When Muslims lose someone dear to them, they almost automatically say:
“…Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return” [Quran: Chapter 2, Verse 156].
But the truth is, death is something no one can really prepare you for. There is no ‘right’ way to make sense of it or deal with it after accepting Allah’s decree. Although communicating and speaking about our losses with friends and family is beneficial, a far more empowering sensation is awarded to the believer who is gifted with a stronger connection with a superior source, whose power will never cease, grow tired, nor His ability to listen to us dwindle. I am still studying and recently lost my father. Through the coarse nature of life, I learned very quickly that we either become engulfed and swallowed whole by our circumstances, or we adapt and become proactive and flexible. For the Muslim, there is always an option, as we each have a choice in how we will react.
Here are some of my tips.
1. Do NOT dwell in isolation
Instead, observe the blessings. The lonely Muslim sends a personal invitation to Shaytan to come and visit him, sit on his bed and become misery’s company. A natural reaction humans possess is the need to focus on their losses when a major bereavement occurs. However, the trick is to focus on every single little thing you still have, being mindful that this could be taken too. If it were a parent, appreciate the other more ardently; if it were a sister, then look after your other siblings; and if it were a friend, take care of their family. Love begets love, while regret breeds discontentment.
I learned that when the thing/person we are most attached to in this world leaves us, it is a firm lesson in the process of detachment from dunya: to hold Allah above all others in your heart. More than this though, I quickly felt the support of Allah manifest itself in endless ways. The departing of one soul led to the gaining of so many more, as well as the opening of so many more relationships and opportunities. He is Al-Fattah (The Opener); He brings people onto our path to help fill the void.1 I lost a father but gained many more new friends, as well as the support of family members from the corners of the globe, and even support from strangers. Your job is to let all this comfort, affection and support pour in whenever it comes knocking as part of the healing process.
2. Ignore the woodpeckers
A vital gem which a friend of mine shared with me after she lost her grandmother was to take what people say graciously, but with a pinch of salt. All the messages of support, the paying of respects, the promises, grand gestures and testimonies of ‘always being there to talk to’ and the love people had never shared with you before, will eventually wither. Nothing lasts, and although appreciated at the time, that’s okay. If they were to stay, we would become unhealthily reliant on them. However, it is essential to be wary of those whom I call the “woodpeckers”: those who may gnaw at our confidence, happiness and self-esteem with subtle, continuous negative comments.1 It is vital that you become strong enough to rid yourself of the woodpeckers from your life, those who may bring negative energy and pass passive-aggressive comments. These relationships are toxic, particularly if you are feeling vulnerable and not quite yourself yet.
I have had my fair share of interesting conversations that we shall name “things not to say to a grieving person.” Sometimes people feel awkward not knowing what to say or how to say it, and as a result do not offer kind words at all. Or perhaps they make you feel uncomfortable by sounding insincere in their interaction. Things like “you’re so strong,” although at first sounds like a positive affirmation, later on becomes a condescending thorn in your side that often reminds you of what you must live up to in order to feel you are doing the “strong healer” position justice. Or those who rub salt in the wound by saying “I appreciate my family so much more now that I have witnessed this.” And my personal favourite: “I envied you, but honestly you realise no one’s life is perfect.”
There are also the more kinder comments in which the person couldn’t possibly understand or know how heart-wrenching it can feel like to listen to, “I had a dream about [person who passed away] the other night.” Although this seems like a nice gesture, in reality it feels like someone else’s emotional guilt, baggage or worse, fleeting dream — which may not mean much to them but to you a traumatic reminder of the very thing you’re still trying to make sense of — being heaved on to you in impolite bouts. Finally, those who may know of your struggle, know of your loss, know of your tribulation and still refuse to make excuses for your shortcomings are the most toxic of all.
A reminder to all of us: let’s be very careful what we say to others, especially in times of adversity. Words are more powerful than you think! Guard your tongue at all times, as Prophet Muhammad advised us to [Muslim].
4. Be patient
Give yourself time to heal with those who are sincere, and above all be grateful to Allah who designed this pivotal moment in your life in order to push some people away and draw others closer. In doing so, be patient and remember the Prophet’s words:
“How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” [Muslim]
5. Be kind to yourself
Despite what anyone says, you have experienced something unlike what you ever have before. This explains the shock, devastation and fear. Even if you have, it still feels different every single time. Loss is our greatest fear and so it is only a matter of time before you adjust and develop coping mechanisms. The positive to draw from this experience is the immense strength you will gain. The tribulations that would have once sent you into ruins, can now be flicked off your shoulder. Seek one trusted friend who you know will be understanding and positive when seeking counsel and sanctuary from. Additionally, when you fall short of a deadline for a big work project or even fall into a massive argument with a friend, forgive yourself, go easy on yourself. Tell yourself you are no longer the person you used to be and in doing so acknowledge the fact that you will no longer have to keep up with the rat race we often get sucked into in the life we once indulged in.
Reassess your priorities
Take this pivotal moment in your life to turn things around to change and pull away from the things you didn’t like before or felt stuck in. Draw from this new strength you are about to experience and get rid of all the emotional, psychological and spiritual litter that only held you back.
