I Mourn my Wife and Friend, Samira Chalala

Elie Chalala

During the past 16 years of Al Jadid, I have not once allowed the personal to intrude upon the pages of this magazine.  However, I am making an exception to reflect on the loss of my wife, Samira Chalala, who was killed as she was crossing the street on her way home from work on February 24th, 2010.

The noted novelist Ghada Samman captured what Samira’s death meant to me when she called it an “ember in the heart of Elie Chalala.” Yes, her death has been a burning ember in my heart, my saddest moment. But I am not going to dwell on my personal pain, as I am certain that most readers have had their own tragedies, and can attest to the unspeakable pain brought on by the tragic and sudden departure of a loved one. Instead, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the life that my wife and I shared and the inexplicable tragedy that snatched it away from us, in hopes of inspiring a greater appreciation for the fragility of the human experience.rsonal to intrude upon the pages of this magazine. However, I am making an exception to reflect on the loss of my wife, Samira Chalala, who was killed as she was crossing the street on her way home from work on February 24th, 2010.

I would never have been prepared to say goodbye to Samira, but the suddenness of her death caused additional shock and disbelief. My wife was killed as opposed to having died. I anticipate the question: what is the difference? Without being philosophical, I view death as a natural process due to illness or age for which one can prepare at least to some extent. Killing is a thing of force, something brutal and unexpected that leaves the bereaved unprepared to cope. Without wearing my academic hat and playing the social scientist in the midst of personal tragedy, allow me to reflect on some of the pains I experienced and lessons I learned from the premature death of my wife. Maybe the words “lesson” and “pain” are still too academic, so let me qualify them by being personal and specific in terms of what I miss about my life with Samira.

We were friends for a few years prior to our eight-year marriage. We promised each other many things. Yet, Samira’s death left many of these promises and plans unfulfilled, as we were deprived of an expected long life together. Both professionals, she a cytologist and I an academic, we were immersed in our daily jobs and put part of our lives on hold in the naive belief that there was still time ahead. The 1998 Nissan pickup truck that struck Samira and killed her instantly crushed all of those plans and dreams.

Samira Chalala by Mamoun Sakkal

One of our plans was to visit Lebanon, the country in which we both were born and spent our formative years – a country that provided us with comfort when sharing memories of those years. The trip was scheduled for the summer of 2010. But we were unable to make the journey together. I did end up traveling to Lebanon – the first time in 38 years – just as planned. But I did so in order to attend a second memorial service for Samira in her hometown, Hammana. It was a visit not only marred by pain and loss, but it was also a journey into a past of tattered memories and places decayed by time, as well as a moment to reconnect with friends and relatives whose lives were transformed by age and war.

But far more than losing the chance to visit the place of our birth together, we were deprived of the beauty of going through life side by side. Deprived of the time to spiritually communicate, to say to each other what we had not, or could not. Deprived of the chance to simply know each other better; this was the most painful loss. I suppose I could invoke a popular rationalization here, one that would be understood by many professionals, and say that I failed to “balance work with private life.” I am certainly not here to judge this rationale, being aware of what professionals go through on a daily basis. But I am here to share with you the pain of failing to establish that balance before Samira’s death, the impossibility of doing so now, and to urge each of you to turn to the one you love and give that person the gift of your time above any and all other things.


I want to thank the hundreds who sent their condolences via e-mails, letters, and phone calls as well as those who attended my wife’s memorial services, both in Los Angeles and Lebanon. Their kind words and sympathies have been a source of comfort at a very difficult time. I want to extend special thanks to two artists, Mamoun Sakkal and Doris Bittar, for their artwork of Samira, which appear on the first and second pages of this issue of Al Jadid.

–Elie Chalala

This article appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 16, no. 62 (2010)

          –Elie Chalala