Monday, March 17, 2014

I've lost my grandpa - on death, loss, and guilt

May he rest in peace. 

I've lost my grandpa. He's gone. This beautiful man with a beautiful heart and beautiful service to society is now gone. He was 85 years old, in good health (until the day he felt something wrong and went for a check up and ... well, things went downhill from there, and he passed away while unconscious during/after a surgery), and despite having retired many years ago, he attended a school where he used to teach before because he loved the company, he loved the environment, and he loved the idea of being in the sacredness of an educational institution. The school knew him well, and many of his former students were teachers there now (whom he used to greet/salute with two hands instead of just the right hand, and that meant so much to them ...), and he had a lot of respect there. He said he didn't do it for the money but just to pass some time. He'd walk halfway through and refused to let anyone drive him because he said he needed and enjoyed the exercise. 

He valued women's education. He was a man who believed in female empowerment, in equal and good education for women, even in an era and a society where female education was something to abhor by the people around. He sent my mother and her sisters to school and he took their education seriously; he treated his sons and daughters equally and discouraged others from distinguishing between the value of daughters and sons. He took books and distributed them to girls because he said that boys have opportunities and access to learning but girls don't. My mother has fond memories of her childhood because of him. She learned ideas of love and justice from him. That's beautiful. I never did like it when people tell men, "Your mother never taught you to respect women?" or when people say, "My momma taught me better than that." Um. Being taught well is not a mother's responsibility; it's everyone's responsibility but especially *parents'*.

He was a beautiful person. Much loved and respected by everyone who knew him. So many people attended his funeral, my uncles say, that you'd think you were at at 'Umra. Everyone feels his loss. He lived a long, healthy, safe, and fulfilling life. He saw four generations live in harmony together at one time. He saw many of his grandchildren marry happily and have children. He had many people taking care of him, loving him, and serving him. He didn't need a cane to walk and he refused to carry one even if there'd been a need. He loved my grandma and visited her grave frequently, especially at 5am with his grandkids on Eid. When my grandma passed away in 2009, one of the hardest ways he felt her absences was that he had no one to wake up with him for tahajjud and morning prayer. He used to pray that he never experience the pain of the zankadan sakhta (the moment right before the soul is departed from the body - the Muslim tradition says that that's a very painful moment depending on how we lived our lives on earth), and so his soul was taken from him while he was unconscious during/after a surgery. He used to pray that he never rely on anyone at any point in life, and he did not live to see that happen. 

So I'm not sad for him. I know he's in a beautiful place right now. I know he's in heaven. Not a soul lives to speak or remember ill of him. There's no need to feel sad for him. What I'm sad about is that I'll never see him again. I'll never talk to him again. And even when I had the opportunities to talk to him and spend time with him, I didn't ...

The Shock and Denial

My grandfather, whom we called Daji (a common name that children address elderly males by, especially fathers and grandfathers), passed away on March 7th 2014. The first couple of days, I simply refused to believe it. I didn't believe it, I didn't accept it, I was too shocked, it was too unreal. Someone like him can't possibly pass away. But then ... then it hit me that he's really gone. I can never see him again or talk to him again or write to him again.  

They say there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance. I'm not sure which stage I'm at - I'm done with the denial phase, I'm half angry and entirely devastated, but I'm not sure what happened to the negotiation phase. The acceptance phase, I doubt I'll ever reach it. Certainly not any time soon. I don't want to accept it, either. What if accepting it means forgetting him forever and never thinking about him again? I'm not ready to accept that he's gone. 

We (my father and my siblings) decided not to give the news to my mom until all my siblings and I could be home together while doing it. So I went home on Wednesday, and my sisters came on Friday. It was full house, alhamdulillah. I have three niblings (2 nephews and one niece), and when all of us together, it's easily the most beautiful thing ever. The house feels blessed. You know kids are healthy and happy when they're screaming and fighting each other and talking non-stop. So my little nephew and my niece fight all the time and scream at each other and play together and hug each other and love each other and hate each other. And that noise is good. That noise is beautiful. My mother was so happy that we were all home she did 2 rakat shukrana nafl (two cycles of extra prayer to thank God for the happy occasion, for family, for love, for happiness ...). When she said out loud she's doing that, it broke my heart. I knew we'd gathered to break the bad news to her. She was also so happy that she did nazar panra (burning certain kinds of leaves to ward off the evil eye). It was painful watching her do this all.

