An Unexpected Death

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

It was an unexpected day. The weather was unexpected. The call from an old school friend was unexpected. And the death was unexpected.

I’m trying to imagine Nanaa*, what did he look like? The Angel of Death. Was he terrible and dark, when he took the soul from your body? Was it torn away from you like wool from thorns, snagging and clinging to life?  Or was it gentle like the bite of an ant? A small sting and no more.

Say: “The angel of death, who is set over you, will take your souls. Then you shall be brought to your Lord.”
( Al Quran 32:11)

I remember those phone calls (unexpected), rushed. ‘Where’s your Mama?’ ‘In London’ I said. Uncle put the phone down. Another call from an Uncle in Spain, not as rushed asking where my Mama was ‘She’s in London’ sister said.

I asked my self what was going on as I stared into the laptop screen. ‘Something’s going on’ I said to my siblings as they sat watching the film. And through my overly imaginative mind flashed all the things I could conjure. One of them was right.

Mama phoned.

Nanaa was cold she said, wanted to lie down they said. Uncle found him collapsed she said. Tried to revive him she said. No pulse. No breath. Tell the others she said.  The paramedics are trying she said. Make Dua** she said.

I took it for hope.

So I did. I told them word for word, I told the little ones. We stopped the film. I got out my little book, and read the Dua for worry and grief. I read in Arabic and through it some words reached me… light, soul, Allah, chest.

Mama phoned again. ‘Nanaa’s passed away, they tried to resuscitate him. We will try and do the funeral tomorrow.’

Paramedics, police then the coroner. And like that, after trying and trying to bring him back, after machines that give breath. After the fools hope that I had- that maybe there would be a chance. There was none. There was no lingering for him, no life and death game played over his lap.

It was better that way. Better than lying in a hospital bed, unconscious, unaware, drips and IV feeds tangled over his body. Brain dead.

It’s a mystery- life.  Humans think they can give life to things: babies, animals, plants, but we cannot even put the life back into things that are already dead.

I remember standing at the open coffin, him wrapped in three clean bright cloths, in a shroud of white.  His face uncovered for us visiting grandchildren.

I couldn’t understand how he could be dead when he looked like he was sleeping. Just like the duvet was pulled up to his nose, like how it always was when he napped. I spoke to him then, through the tears. He could hear me I know, the wailing  of crying is disturbing for the parted, it causes them pain, so my tears ran silently.

Then the funeral prayer. At the mosque, row upon row of people, his coffin wheeled through the crowd and arranged at the front. And so we prayed, everybody, the people the that knew him, the people we knew and the people we didn’t. We all prayed.

We went to the graveyard, row upon row of graves, mounds on the ground. The old the young, the children and the babies. Our last destination of this world. His body wasn’t buried in the coffin, he was taken out, and laid in in the ground wrapped in his white shroud. We are all the same, equal in Allah’s eyes, and so we shall all be buried the same.

Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. (Al Quran 3:185)

People surrounded his grave, there was no huge speech, no flowers or formality like Christians, just small words, prayers, comfort for the living and comfort for the dead.  The thick clay soil shoveled into the earthen box, thudding upon the wooden planks over his body. At the end it was a mound like all the others.

It is Allah Who takes away the souls at the time of their death, and those that die not during their sleep. He keeps those (souls) for which He has ordained death and sends the rest for a term appointed. Verily, in this are signs for a people who think deeply.
(  Al Quran 39:42)

Back to the house afterwards. To receive the visitors, the condolences…

*Nanaa is an Urdu/Punjabi word for Grandfather
** Dua literally means invocation, it is an act of supplication. The term is derived from an Arabic word meaning to ‘call out’ or to ‘summon’, Muslims regard this as a profound act of worship.



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