We Buried My Papa

29.jpg  My father died Sunday, March 9, 2008.  All five of we remaining family members had a say in funeral arrangements,  but because my father had been a prominent man in business, we had to consider the many visitors that would come from all over the area, even from different states.

We chose an elegant funeral home and an expensive casket, amidst comments of, “He deserves the best,” even as we knew that our choices made no difference in the world. We had lost him forever.

I did not want to enbalm. I think the procedure is brutal, bordering on mutilation. My family is Christian, though, so the decision to enbalm prevailed. I dreaded seeing his corpse all dressed up, face painted to look as though he were sleeping.  We were standing,  surrounding his bed when he took his last breath, and he did not look as though he were sleeping. 

In the casket, in fact, he did look as though he were sleeping,  with sculpted stillness. I touched his inert, icey hands, the same hands I used to hold when they were warm and soft, as he suffered the pain of metastatic bone cancer. I kissed his cheek, as I used to kiss him good-bye when one of us went out.  I touched his shell, the shell in which he lived, breathed, thought, laughed, worked, prayed, loved, grew old, wise, sick, and then died.   

When I first learned about the Islamic customs for burial, I thought they were sensible and respectful. Washing the body, wrapping, and burying in a simple, biodegradable container seemed so much more satisfying than enbalming or spending thousands of dollars on a magnificent casket.  

In Riyadh, I used to feel honored to take part in the janaza prayers following the fard prayers, in the mosque,  of deceased people I did not know. The Muslim customs remind us that we are all equal in death, and that we take nothing from this world to our appointment with Allah. Performing the short janaza prayers after the fard puts death into the context of life.

However, as the ceremonial activities for my father continued over two days, with several hundred visitors, three eulogies, a funeral procession that needed a police escort at every intersection, and a military bugler playing Taps over the flag draped coffin, I started to feel the spirit of the phrase “celebration of life” that now describes funeral rituals in America. 

Through my tears, I smiled, giving thanks to Allah for this wonderful man who was my father, mentor of men and women, teacher and leader, well-respected by all who knew him.  I thanked Allah for all the years we had my father. I thanked Allah for everything.  

I still believe in the Muslim burial customs, and plan to have them for myself.  For my father, however, we did the right thing.

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16 responses

  1. How wonderful that you were able to enjoy a fulfilling and loving adult relationship with your dad. My own father passed away when I was only twelve, and I always feel like I missed out on so much. That he was such an important influence in your life is a lasting tribute to his memory.

  2. Thank you, Susie, for these kind words. I am sorry that you lost your father as such a young age. I remember a conversation I had with a woman who also lost her father young.

    We concluded that however one loses a parent, at whatever age, under whatever circumstances, the shock and sadness is profound. Each death brings its own unique and hurtful aspects to the survivors.

    I live in my parents’ home, and I was a primary caretaker during the last two years of his several critical illnesses. The experience beat me up emotionally, psychologically and physically, yet I am sure that everything occurred exactly as Allah intended. With every tear, I remind myself to give thanks, give thanks, give thanks…

  3. As Salaamu Alaikum:

    oh, I am so sorry, sister!

    From Allah (swt) we come, and to Him we return. Say dua for your father. Allah (swt) is merciful.

    May Allah (swt) grant you and your family His comfort/Ameen.

  4. Thank you, Safiyyah. You are correct– from Allah we come and to Him we return. I love that phrase in Arabic; it is melodic and easy to remember.

    During his last few months, my father used to say a variation of that truth: “Nothing is forever.”

  5. Thanks for sharing this Marahm. I’m so glad to read that despite the fact that the funeral was obviously not an Islamic one that you were able to feel peace in it and you were able to see how loved and respected your father was.

  6. Yes, Umm Ibrahim, I did feel a sort of peace and closure from the funeral, and I was not uncomfortable with the religious aspect because my father was not religious, though he believed in God. We didn’t have a mass or a service, like many Christian families have at a funeral. I wrote one of the euologies, and I must say I did not compromise my own position, while staying true to my father’s character and beliefs. We had people from several religions, including my Muslim children, and no one felt unneasy.

    I believe we transcended the religious aspect in the effort to bring all of us together in the recognition that from Allah we came and to Allah we will return.

  7. Thank you, AmericanMuslimaWriter, I appreciate your comment. Perhaps memories are Allah’s way of reminding us that our loved ones who’ve passed are still alive.

  8. Marahm,

    A beautiful touching post written from the heart. My sympathies on your loss. It is never easy to discuss or openly express the feelings associated with the death of a loved one. But your words certainly created a bond among all of us who have been in similar circumstances.

    American Bedu

  9. Thank you so much, American Bedu. Anyone who lives long enough will experience the loss of a dear parent. It is one of those landmarks of life, something normal, natural and common, yet incredibly painful.

  10. I lost my parents in a plane crash a few years ago. In the end we couldn’t bury them I’m very sorry for you. I hope you had lots of good talks, and I think which ever way you conduct a funeral it helps to define and bring closure

  11. Oh, Aafke, I am so sorry to hear that you have suffered such a monumental and tragic loss. You surely have been dragged through Hell and back.

    My father and I did have many hours together during which we said what needed to be said. I am very thankful.

  12. Hello M,
    What beautiful words at such a hardbreaking time. You show such great respect for your father. Clearly you have been “doing the right thing” with him, throughout your lives. I am glad I came to your blog tonight and read your poignant essay.
    -Kathy

  13. Welcome, Kathy, and thank you for reading. My father and I did have a great relationship, but not until about ten years ago. We both grew up a lot during those ten years.

  14. Dear Marahm,

    I’m so sorry you lost your father. Its been a month today?

    I lost mine last year in Feb and his death just shattered me. It was a very difficult time for me. Here is a small extract from a rather large essay I wrote after his death. I dedicate this passage to you:

    I want to remember difficult times with my father so that the pain of losing him eases, but I can’t recall the sting of slaps or the chill in his voice. I can only remember a father who loved to brush our cheeks with his very stiff moustache; a father who chuckled while using embarrassing pet names in public to call us that made us frown at him. I remember a father’s cold hand on my feverish forehead as he recited “ya naro kuni bardan wa salaamun ala Ibraheem” and how he stayed up most of the night to check on me. I remember a father who secretly prayed before our exams and a father who called his best friend when I got married to say that he was “a poor man without his most precious possession.”

  15. Thank you, Achelois, for this lovely excerpt from your essay. It has brought tears to my eyes. I am sorry that you, too, have had to endure this awful experience. Why is something so natural, so universal and so common so excruciatingly painful?

    Yes, today marks a month to the day that my father passed. I miss him very much. I’ve written many short essays about him during this last year, and I will post some of them from time to time.

    My twenty-eight year old son-in-law lost his father in a car crash several years ago. I asked him, “How can you bear the pain?”

    He said, “Most everything in life starts out small, and grows, reaching its fulfilment in a much larger form over time. Grief is different. Grief starts out huge, monumental, overwhelming, but gradually diminshes over time to something small.”

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