Grieving a loved one during Ramadan
The death of a loved one is devastating and the first year of losing someone close to you is the hardest. It’s the first year of marking off all the firsts – the first birthdays, the first anniversary, the first Ramadan, the first Eid – and it’s the realisation that life without them will never be the same.
On 23 September 2017, my dad passed away in hospital following a silent heart attack. It was so unexpected as he wasn’t ill and had no previous history of such a condition. He had never been in hospital and yet his life ended in one.
Within hours of the news breaking, family and friends were knocking on the door. There were no appointments, people just turned up. It was all such a whirlwind that my mum and me didn’t have time to process what was going on. Instead we were wrapped in a cocoon of love, comfort and support. When the last guest left, it hit us hard that we were alone. So alone. And the house felt empty. As much as we were grateful for the support, people had to return to their own homes and their own lives.
After a week during which the funeral had taken place, I returned to work. Returning to a normal routine as soon as possible was important – I had to face it sooner or later so I didn’t see the point of putting it off. However, I was dreading it. I didn’t know how I would react when I saw my colleagues, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to focus on my work but to my surprise, it helped. For a few hours, things went back to the way they were but when I came home every night, that same feeling of loneliness crept back. For the first few weeks I did not want to sleep in my own bed and I sensed mum didn’t want to be alone either, so I stayed with her.
My birthday came and went, and I was fine. It was just one day, which for me loses its significance the older you get but when the holy month of Ramadan was upon us, I was particularly nervous. This was my first Ramadan without my dad. He always looked forward to this time and would thank Allah every year he lived to see another one. Ramadan without him was a huge blow and yet it helped me remember him fondly and grow closer to my faith. And faith is precisely what’s helped me cope with the loss and spiritually I felt better for it.
However, as things were never going to ever be the same again, I needed to fill the void. I have vague memories of my parents taking me to Regent’s Park mosque during Ramadan but as life became busier and threw obstacles at us, we stopped going. It’s this memory that triggered something in my mind and so for the first time in my adult life, I spent the last week of Ramadan visiting a different mosque every night with mum. We took food and shared it amongst fellow worshippers and not one person turned it down – just seeing a smile on someone’s face as they said ‘thank you’ filled me with happiness. The sense of unity and friendliness from strangers was so touching and comforting.
We both enjoyed it so much that we will be doing it again this Ramadan and every Ramadan.
As a mark of respect, the first Eid without dad was cancelled. I did my Eid prayers from home and went to work like it was a normal day. The fact that it was Eid did not register with me; it was easy to phase it out of my mind. It was also the first time in my life that I did not take a day off for Eid. As a small family, we always celebrated Eid together, whether it was going to a nice restaurant or having a delicious meal at home but this time, there was one less person to embrace after Eid prayers, and no matter how old I was, dad still gave me Eidi. This Eid, however, we will mark the occasion with a gathering at home in the company of family and friends. Since losing dad, I appreciate spending quality time and making memories with loved ones more than ever.
I had a wonderful relationship with my father, and in the subsequent months following his death I began to realise how valuable that was. I found myself laughing at things I knew my dad would have something witty to say about and in time it became easier to talk about him without breaking down.
Bereavement isn’t something that disappears, the scars remain and every year that passes is a reminder but there are ways to manage it. If this is going to be your first Ramadan without a loved one, remember:
It’s OK to cry. Allow yourself to be sad and to let it out. It’s perfectly fine to feel sad, in fact writing this piece made me very tearful.
Keep your daily routine up – go to work, go shopping, go the gym, see your friends, do housework or start a project. Doing something positive and productive will lift your spirits and help you move forward.
Express yourself – talking is a good way to sooth painful emotions and will help the healing process. If you feel you can’t turn to someone or don’t have anyone to talk to, there is always someone willing and ready to listen to you at Muslim Youth Helpline.
Keep the faith. We ask a lot of questions especially following a death and connecting with faith puts death into perspective, makes you realise there is nothing to fear and really soothes the mind and soul.
Spend time with friends and family and rebuild relationships. I’ve noticed how much closer I’ve grown to people and reconnected with those I had lost touch with and the bond is stronger than ever.
Never stop to visit your loved one. It gives me enormous comfort to visit my dad’s resting place. I also tend to his grave by planting flowers and making it look beautiful.
You never get over the death of a loved one, you just learn to live with it. There will be good days and bad days but as time passes, the grief is less likely to be at the forefront of your mind.