The Guilt 

What I'm most feeling right now next to the devastation is guilt. I didn't spend much time with him, I didn't write to him much, I didn't talk to him much ... I wrote to him only once in my adult life (in March 2011 - I share that letter in the next blog post; it's really long). Yes, that letter made him so happy and so proud he showed it to everyone around, and he didn't even know how to respond to it, but why didn't I continue writing to him? I promised him in the letter that I'd update him on my progress with my PhD and as I approach my dissertation, I'll update him on my exact topic and all. But I didn't. I wrote to him that once as though I'd accomplished everything, as though that was all I should ever be doing for him. I talked to him a few times on the phone when I'd be home and my my mom would be talking to him. That was it. Had I kept in touch with him more frequently, updating him on my life and keeping myself updated on his, he would've been so, SO happy, so proud to know that he had a granddaughter who shared his passions for learning and knowledge and education. A granddaughter in the U.S. who cared so deeply about him. 

But at the same time, when I did see him in summer 2011 during my visit to Swat, he did not mention the letter. I did not mention it, either. I didn't ask him about it, I didn't ask him to answer the questions I'd asked in the letter. A friend tells me that's probably because that would've been closure. Each generation expresses love differently. It probably made him feel uncomfortable to have to spend time physically with me to talk about the things I'd addressed in the letter. I hope that's true. I hope it didn't hurt him that I didn't write to him more often or talk to him more often.
My mother spoke to us of him all the time. She loved him to death. She loved him more than she ever loved anyone else, and she loved him in a way that I've never seen a child loving their father. He was her everything. With him gone, her everything is gone. When my mom went to Swat in 2009 during the Taliban hell (she went because her mother had just passed away and she needed to be with her father), the only thing that gave my siblings and my father comfort was that she was in the presence of her father and they were going to protect each other, so we weren't worried too much about her safety. Even though the Taliban had taken over Swat and were mercilessly killing anyone they felt like it. The people of Swat were forced to leave their homes, and we knew that that would be terrifying, but at least our mom would be with her father. That's really all that mattered. That's how much she loved him and needed him.

I'd often ask my mother about him; I'd ask her to tell my stories from her past that involved him. I'm glad and relieved that I did that, but I didn't do it enough.

The worst part is that I didn't even realize he meant this much to me while he was alive! How selfish is that?! He meant more than the world to so many people in this world, including to me, and I realize that now that he's gone??!?! How am I supposed to deal with this guilt now? Yes, everyone dies, and, yes, he was in his 80s and lived a beautiful, healthy, and long life, and, yes, he is now in a better place, but ... none of this means anything to me. All I'm seeing right now in front of me is his face ... his long white beard ...

I've never cried over anyone this much. I've never felt this way over anyone before. I never thought I had someone in my life who meant this much to me, who would make me cry so hard and so much that I would run out of tears. And I wish he knew ... I wish he knew that when God calls to him, he'll have me... he knew he had so many people who loved him, but he didn't know I was one of them. He had no idea that I would cry for him, that I would pray for him, that I would spend days thinking about him and hating myself for not having treated him better. He didn't know how much I cared because I didn't know how much I cared!!! Ohhhh that's the worst punishment that can ever be afflicted on any human!! WHY didn't I know this before!!

I would've grieved severely even if I were closer to him, if I were more in touch with him and kept in touch with him more, but at least I wouldn't be facing any guilt - it'd just be terrible sadness. Right now, it's sadness combined with guilt, and that feels lethal. May no one ever experience this. All kinds of guilt is scary and deadly, but when it involves those whom we can never see again ... it's worse.

