My Grandma's Dusty Quran, Dealing with Death and Grief

by Farida Haji

It was my grandmother’s 100th birthday. “When will you die?” asked my innocent 4-year-old. She was amazed, seeing a human being turn a hundred. All the family members had gathered and this conversation took place over a video call. I was embarrassed but all of us laughed it off.

Losing A Loved One

A year later, in June 2020, my husband gently placed his hand on my shoulder and asked me to check the family WhatsApp group. I felt queasy.

My grandmother had passed away peacefully. My aunt was by her side, holding her hand, reciting the Quran. I knew she had not been eating well for the past two days and slept most of the time.

My last video call was not a conversation. It was seeing Grandma lying on her bed, calm, frail, radiant and quiet.

The text in the group read:

إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّآ إِلَيْهِ رَٰجِعُونَ

Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.

[Al-Baqarah 2:156]

Family chat groups are generally filled with greetings and forwards of all sorts. However, this time I could not leave it on ‘seen’.

I called my father with cold and sweaty fingertips, my knees shaking, the lump in my throat hard to swallow.

Dad mumbled through the phone, “I couldn’t be there for my father. Now I can’t be there for my mother.”

Sharing Your Grief

I listened to my father share his guilt towards his mother; his memories and thoughts of her. The grief and regret of not being able to perform the last rites of either parent irked him deeply. I sat numb. I had never heard or seen my father cry. In his 60s he was mourning his mother.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was not possible to travel. He wouldn’t be able to step into her grave and send her off, one last time. I too couldn’t fly, to be by my father’s side to console him.

Acceptance

I started searching for any way I could travel. But I knew it would be in vain. I sat at the dining table, hopelessly scrolling through multiple travel websites. My husband attended calls, accepting and giving condolences to the rest of the family.

“Mama,” the little voice said. “Why are you crying?”

“Grandma has died,” I said.

“The one who is a hundred years old?” she asked.

I nodded with my head low.

That night our family had a zoom call. I had grown up with her. I switched off my video, the lump in my throat refused to let my voice pass. I did not talk. Everybody shared memories, anecdotes, stories and gathered online to talk about our mother and grandmother.

Healing

A year has passed since. I had asked my aunt to keep my grandmother’s Quran and tasbih for me. I traveled home, though it did not feel like home. Her bed was gone. Grandma’s shelf in her cupboard remained. I looked at the shelf ledge and saw a fine line of dust, settled calmly, untouched.

My grandma’s Quran was dusty, old and slightly tattered. I spotted a silverfish wiggle through the middle. I clenched the Quran close to my chest and sat down. I had no emotion. But tears rolled down my cheeks. I realized I had not mourned enough. I had only been to the graveyard and said silent prayers.

I traveled home and my daughter sat in my lap, excited to see what I would have to share. Except this time, the bag did not come full of pleasures she deemed worthy. I showed her my Grandma’s Quran and her Aqeeq tasbih.

 

She asked me gently why I brought an old Quran, aimlessly searching my bag. “Were there no photos or something nice?”

Reflection

I was confused as I held on to a mortal piece of commodity that Grandma held and used every day of her life.

I never thought loss would matter until I video-called my aunt to inform her of my safe arrival. My eyes longed to spot Grandma in the background. But her presence was nowhere to be found.

“Mama, will you die as well?” my daughter asked casually.

“Yes, we all will someday.” My face turned pale. I let my daughter know it was okay to feel heartbroken and mourn a loved one.

“I will only die when Allah invites me to Jannah,” I responded with a smile.

“Will I get an invitation too?” she asked with joy.

“Of course! Everybody gets one. However, Allah likes to surprise his loved ones, so nobody knows when the invitation might come.” I gestured, hugging her tight.

She smiled and walked away.

Forgiveness

That night I ran my fingers over the tattered Quran cover. I spotted a piece of folded paper, like a bookmark. It was a piece of my Math book that I hated and had torn in a rage. Grandma had gathered those pieces and told me, “Be calm, don’t show so much rage.” I smirked and forgave myself. I clenched her Quran and shed another tear. I knew I had to let go because her memories would be with me forever.

Gratitude

A few days later, my family went camping. We set our tent near a cold, flowing river.

I sat by the river bed and opened a package I had carefully wrapped the old Quran in. I gently placed it in the flowing water and saw its material existence become one with nature.

My daughter asked me what my actions meant. I told her, “It is important to part and let go material commodities with care and respect. And Al-Quran, no matter how old, should always be treated that way.”

Truthfulness

That night, by the fire near the campsite, I shared memories of my grandma and told her how she never missed a tahajjud and fajr namaaz and would tickle my toes until I woke up as well. I opened my heart and the loss felt a little less painful.

We exchanged our views on how beautiful and elating paradise would be. She took a stick and created something with twigs and leaves, and extended four lines that seemed to connect the river.

“Mama, see, this is my paradise, and now this river will also go there.”

My husband and I smiled at each other, grateful for moments like these and for loved ones who have left us with rich memories to live on with. Alhamdulillah.

Omar Khayyam, a persian poet writes,

افسوس که نامه جوانی طی شد

و آن تازه بهار زندگانی دی شد

آن مرغ طرب که نام او بود شباب

افسوس ندانم که کی آمد کی شد

Alas, the scrolls of youthfulness are folded,

The time of spring is over,

That fluttering bird named ‘juvenility’,

I do not know when did it come and when did it leave.

ای دل چو زمانه می کند غمناکت

ناگه برود ز تن روان پاکت

بر سبزه نشین و خوش بزی روزی چند

زان پیش که سبزه بردمد از خاکت

O heart, do not spend your days of life in sorrow,

For nobody knows when this life will part from the body,

Sit joyously over the fresh grass in the garden of life, and live,

Before the grass sprouts through the soil of your grave

Sabr

Death is the entrance to the divine realm that every creature has and will experience. Regardless, there is no timeline for healing. There is no exit door for grief. Our emotions should be given attention, for the consequential deeds become our companions. These companions will follow us through the gates where we shall wait for the Day of Judgment.

Narrated Anas bin Malik, who saw tears fall from the eyes of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and said,

تَدْمَعُ الْعَيْنُ وَيَحْزَنُ الْقَلْبُ وَلاَ نَقُولُ إِلاَّ مَا يَرْضَى رَبُّنَا إِنَّا بِكَ يَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ لَمَحْزُونُونَ

“The eye weeps and the heart grieves, but we say only what our Lord is pleased with, and we are grieved for you, Ibrahim.”

If the Prophetﷺ could, I can make peace with loss as well and so can you. Grieve, but do not isolate yourself. Share your feelings as you mourn your loved ones and do not hesitate to seek help if the sadness consumes you, so much that daily life becomes difficult. Always practise sabr and shukur.