by three columns he wrote about her for Blade readers in the 12 months after her death. They are as touching and poignant today as when we first published them on this page five years ago.
In his book, he includes a host of letters and emails from Blade readers reacting to the three columns, as well as his children’s expressions of love for their mother at her funeral.
With Whom Shall I Talk In The Dead Of Night is an eloquent and soul-baring look at the pain of grieving and the gradual process of healing.
The happiness and sorrow, the joy and the occasional anger that are part of most lengthy marriages, are shared by a man who had every right to keep all of this private and in the family. Instead, his long love affair with his wife is ours to admire.
Why share all this publicly, I asked him a few days ago. “It was not for public consumption at the start,” he replied. “But two friends whose opinions I respect said this had value to others.”
What did he learn about himself?
He answered: “After the darkness, there is always a sunrise.”
The book is available through the University of Toledo Press Web site and Amazon.com. Barnes and Noble should have it soon.
As Dr. Hussain prepares to spend his seventh Christmas without his beloved Dottie, I don’t think he’ll mind that I wish you and yours the very best of the holiday season.
In fact, knowing him, I’m pretty sure he would insist on it.
Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org