For Some, Ham For The Holidays. For This Muslim – SPAM.


Some of you will know that I lost my Mother in February of last year to tongue cancer. I won’t dwell on the details of her loss here, but suffice it to say what it was difficult to watch her wither away in a hospital bed in palliative care. I slept by her side for days and days in a rickety hospital chair, walking around the halls in my pyjamas at 3 am, listening to the hums of all those machines, in all those rooms, those devices trying in vain to keep other patients alive.

This post is not going to be about that. Instead, it’s about the magic of spam.

Spam, you say. You’ve got to be kidding.

I’m still in the midst of cancelling all my mother’s accounts, but the ones that are still kicking about are her various email accounts. In my haze of caregiving, I stupidly didn’t ask her for her email passwords before she died, and I haven’t gotten around to cancelling her accounts yet.

So, there are times when I still get SPAM emails from her.

And they seem to appear in my mailbox at the most opportune times.

The email I received from her on the night of my wedding in August read like this:

I suggest you have a look

Sure, that could mean nothing. It means nothing, right? Perhaps mired in grief, I tend to look for things that aren’t there. But come on! Suggesting I take a look? Enlighten? My Mother always instructed me to drink in the happy moments, to focus on the beauty that’s right in front of you. I could only think that night, as I was fizzy with elation and glowing from the love that family and friends so effervescently showered upon all of us that day, listening to the waves outside of our rented apartment in Maui, son and husband gently snoring across from me, that my Mom was reaching out. I know she would have wanted to be there.

And sure enough, the SPAM did come again – last week. But this time it went out to a select group of fourteen people. This one said, simply:

Unbelievable! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Now, if you knew my Mother, you know she was a fierce woman who always fought for social justice – in her workplace, in her home and more broadly in her life. So, one could imagine her uttering exactly these words to me. I had experienced a hard day, and I could almost feel her shared outrage – it was like I had picked up the phone to call her, and this was her comforting response.


I laughed inwardly to myself, and then looked at the other emails on the list. These names are always seemingly random – or were they? I looked at the list. No rhyme nor reason for that particular group. Seemed to be a motley lot. But there were a number of names I didn’t recognize. And I thought, maybe I’ll write back to all of them. They must be wondering why they got this SPAM. So I wrote this note to all fourteen of them:

Hi everyone,

You may have received this note from my Mom‘s email account. I’ve heard from one of you wondering what happened.

As some of you know, F. passed away in February of last year after acquiring tongue cancer. It was four months from diagnosis to death, and while we tried to do everything we could – even tried to get her alternative care in Frankfurt, Germany – it wasn’t successful.

This note, I expect, was SPAM – but a more generously spirited read might have one think that she’s sending us a personalized little note to check in on all of us. So, I’d quirkily suggest that she’s sending you happy holiday greetings and missing each of you in a different way. That would be just like her. I’m including a photo of my Mom here in case you want to remember her.  And I hope all of you are well.

Best wishes,


And I left it at that.

The next day I got a note.

Dear Minelle,

Thank you so much for writing. I suspected the email was spam but yes, it was strangely a déjà vu to see her name again.  God keep her safe with that lovely smile on her face.

Your Mom taught my children, I was her Montessori colleague, and we remained good friends over the years.  When my eyesight prevented me from driving to CCMA (Canadian Council of Muslim Women) meetings, Mom would take me or made sure we got a ride.  Such a lovely, gentle, genuine human being.  My kids and I will never forget her.

When she passed away, I tried in vain to find a contact from her family and imagine, the spam brought me to you!  So yes, there is a brighter side to all situations.

Best holiday greetings to you and your family.  And a special prayer from all of us for your Mom. Thank you for sharing her picture. I will pass it on to my children as well.

Perhaps through strange ways, F. will get us to meet some day!  

Meanwhile, best wishes to you.

Be well,


I won’t pretend I didn’t get teary reading this note. It reminded me of the potent possibilities of reaching out, and why it’s important to try to make connections. This week on the show, David Chariandy and I spoke about how we met at the Naam over a shared interest in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book. David, Annette Henry (Lam Chair in Multicultural Education at UBC) and I talk about Coates’ latest article, “My President Was Black” on Wednesday’s show:

In the spirit of the holiday season, I wish all of you and yours many more magical moments like this – where strangers become friends, and where we seem to suddenly connect. All the best for the new year. Minelle