Dealing with Death
Let’s Be Caring in these Trying Times*
A version of this piece has appeared on page 11 of Post newspaper’s edition of February 3-7, 2021
We will certainly test you with a touch of fear and famine and loss of property, life, and crops. Give good news to those who patiently endure— who, when faced with a disaster, say, “Surely to Allah we belong and to Him we will ˹all˺ return.” They are the ones who will receive Allah’s blessings and mercy. And it is they who are ˹rightly˺ guided. (2:155-7)
The Almighty is the owner and originator of life, death and all the fortunes creation enjoys, whether good or adverse. This is the deep meaning of the expression: From God we come and to Him we are all destined to return. Believers are urged to internalise this refrain, which is traditionally uttered immediately when one receives news of a loss or a setback.
The practical manifestation of this expression is bearing every loss with patience, remaining conscious that we shall all eventually return to the Creator. As recompense for such forbearance from a believer, the Almighty proclaims His glad tidings.
In the midst of the pandemic, we are experiencing torment, distress and emotional pain for the loss of our close and loved ones. Individuals are searching for the worth and meaning of life.
Circumstances are such that even final rites that give us closure cannot be fully observed. These are trying times, but as families and society, we can work together to help each other cope with tragic situations.
Generally, the closer the social proximity of the departed ones, the greater would be the intensity of grief, sorrow and anguish. The shock at the community level, however, is so widespread that it requires all of us to find ways of reaching out to one another with empathy and appropriate mutual support.
All contacts for care, condolences and counselling should be in accordance with the protocols for Covid-19 control, safety and health guidelines.
For the gravely and terminally-ill, we have to give messages of hope and care, along with the reminder that this life is transient and that we too shall eventually pass on into the Hereafter.
Depending on the circumstances, expressions of affection along with an appreciation of legacy may help the dying. As painful as this can be, it is important to prepare the departing and those around them about the prospect and inevitability of the moment.
A major source of anguish among surviving dependents is the perception of loss of livelihood. The message here is the assurance that the Provider is the Almighty. It is also a responsibility of immediate family and the wider society to mobilise assistance, especially for young children and the vulnerable, with love and care, without any hint that would suggest the departed would easily be replaced.
In this pandemic, our heroes are the frontline caregivers attending to the ill, at home and in health facilities. As they attend to patients to their utmost, it is crucial to remember that after all their noble efforts, life and death still remain a matter of destiny.
The message to them, among other aspects, is to also care for their own emotional health and well-being and not to hesitate to reach out to peers and others in seeking help.
Healing and coping are processes that play out among individuals in different ways. It is therefore necessary that we give each other the space and time in which everyone can deal with distressing spiritual matters, with neither force nor compulsion, but sensitivity and care. It is normal to feel grief-stricken and angry. However, the best reaction is to remain dignified in patience and reflection.
“The best of humanity are those who are most beneficial to people.” (Tabrani) There have been positive lessons coming from the dark cloud of the pandemic. At a socio-welfare level, it has been shown that we can reach out in care for one another. South Africans have shown tremendous generosity and a level of organisation in helping those in need. This is a spirit which we have to nurture among communities. These gestures of goodwill are a source of inspiration that nourishes our morale, giving meaning and purpose to life.
On the medical front, the recovery rates from those diagnosed with Covid-19 have been high. This should give us hope that life does not end with a positive test result for the coronavirus. At 89% for South Africa, the odds of recovery are high. With improving knowledge and practice in case management, optimism rather than a sense of desperation should dominate one’s mind.
Prayer and encouragement remain effective sources of comfort. We should therefore continue to pray for ourselves and each other. Words of encouragement that even this moment will pass, and that dawn still follows the darkest night, will help us to see through this gloomy night. Divinely assuring is the Almighty who says in the Holy Qur’an: “So, surely with hardship comes ease.” (Qur’an 94:5).
*Moulana Ebrahim Bham is the secretary-general of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa. He is also the imam of the Hamidia Mosque in Newtown, where he leads one of the largest congregations in Gauteng. Bham features regularly in broadcast programmes on iTV as well as Radio Islam International.