More than anything, find reliance upon yourself as self-sufficiency breeds organization, confidence, belief in oneself and empowerment. Learn about your body and mind in terms of how they may react to sadness. Identify stressors in your environment and work to cater to your needs. If you feel a low mood coming on, indulge in your favourite activity. Distract yourself with a good book, comedy show reel or a film. Moreover, find a quiet place away from it all and tell it all to Allah , tell Him everything: whisper the fears, anger, annoyance, impatience, ask Him for help as He is the Only One who can ease your pain or allow you to forget, and you must believe He will. I assure you, He never lets us down or falls short of His promises.
6. Occupy yourself
We all need time out to experience each feeling as it comes. However, it is imperative to try and keep moving forward. Bereavement often brings you back to the past; it reminds you of all the things you could have said or done. However, our routines that we are generally used to become a lifeline. Going back to organising, working and studying straight after someone close to us passes away can serve as a healthy distraction that allows you to channel your energy toward producing something positive that will work to aid your life. No one really prepares you for the practical side of time management within everyday living whilst enduring paralysing pain, yet Allah reassures us:
“For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease” [Qur’an: Chapter 94, Verse 5].
We only have a set number of hours in a day, and stopping for too long to reflect on the pain can often lead to feelings of overwhelming anguish and sadness. It can also be debilitating and paralysing if indulged in. Remember, we need to strike a balance between productivity and the time to adjust. Setting yourself manageable goals whilst scheduling time taken out for others will distract you whilst reminding you that you are not alone in losing. We all lose something or someone, it just manifests itself in different ways. A lot is expected of you after experiencing a loss; not only must you deal with practical financial responsibilities, you are also juggling your emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological well-being. Being organised to take enough time to cater to each area is mandatory. Moreover, looking after your health should be your priority.
7. Look after your health
This brings me to my next point, health watching: what we eat, how we eat, when we sleep, for how long we sleep, will become a useful tool to automatically feel a little lighter. Alhamdulillah, I was able to set up a women’s only kickboxing society as a result of wanting to create a space for exercise and expression for Muslim women, using negativity of our current surroundings to foster a positive outcome.
Focusing on spiritual, emotional and psychological well-being is in direct balance with your physical well-being. When one is neglected, the others topple one by one like dominoes. Our life can remain balanced and work in a perfect loop of cause and effect. If we don’t get enough sleep one night, we feel it the next day. The food we eat can very easily stimulate low mood and generally fool us into believing we are in a constant state of what we believe to be depression or anxiety. Our physiological state is working as a result of the foods we eat and hormones in the body. It is vital we acknowledge the difference between grieving and low mood that is a result of our bad lifestyle.
– Take up a non-competitive sport that you enjoy
– Go for morning runs to clear your mind
– Cut out coffee/sugar to avoid sugar highs and lows and the build up of anxiety
8. Do not suppress your emotions
Psychologist Frieda Bernbaum, a PhD research psychologist and expert on depression, discusses the idea of feeling anger to be a far healthier emotion for us when experiencing grief, as it stimulates outward expression as opposed to inward fatigue, thus preventing symptoms of depression from forming. Bernbaum goes on to say how numbness helps with devastation and allows for the person to make plans for the future, to make sure we are not going to fall apart during this process.
Don’t block the emotions you’re feeling, but understand them. The sadness we feel from any kind of loss inside won’t subside completely, and it never will, but why must we associate and attach negative sensations to a very large portion of what life and living entails? We hurt because we love, perhaps if we didn’t know what the sensations of love felt like we wouldn’t hurt as much and what more of a loss that would be, to not be able to feel anything at all. If it feels unbearable or painful at times cry through it and then enjoy that sometimes you may feel content and even happy with your company, or circumstances for that time, and that is also a mercy granted by Allah .
When Prophet Muhammad’s son Ibrahim died, Abdul-Rahman Ibn ‘Auf said:
“O Allah’s Apostle, even you are weeping!” He said, “O Ibn ‘Auf, this is mercy.” Then he wept more and said, “The eyes are shedding tears and the heart is grieved, and we will not say except what pleases our Lord, O Ibrahim! Indeed we are grieved by your separation” [Sahih Al-Bukhari].
9. Make Qur’an your oxygen
I was added to a Whatsapp group at the start of this year whereby women from all over the country and globe are able to update it every time they complete the set pages of Qur’an for the day. The beauty is in seeing strangers from all over send “Done, Alhamdulillah” throughout the day, spurring others to follow suit and read the Qur’an and its translation and/or tafsir. It became my favourite part of the day.
The Qur’an is magical – almost fairy tale-like – in how it is tailored to you, your problems and your personality. It makes you feel like you are heard and it makes you feel special – as if you’re the only one experiencing what you are experiencing. The words speak to me at my exact time of need. I feel Allah speaking directly to me. He answers my prayers and questions about life and after death with every lecture I watch or every ayah I read in the Qur’an. It is only faith in the darkest of moments that enables us to forget the paralysing pain and trust the prosperous plan. The hadith and Qur’an serve not only as spiritual lifelines, but also a practical life book providing guidance on how to handle the good moments and the bad.