It has been over four months now. Death has a beginning, a middle, but no end. When Saad passed away my mother told me that the pain would never really disappear and that the loss would mark my life, and of course, she was right.
Four months and ten days denotes the time of mourning prescribed by the Qur’an (Al-Baqarah 2:234). Orthodox Muslim scholars often also add a series of conditions to the mourning period, quite gendered I must add, such as not appearing in public or wearing makeup… Nonetheless, many of the available sources on grieving and mourning focus on the legalities of the process and the Dos and Don’ts. In my case, many of these sources were irrelevant and seemed almost inhumane.
On the other hand, there is little written about what the four months and ten days look like, and I wish I could say that this is a straight forward process. All to the contrary, four months and ten days are probably the hardest weeks of the grieving process.
First, you are in shock and you feel as if you were dreaming. Then, you find yourself lonely and trying to fill your days up with activities to get rid of the void. Next, you find yourself angry, upset, confused and everything in between. Later, you talk alone as if someone, aside from God, could hear you. And finally, things start to sink in.
Living in Canada, where life moves quite fast and people have a huge issue dealing with death, I was forced to continue the flow of capital neoliberalism. The world gave me one week to grief. After that, I was due to work, to my volunteer commitments and to every other responsibility I had to tend to. Life continues whether you are ready for it or not.
But death is also a very complex process. In my case, I inherited a whole new world that was completely foreign to me. Now, I keep in touch with two sisters-in-law who reached out to me as part of their own grieving process. In between, you also have the logistics of death. What to do with his things? What to do with his pictures? It took Saad’s family a whole two months to clear his apartment because no one wanted to do it. As for me, there are still little pieces of him all over my house.
The social aspect, I must say, is also very challenging. People, Muslim or not, do not know how to deal with death. See, that’s somehow a striking difference between my background as a Mexican and living in Canada and among Muslims. Upon Saad’s death, my mother had a full list of things that had to be done, as tradition mandates. For instance, flowers had to be changed frequently, and people were welcome to pay their respects. I practised my story-telling, repeating the details over and over again, because tradition says that story-telling helps healing the soul. Ritual is important in the grieving process.
Nevertheless, those who do not share our culture, were uncomfortable and did not quite know what to do with me… During this period, I heard some of the most ridiculous comments ever, such as “It is for the best” or “You will get over it” or “There are other men out there.” As a grieving person, you brush those comments off, and hope that the next visitors will have a better sense of the situation. Yet, the reality of things, is that only those who have ever lost a partner will understand your experience.
Probably one of the worse parts, nonetheless, is the pity. There is no conversation killer like, “Why are you single?”… “Because my partner passed away.” At the beginning I did not know what to say… I do not consider myself a “single” person per se. But in this society no partner in a woman’s life means “single.” Then, when you are forced to tell people about the sudden passing of your partner because they would not let go of your “singleness,” people show pity. Instead of showing respect for the process or allowing room for agency, they tell you, “oh, you poor thing!”
The next stage, is almost the pinnacle of the mourning time. You start thinking about what is next? Few Muslim men have approached me in the most inappropriate ways under the assumption that the end of the mourning period means an open opportunity for some kind of relationship (eye roll). In fact, some imams and sheikhs encourage it. My local imam asked me, “Who is going to take care of you, if not a husband?” Mmmmm… Myself maybe? But most importantly, you start wondering and thinking what your partner/family life might look like in the future. Do you have to do it all over again? It seems almost like a bad joke.
However, once you reach the four months and ten days, you start having more perspective on the loss. That is not to say that the pain disappears, or that you completely heal. Yet, after those harsh weeks, you have learned to live with yourself and by yourself. You realize that you will always live with an open scar, but that the scar is meaningful. The loss will never be forgotten, and death will always be there. Though, after four months and ten days, slowly, life starts making sense again.