“…these stages [of grief] do not replace each other but can exist next to each other and overlap at times.”
The last evening we spoke on the phone it was all procedural. All dull and meaningless. After that, I did not hear back. Yet, that night, I kept hallucinating… I could hear my cellphone ringing and vibrating… I imagined that he was calling… that he was trying to reach me…
“Are you sure? How do you know it is true?” My mother asked incredulous when I told her what had happened. She was not the only one to initially question the information… Along with her were friends and family members. “There must be a mistake…” “Maybe he is alive and the family just…” “Perhaps they are confused.”
But, as much as I wanted all this not to be true, I had no real doubts.
However, the first night after his passing I woke up agitated and tearful in the middle of the night. I turned to my cellphone. For a moment, I was sure he would have texted, like he used to do up until two days before.
It took me a few days to notice my compulsive message-checking, as if miraculously I would find a smoke signal from him. Weeks later, I felt like in a dream. Things were blurry and timeless. I wondered, what if I am dreaming? What about if all this is in my head?
Takbeer- Bismillaah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem.
Qiyyam- If you wake me up from this nightmare, I promise to do all my prayers on time for the rest of my life.
Ruku- I will exchange all what you have planned for me for a real good-bye.
Sujud- I pledge myself to you in exchange for his life.
Juloos- If you will not return him to me at least take me as well.
I sat on my prayer mat unable to perform salah. All I did for several weeks was to bargain with Allah. Rationally, I knew this was all part of the plan, and that I was supposed to learn something from it. Yet, I hoped that if I begged hard enough all the rules of heaven and hell would be broken for me.
“I am extremely impressed at how well you have handled all this,” she said. It was the one and only time, in a whole year, that she acknowledged my loss. Other than that, it was her father the one who three days after the accident had told me that, “…there are many men out there. Find another one.”
I was not “handling it well.”
I spent several weeks locked in my room in an attempt to avoid a housemate that was so self-absorbed to notice that I was hardly eating, barely sleeping, and miraculously functioning. I am not entirely sure what she thought about the whole situation, but she certainly acted as if it was non-existent. She was oblivious to the 15 pounds I lost in two weeks, to my almost hospitalization after a really intense anxiety attack at work and to the falling apart of my regular life.
But such an experience is way too common for those who have lived with depression.
Depression is often invisible, not only because most of it remains enclosed in your head, but because society makes it so. It is an illness that is mistakenly perceived to be a matter of choice. Nonetheless, most people who have experienced it will tell you that no amount of self-help books, pints of ice cream and witty comedies will help.
For months I sat on the bus and cried. It was an uncontrollable thing, and I hated it that it happened to me. Nights were a terrifying time because my worst thoughts, from my childhood nightmares to deep feelings of failure, would appear then. While at work I experienced a few anxiety attacks without knowing what was happening to me, and all these experiences led me to question my faith, my life and my choices; yet, I was unable to actively change my situation…
I lit the cigarette… I had not smoked alone in years. After the initial coughing, I remembered the first time I smoked… I was about 16 years old. When my father found out he was livid. My step-mother went as far as to blame my then-boyfriend, even though there are more than a few smokers in my family.
Smoking was number one in the list of things that angered my partner. He disapproved of smoking, alcohol, partying, clubbing and the alike. In an attempt to be a “sensible girlfriend” and a “good Muslim” I had withdrawn from all of these things, until that day and that cigarette.
“Why are you here?,” my now spiritual teacher asked me. I remained silent. “The way I see it… you still care. You care enough that even though as a convert you could have just walked away from Islam, you came here instead.” I nodded. “I am angry,” I hesitated before continuing, “I am angry at Allah.” I finished my sentence in a whispering voice fearing the worst from the incredibly soothing woman sitting across from me. “And that is okay. You work it out through worship and prayer,” she replied.
The anger hit about five months after his passing. I felt left behind, unprepared and unstable. For a few days I ran around trying out all the items in my list of things that would have angered him. Eventually, I reached the last item… “Leaving Islam.” This was less about him and more about the ways in which I felt the Muslim community had failed me.
I had ended up meeting my teacher by accident. And after an hour of sitting in the presence of such a calm and gentle soul, I realized that yes… I cared enough to be there. I was pretty much in connection with Allah, the relationship may have not been in the best terms, but we had been in conversation and negotiation for months.
I had less trouble accepting his passing than I had accepting what all of this meant for my life. Soon after the accident I had relinquished what I thought were my rights over him to a higher power. On the six month mark I pledged to let his soul go. To that point I could still sense him every day, and I figured I was tying his soul down to a realm where it did not belong anymore (not in Islamic terms, of course).
The hard part was not that… rather, it was asking, what is next? How do I pick up the pieces?
Acceptance is not a one-step thing. It is an in-and-out process. More than a year later I am still “accepting.” And after a few failed attempts at picking life up where I left off, I had to come to terms with letting go and trusting Allah. Sounds easy, but it is really hard. Nevertheless, there is something liberating about trusting and letting go of what you cannot control… it is the beginning of healing…
To be continued…