Our elders are departing.

One of the worst feelings that's hitting me in all this is the loss of our elderly. People are saying that my grandpa was the last one in the village around his age. With him gone, the village is now considered blessings-less. There's no elders left in the community to give blessings, to protect and guide the community. This is a terrible loss. People have rushed to our house to express condolences and do laasniwa (prayer for the departed), some of them rarely visiting my family--but, as they said, "The death of an elderly is terrible. Our elders are dying away, and we have to grieve their loss together." It's scary and it feels lonely to realize that that generation is now dying, and it feels powerless to know that there's nothing we can do to stop it. The least we can do, perhaps, is to let them know they have value, that they matter, that they are important to us... that we love them and we wish them peace in their last years and that we wish them paradise... and that we need them.

And my generation? We're a lonely generation obsessed with our laptops and computers and phones and other new technology that is both a blessing and a curse but mostly a curse because they keep us away from our elders, from spending time with our elders. 

What happens to the dead?

People keep telling me that the dead live on, that they only die so they can be closer to us and take better care for us from above because they can see everything we do and say. Do you think this is true? I hope it's true. I wonder if we can really communicate with them. Maybe they do pass away only so they can protect us better. Some people see their departed loved ones in dreams after their passing, and they give each other messages in those dreams. I wonder if those dreams are actually real. Another form of reality.  I want to see my grandfather in a dream and tell him things ... I wanna tell him what all he meant to me, what a loss he is to me now that he's gone, how much I loved him ... I wanna tell him that I didn't know what I had until now that he's gone....I want to know if I upset him or if he passed away being disappointed in me ...

The Lessons I'm learning Too Late

I'm learning so many important lessons right now. But please don't tell me that "everything happens for a reason," or "See? There IS some good coming out of this." That doesn't help anyone and it doesn't help me. I don't care what good comes out of this. My grandpa is gone, I didn't take advantage of the many opportunities I had to tell him how much he meant to me and now it's too late; I can never tell him I love him, I value him, he matters ...

At the very least, I now know how to avoid regretting not spending enough time with those I love. I know what I should do to keep them happy and show them that I love them and care about them. This is mainly my parents. God grant them long, healthy, and happy lives, aameen.

May he rest in peace and power. May God bless him (and my grandma, who passed away a few years back) with eternal peace and jannatul firdaus. May God grant me and my family the patience to cope with this without losing ourselves entirely. May no one ever, ever experience such a loss. No one deserves this much tragedy and sadness. Aameen.

I don't usually like asking people for prayers because I realize it might inconvenience people sometimes, but I would like to now. Please keep my family in your prayers and please pray especially for my mother. She's having the hardest time dealing with it.

Humans are so weak. We're nothing. We're completely powerless. And we can't claim to be powerful until the day we can prevent the death of people we love.

May our departed loved ones rest in peace, and may we feel their presence around us especially in times of need and sadness, aameen. I hope it's true, what friends are saying, that the dead don't really go away; they stay around even closer to us, they can hear us and communicate with us; they can come to us in dreams to give us messages and for us to give them messages; they leave us physically only to be closer to us, to guide and protect us. I hope to God this is true. Please, God, let this be true ...


  1. He is lucky to have someone like you. We all will go, one day or another. In the words of my beloved uncle who is not among us any more, "A man is he who has someone remember him in good/kind words long after he is gone."

  2. Inna lilaahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un. May Allah grant your Grandfather and Grandmother peace together in Jannat Firadous and may they reach Jannah without account. Ameen.
    It is so sad and frightening that we are losing our elders and your parent's neighbours are right; we need to grieve them together and I am grieving with you today. My prayers with you and especially your mother; I feel her grief so much Orbala; I lost my beloved Daddy just over 18 months ago and I won't lie; it is really tough to deal with.
    May Allah grant us long, flourishing lives and may He reunite our families again in the Everlasting Gardens ameen.
    Big, long weeping hugs to your mother and to you x


Dare to opine :)

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...