How to Cope (and Heal) with the Grief of Losing a Parent

Grief.

What a short five letter word, but which carries a huge burden of emotions.

On 23 December 2006, I lost my father due to an unexpected heart attack. I was 19, and it was my final year studying in Nanyang Polytechnic. As he left very suddenly, my family did not have any time to prepare mentally for his passing as compared to if he had been suffering from any major illnesses. Death is like that. When your time on Earth is up, your time is up. As Muslims, Allah teaches us that death is inevitable for every human being and it has been written in the Book of Records (Lauh Mahfuz) the age that we will die and leave this Earth to move on to the Hereafter.

“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere,”Al-Baqarah, 155

Accepting his death was manageable, but it was dealing with his loss that was difficult. To accept and redha with Allah’s qada’ and qadar is the key to dealing with the grief of a loved one’s passing. It is only then can you be at peace with the loss. But how does one actually accept and redha, and overcome this huge grief, all the while filled with the pain of knowing that you will never see this person again, ever..?

I’m sure everyone who has gone through a similar experience has their own ways of dealing and managing grief, but these were some of my ways of coping, grieving and healing as well as the lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Realize that death is NOT the end. It is only the beginning to Hereafter, and that you WILL meet them in Jannah, InsyaAllah.

We have been put on Earth to worship God and collect pahala, or rewards, and then return back to Jannah, our permanent dwelling place. So death is just the opening to that world, the place where we truly belong. The place where we came from. Heaven. Eventually, we will all meet in Jannah one day, so don’t worry about not being able to meet them anymore because you will, insyaAllah. This thought has comforted me a great deal especially at times when I miss my father so much. My father was a gift to me, but now Allah had taken back this beautiful gift because truly it had belonged to Him in the first place. Who am I to complain?

“So glory to Him in Whose hands is the dominion of all things: and to Him will ye be all brought back.”Yasin, 83

2. Don’t shut off from the world completely. Keep your support system close; even if you do not feel like talking to anyone.

I had a healthy social life but there were many times when I just wanted to be alone. I wanted friends to stop asking me how am I? I wanted to say, of course I AM NOT OK. But I didn’t want to be looked at pitifully as I already was. I didn’t want people to think I am weak. So I would say I’m OK and flash a smile. What I had done was put on a mask instead of being honest with myself and other people. What I should have said was,

“I’m not OK, but I do need to be left alone at this moment. Thank you so much for checking with me, I truly appreciate your concern. But at this moment, even I don’t know how to exactly cope with this so do give me space to figure it all out. I know I can always contact you if I need your help.”

I’ve come to understand that people will understand it if you are honest with them. After all, they just wanted to help even if they may not know how. Let them help you, in their own ways.

3. Don’t be afraid to get help. There is nothing wrong with you if you seek help for grieving. You are NOT mental.

Two years after his passing, I was at the point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was the eldest of my siblings and I was feeling very stressed with the added responsibilities. I felt that I had to do something about it. I had a family friend who was a counselor, and without anyone knowing at that time, I requested to see her. She recommended me to her friend, a psychologist and counselor from overseas who would be coming to town that weekend, arranged for our meet-up and even booked a place for the consultation. The psychologist, Hani, had me do some exercises which were very useful and listened to me objectively. Hani was such a warm person to begin with. I didn’t know how much she was going to charge me for it, knowing how much these sessions usually cost, I just left it to God and prayed,

“Dear God, I want to be a better person and be redha with your plans but it is so difficult now. Please make it easy for me.”

And MashaAllah, at the end of the session, she told me that I didn’t need to pay a single cent! Wow, truly Allah is the Best of All Planners.

4. Throw away your guilt and regrets. Nothing happened because of you, and no amount of “if only I had…” will help you with anything.

