“‘In sickness and in health … till death do us part.’ These words echo in my ears since the day my husband left this world. The world came crashing down for us,” is Naheed’s response when asked about healing. “Life has just not been the same ever since — the acute, piercing pain returning at all moments as a reminder of our loss, be it Eid or birthdays or weddings.”
Shock, panic, pain, anger, a sense of disbelief … and perhaps a ‘Why Me?’, are just a few of the emotions that accompany a loved one’s death. Those who are grieving may just want life to stop, yet it goes on, and they have to deal with complicated worldly affairs along with their own feelings. “Depression is normal and natural,” says Humaira who lost her husband suddenly and needs to learn to live in an entirely new way. “Faith has played an important part in my healing and being able to move on. At first the ‘Why Me?’ haunted me as I have no relatives in Pakistan and my grown children are also living abroad, but the thought that God knew what he was doing and must have had a reason gave me comfort. Friends and extended family helped. This gave me strength to pick up my life’s pieces.”
The cruel ‘Why Me?’ is something that the grieving may ask and there is nothing like the loss of one’s own child that may bring up this question. Sara and Murtaza, going through a real struggle as they come to terms with the loss of a teenage daughter suggest that thoughts like these should not be suppressed but be allowed to come up in the trusting embrace of a friend or a trusted counsellor, mentor or religious scholar. They feel blessed to have found both. ‘It’s difficult as 90 per cent of religiously inclined people actually create more problems and pain by citing out of context religious verses. They wish that these well-meaning ill-informed people had kept their half-baked views to themselves. “The only friends we consider as real are those who just showed silent support in this difficult time by helping us with chores involving our two other children. Sermonising people who were uncomfortable with us venting are not those we associate with any longer.”
For some, like Bano Apa, the faith element is so strong that the ‘Why’ question didn’t arise and accepting God’s will sustained her. “I am thankful that my son passed away on the auspicious day of 27th Ramazan. I feel that God’s love for him was greater than mine. I decided against wailing and lamenting as my son would not have liked that. I pray, not only for him but for all others who have passed away and this provides solace. Of course I miss him, and sometimes converse with his photographs — and somehow that too brings me peace. I know he is in a good place.”
NK who lost his wife to cancer also speaks about allowing emotions to surface and keeping busy at the same time, “What helps me most to pass each day is my job that keeps me involved and prevents melancholy. My colleagues at work are also very sincere and understanding. Once I am home, the sadness tends to surface, as there are so many reminders all around the house. The best release that I get is from talking about her, bringing her back to life, hearing others who loved her talk about her great humane qualities. I also pen down my feelings on paper, which gives me a chance to vent my emotions which is a great catharsis.”
So can one find meaning in grief? For Humayun, who lost a close friend, it’s a wake-up call. “I’ve been putting away my dreams, thinking of ‘some’ day in the future when I will pursue them. What if my time is up before that ‘some’ day arrives?” Such is the case with so many of us. We can think of death as a transition to another destination — another journey which the soul must take. But have we consciously fulfilled our desires, our unfinished business in this journey. “Mortality awareness” prompts other healthy behaviours according to scientific research. People are more health conscious, more keen to help others and let go of petty issues.
Faith, it is apparent, is a real driving force in healing even in the young — Tariq lost his mother at a young age and then lost his elder brother in a tragic accident. The tranquillity with which he speaks is way beyond his years. “Parents set the benchmark and my father’s training was to hold on to God and believe that things happen for a reason — even though the incident may appear so horrible and unfair. Faith to me is an internal state of acceptance of God’s will. Since I lost my mother at an early age, the afterlife always interested me and I often wondered what it would be like to be there. Although the struggles of this life are real, if you believe in an afterlife the struggles of this life become bearable.”
Healing, hence, is mysterious. How it happens and a ‘Letting Go’ at the soul level emerges has no straight path. Faith, prayer, keeping busy, venting, talking, crying, grieving … perhaps it is a combination of all of these that leads to that quiet surrender and a humble acceptance of how little we control, and in a strange paradoxical way that leads to solace. A life well lived is perhaps the pathway that leads to ‘forever living’ in what the poet Blake calls eternity’s sunrise.
He who bends to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
— William Blake