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How to handle grief

How often have you encountered a grieving person? We have, often. A colleague loses a grandfather, an acquaintance loses a son, a friend loses a brother, or a former boss loses his wife... And we have often felt awkward in their presence, standing there, not knowing what to do or how to help. In the end, we mostly opt to avoid the mourner till he “recovers”.

That is, until death hits close to home and you are left standing there, unable to reconcile with your feelings and more importantly, overwhelmed at the grief that you and other people very close to you are feeling. Now, it's no longer a case of your acquaintance or your boss – it's your brother, sister or even your mom who's grieving. You have to do something.

Be supportive
“It's important for the grieving person to experience the pain, and to grieve the loss of the person so dear to them,” says Mariam a church-based counselor. “The finality of death and the void it leaves within us is a reality that one needs time to adjust to and accept.”

Indeed, death leaves a huge void that sends our lives spinning out of control. Without other people to give love and support, we might find it difficult to find acceptance; to find a foothold in which we can anchor a new order in our lives. There is no shortcut, no going around the fact that to reach this acceptance, we need to brave a torrent of emotions.

“A person who has a major loss in life, go through denial, they do not want to believe that it has happened, then they go through anger that it did happen, they try to bargain the person back, but when they realise that they cannot get that person back by denial, anger or bargaining, they turn all that energy against themselves and that turns into depression. Going through that, they get to acceptance,” shares Dr Hamden, Director of the Human Relations Institute (HRI).

“What you need to do is to help the person talk through this, you don't have to stop it, and you don't tell them ‘Don't cry'. They're supposed to cry. They just lost someone significant. You don't tell them ‘Don't be angry', you don't try to talk them out of these stages or phases you help them go through it,” says the doctor.

“Sometimes, they will go through it, they will be scattered, they will be angry, they will be in denial down to depression to bargaining. It doesn't have to be in the same order or they may have a lot of depression and in times, depression can be the underlying emotion or they can be stuck at being angry. What you do is you help them walk through it by listening to them and mirroring what they say. Don't confuse them or conflict what they're saying.”

Amor, lost her father while she was overseas. Because of her work, she could not come home in time for the funeral. Despite the long-distance charges, she called her daughter, mother, brothers, sisters and friends – anybody who would listen to her. She felt very guilty that she couldn't come home; her voice was very hoarse and gritty. She needed to reach out.

“A grieving person may carry a lot of guilt about what she should or should not have done,” Mariam shares. With Amor, she felt guilty that she was not there to say goodbye and to compound it all, she couldn't even see her dad to his final resting place.

“Encourage them to talk about their feelings and listen with empathy. They might need to talk a lot. Affirm all that they did and is still doing for the deceased. Recalling memories about the deceased and talking about him/her helps especially in the first months after the death, would be good.

As they become more aware of what is happening to them and feel supported and understood they usually begin to feel more in control and can learn to face grief and be in a better position to care for their self,” advises Mariam. It helps to know that there is somebody out there whom they can lean on.

Grief in Islam
When it comes to the Islamic religion, grief is expected but an extreme demonstration is frowned upon. “Shouting, cursing, tearing their clothes – this is completely against the custom of Islam,” says Abdul Malik Abdul Khaliq, a Faculty member at the Preston University teaching Islamic Studies. “When someone passes away, you should hurry up and rush him to the grave. If he was good, let him get his reward...if he was a good person, of good conduct, then he will be given his reward. If he was bad, then get rid of him. Don't bother yourself too much.”

When Prophet Muhammad's son, Ibrahim died, he said “The eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we will not say anything except which pleases our Lord.” Malik tells us that The Prophet Mohammed shed tears because he was touched by his son but it was not an excuse to show emotions which are not polite and according to the Quran. Malik adds, “You have all the rights to demonstrate your sadness, but in a very, very polite manner that Islam allows us.”

But sometimes, a person can be hit hard by the passing of a loved one, “We have grief counselling... with the relatives themselves. Mostly we have the house leader or the very senior person in the family and he will take care of someone who is mourning too long. We also indirectly put his friends beside him to make him busy. On the other side, the Iman of the mosque can give you a brief message, or in the community we have counselors who provide the relatives consultations on how to control yourself emotionally,” shares Malik.

Extreme End
Jen is an only child. When her father died, she and her mom became closer, a team of two. It's been four years since then but Jen's mom has developed few friends of her own. She wants them to be constantly together. “A grieving person will look for a substitute – a person who will replace the one who passed away – in their lives,” explains Mariam. It's their response, a way to fill that void that was suddenly created in their lives. In this case it may be you – the daughter, the son or the closest relative.

“Joining a support group helps,” Mariam suggests, “A support group where you share with others who are in same situation. This is a great healer. And if this happens, you need to keep your space while giving your support. Continue meeting up with your friends and try not to allow your grieving mom or relative to become too dependant on you. You will also need the support and understanding of good friends to help you separate your emotions in a way that gives you the space you need to live your own life.”

For a person who was hit hard with grief, acceptance might come painfully, slowly and with difficulty. But it helps to know that your relatives and friends will be there for you. So if someone close to you is grieving, be there for them. For Muslims, this is stressed all the more as the whole family and community come to offer their condolences and support. And in cases where acceptance comes hard, Malik shares, “Relatives will advise that the cycle of life must continue, they must stay in the earth. There is a verse in the Quran that says you are going to die and everyone is going to die. It is the ultimate truth that nobody can deny. If you confront a person with this, he will calm down,” shares Malik.

And according to Dr Hamden, this usually takes any time from three to six months but it can also range from three weeks to 18 months. “Grieving is not an exact science,” he says. In Islam, grieving is allowed for three days. “In Islam, we should feel mad, bad or sad for no more than three days. Except for ladies, they can mourn up to 40 days.”

But no matter if it takes three days to two years, what we can do is to be there, a loved one ready to talk and listen; a patient and understanding presence, a source of strength.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 26/06/2008

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