When my father came back home from work the day that he passed away, I was in the room using the computer and did not go out and salam him like I usually do. I can’t remember why but I must have been busy with something. Moments later, the Angel of Death had taken him away. I felt guilty and regretted not salam-ing him afterwards. But no amount of “if only I had..” will help you with anything. Realize that these are just the whispers of syaitan who aim to make you feel guilty and regret so that you are so consumed with grief that you forget about God. Do not succumb to the devil’s whispers!

5. Listen to Yasmin Mogahed’s videos and read this amazing article; “Why Do People Have to Leave Each Other?

Do not attach yourself to dunya. It is very easy to say that but Yasmin Mogahed has a such a beautiful way of expressing and articulating this. Reading the article, listening to her videos and audios really helped me lot in my healing process, Alhamdulillah.

6. Realize that your mother is going through this for the first time and sometimes, she will not know what to do.

What happens when you lose a father? You start to discover your mother at a whole new level. Allah says in Surah Al-Baqarah, 187, that husband and wives are garments of each other. They are tag team players in their marriage institution, they are supporters of each other, they complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly, they cover each others’ shortcomings. So when one of them is gone, the children start to see things in the other parent that they normally do not see because the other parent, now gone, does such a good job of being an excellent partner who covers up for the other. It was through this experience that I can see how truly what Allah means in the verse, MashaAllah. It is only natural that when you lose a partner, you will feel lost doing things alone.

7. Ask Allah to make you and your family strong. Allah is the Almighty. True strength only comes from Him.

This may sound simple, but many times we forget to ask God because it is so simple. Prior to losing my father, my mother lost her mother one month before that. Imagine the “bomb” she had to go through. Imagine the devastation that she would have felt. But Alhamdulillah, Allah gave her strength to carry the tests and overcome it in a matter of years.

8. Take time to grief, do not rush the process. Do not compare your grieving period with others because it differs and that’s okay.

I eventually took three years to overcome my father’s death, but it was only after three years that I could admit that it had taken me three years to do so. Previously, I had been in denial and thought that I didn’t need to grieve. It varies from person to person on the time it takes to overcome grief after the passing of a loved one, and the grieving process should not be rushed.

9. Your family will surprise you. They need to heal too, and they are what they are – human beings designed to feel.

I’ve always seen my aunts as “my aunt”, my uncle as “my uncle” and my grandmother as “my grandmother”. My father was the eldest among his siblings of five. He was the leader of the pack, always the organizer of events, the jovial person in the family, the one who would lead the prayer in family events. So when he was gone, even his siblings were at a loss and needed time to heal. My two uncles, sibling number 4 and 5, now had to step up and lead the prayers. My first aunt, the second out of five now became the eldest sibling. My grandmother, who had relied on my father for many things, now had to cope with losing her first son. As she was approaching the 80s, she was also sad that her son went before her. Through this experience, I could see them as siblings going through the loss of an older brother, and a mother going through the loss of her first son.

10. Keep the Quran close to you all the time. The Quran is a Healer, take time to read, understand and reflect on it.

Last but not least, never underestimate the healing powers of the Quran. It is Allah’s love letters to you, your Creator who knows every single thing about you regardless of whether you show or hide it. Surely, His words will heal you. He presents you with tests and He also presents you with the tools to help you pass the test. It is not his wish to see you sad without a purpose, but to make you stronger in faith. I shall end this article with one of my favorite verse, a beautiful verse from Surah An-Nur. Remember that grief, a time of darkness, is only temporary. Allah will get you out of this dark times and into His Light, InsyaAllah.

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things.”An-Nur, 35

3 thoughts on “How to Cope (and Heal) with the Grief of Losing a Parent

  1. I can imagine that this post would be very comforting to someone who has ever lost a close loved one. I love that you end by mentioning that it is not Allah’s wish to see us sad without a purpose. Only he really knows why we experience the challenges that we do, and how they will help us to grow as souls and grow closer to him. That is a very beautiful quote you finished with as well.

    1. Thanks for your comment Cat. I hope that this post can comfort the hearts of anyone who has lost a loved one, be it parents or anyone they are close to, if God wills. May light shine in the darkness of our hearts even during our hardest times.

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