Jamal El Labban
I wake up. It’s 5:10am.
I’m a little late in getting up but know that we’ve done most of what needs to be done the night before. It’s our first holiday since 2019, when the world was a very different place. We’ve been preparing this trip for what seems like years, but in reality it’s been a few weeks only.
The phone rings. It’s 5:30am.
It’s Sharron, probably to say good luck on the trip. I can barely hear her voice. She asks if we’re at the airport. I say we’ve just woken up and just getting ready and about to wake up the kids. I pass the phone over to Yasmine.
We never made it to the airport.
A death doesn’t become real to me until I write about what this person meant to me. Sadly family ‘obituaries’ have become a familiar subject for me to write about. I write them to help me remember and celebrate the life of those that have just left us.
My relationship with Jamal started as my oldest brother-in-law, over the years however I came to see him a little differently. Coming into my wife’s family I would be their ‘fourth’ brother. The age difference was a little jarring but amusing at the same time. Jamal, being of my mother’s age, told me a joke that my mother had told me 20 years earlier.
When I was still in Lebanon, in what seems like several lifetimes ago, I remember a conversation I had with him before we decided to leave. I ended it by saying something to the effect that ‘Lebanon was no longer built for its people, it was built for foreigners.’ He clearly agreed because a couple of years after that he had migrated his entire life over to the United States.
Memento Mori. Remember you will die.
Nobody better embodies this concept as a cautionary tale than Jamal. His passing was both shocking but also not so shocking. I knew his wanton disregard for improving his health was shortening his life, but I had no idea (nor did anyone else) just how much shorter that was going to be. Jamal struggled with his weight. This was one of his weaknesses and from there it would spiral into any number of issues that plagued him throughout his life. I’m (slightly) angry at him because he left us exceedingly early. Time and memories were taken away from us.
Shortly after he had moved to Florida, I visited him in his new house and spent a tiny bit of time with him. It was brief but he relished showing me around and his then setup. What I liked about him was his energy for entertaining others, for being around others. Jamals barbecuing was legendary. He was a master storyteller, sometime stretched a little (but always entertaining) and sprinkled with just the right amount of Lebanese bullshit.
He possessed a child like enthusiasm, which is probably why he loved interacting with kids. Maybe because he looked like Santa, white hair and beard, that kids loved him as well. He didn’t have any grandchildren of his own, but my kids were probably the closest he got to that feeling.
From time to time he would send me little videos and jokes. A small little curated collection of his humour. Every time I received one, I would just imagine his laugh and understand why he would send these over to me.
For my part I will miss the big bear.