Paying debts: Months after his COVID-19 death, woman sorts out what her father left behind

Four people stand for a picture.
Mohamed Omer's daughter, Haweya Farah, spent weeks in quarantine after her father died. Since then, she's focused on paying off his debts. She’s pictured here before the COVID-19 pandemic, with her three children, Abdirahman, Abdullahi and Amina.
Courtesy of Haweya Farah

Putting things right is important to Haweya Farah. She likes order. She carries her responsibilities with grace. And when her father, Mohamed Omer, died in April, he left a lot for her to do.

He hadn’t expected to die. It was early in the pandemic. When he got COVID-19, he thought it was a cold.

“He was working. He was driving. He was going to his prayers five times a day,” Farah said. “We’re all going to die one day. But nobody knows what that day is.”

Farah was with him at the end. She held his hand. Soon, she was alone in her mother’s apartment, pacing, grieving — and trying to line up everything she had to do.

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Two hands hold each other.
Mohamed Omer's daughter, Haweya Farah, was the only one allowed to be with her father as he died. She took off her gloves so she could hold his hand, and turn the pages of the Quran as she read to him.
Courtesy of Haweya Farah

There was a lot. There is always a lot. That’s the thing about dying unexpectedly: You leave things undone.

But Farah felt the weight keenly, urgently. As a devout Muslim, she believes that her father will not be able to rest in peace until things are taken care of.

She paid off his debts — mostly small ones. Then she tapped into her savings to pay the last installments of a dowry to her father’s second wife.

And when that was done, she turned to his more symbolic debts. Just three months before he died, Omer had brought his 20-year-old son Abdirahman, her half-brother, from Saudi Arabia to America. He had promised the young man that he would teach him how to live here, speak the language, and drive — promises he did not have time to keep.

Farah took in her brother, a man she barely knew, and began to honor her father’s word.

“He is my family at the end of the day,” she said. “Even though this is my first time meeting him, distance does not take that away. The value of family. Your blood.”

Farah’s teenage children are helping him through high school classes remotely, on video. It’s not easy, since they barely share a language. Abdirahman speaks Arabic. Farah’s children speak English. They all speak a bit of Somali.

In the last six months, Farah has wiped her father’s slate clean — almost.

Her family was split up when she was a girl, fleeing Somalia during the country’s civil war. Her father went to find work in Saudi Arabia. The rest of the family ended up in Minnesota. Omer was able to rejoin them just a few years before he died.

Farah grew up in a strange country, without her father, and she found it difficult to forgive him for that.

“I held onto a lot of things with my dad,” she said. “I didn’t let him know how I felt. I never thought we wouldn’t be having that conversation, one day.”

Mohamed Omer died of COVID-19 on April 29.
Mohamed Omer was active in the Somali community. He worked as a middle school hall monitor and mentored students. He died of COVID-19 on April 29.
Courtesy of Haweya Farah

Omer’s last remaining debt is one he didn’t know about — one only Farah can release him from. She said she’s since forgiven him for leaving the family. She’s gone to his grave, and told him so. She goes every few weeks to tell him again. But it’s not so simple.

“I think it was a bit late,” she said. “I don’t feel in my heart that he knows that I did forgive him. I want him to rest in peace. Maybe, when the time is right, he will release me and I will just be okay. But I just feel like we’re not done.”

Farah said she’s not sure how long it will take for her and her father to untangle their relationship and move on. A long time, probably.

For now, she said, her father’s death — and the entire COVID-19 pandemic — have made her more honest with the people she loves.

Going forward, she said, she’ll be quicker with forgiveness, while the people she cares about are on this earth.

She’s been telling others to forgive people, too. And to do it soon. The timing, she says, might be important.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.