More tragedy for widowed Syrian as triplet son dies

On New Year's Day, Saleh's wife died during childbirth in Lebanon. He was left to bring up three baby boys, but tragedy struck again when young Khalid also died.

Saleh and his mother Jalila hold the two surviving boys, Ahmed and Riad.  © UNHCR/I.Prickett

BEKAA VALLEY, Lebanon, February 3 (UNHCR) - Two years after Saleh fled the war in Syria with his wife and three young children, tragedy still haunts his family in neighbouring Lebanon, where they sought shelter.

On New Year's Day, during a ferocious snowstorm that engulfed the eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, his wife Amal died after giving birth again, this time to triplets. The boys were named Riyadh, Ahmed and Khalid. Then, a few days ago, Khalid died, leaving his 31-year-old, widowed father tormented with grief.

"I had the biggest shock when my wife died," said Saleh. "Then came the shock of my son. I keep wondering, and I say to myself, it's God who gives and takes. It must have been meant for Khalid to live 20 days in this life and then pass away."

The news also came as a shock to UNHCR staff who had followed the story of Saleh, his earlier loss, and his struggle to care for his children - and told it to the world. Refugees, living alongside the family in an informal tented settlement, had rallied to Saleh's side to help him care for the triplets. Partners of UNHCR also provided the newborns with milk, nappies, cribs, blankets, and are currently building a bigger tent that will be heated for winter.

"Without the help we are getting from aid agencies I don't know where we would be," said Saleh, wrapping one of his newborn boys in a blanket. As he gently rocked his son this week, Saleh told UNHCR visitors that he was thinking of baby Khalid.

"He was the thinnest of all his brothers. It broke my heart to see him like that. I was praying to God to save him and protect him. I wished for him to grow up and go to school."

As well as grieving for his newborn son, Saleh cannot stop thinking of his wife, whose death, he said, had left a huge void inside him. Often, while attending to his children, he drifted away in his thoughts, trying to picture life with the big family he and Amal had both wished for when they got married back in peacetime Syria.

"She is irreplaceable," Saleh said. "We understood each other very well, on everything." However, support and help are all around, from aid agencies, other refugees and even people, who were "moved by our story," he added.

Amal's last words to him still ring clear: While she was pregnant with the triplets, she made him promise that he would take care of the children if anything happened to her. She was not a worrier, but she lived with uncertainty, Saleh said, because Amal's own mother had died while giving birth to her.

While Saleh mourns his wife and son, longs for the family's home in Syria's Idlib province, and faces daily struggles as a refugee in Lebanon, he said his only goal now was providing as much as he could for his five children so that they grow up healthy, smart and happy. "What makes me get up every day is that I can see my children growing up," Saleh said. "They look healthy and they seem smart. I will stand by them all my life and never leave them."

By Warda Al-Jawahiry in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

See the original story "Three Baby Brothers".