The Grief of Death
By Mariam Mahmud
19 January 2016
Over the last decade of my life, as I got to know my Mamu (uncle) and him me, I heard many stories from him, in repetition, about different prophets and saints because he loved them and so he loved talking about them. These were stories he had read himself or heard in the company of his spiritual master in Golra. This one was one of his favourites and, like most of them, I never knew why.
When the angel of Death, Izrael, came to Prophet Moses, he introduced himself respectfully and then stated his purpose. Hazrat Musa slapped Izrael so hard his eye popped out. Izrael returned to God Almighty and described what had happened. “Who is this person you have sent me to who treats me so?” he asked God. The answer he got was this: “If Moses does not wish to die, tell him I have sent you back with this message; if he passes his hand over the back of the cow (whose hair is considered to be the most dense), he can live as many more years as the hairs that his hand touches.”
Izrael returned to Hazrat Musa and relayed the message from God to his prophet. Hazrat Musa asked him, “And what will happen then after these years are added to my life?” “The same that happens today,” said Izrael, “I will return for your soul”. Hazrat Musa paused for a second, then said, “What you will take then, take now for this is what He wills.”
I never got the moral of the story, if there was any. Mamu never explained one. The part about the story that I found amusing and that always made me smile was Hazrat Musa’s reaction to the arrival of Death. He was a big man. He had once, in his youth, as the Prince of Egypt, pushed someone warding him off, inadvertently causing his death. He is the prophet named in the Quran more often than anyone else. He is the only prophet who insisted on a sighting of his Almighty even though God had said time and time again that He did not wish to be seen. Despite that He yielded to Hazrat Musa’s persistence as a parent does to a favoured child. In the days following my Mamu’s passing, I related to the story personally in a way that deeply affects me.
When I was 26, my mother and sister passed away in quick succession, the first from cancer, the second from a heart broken by the loss of a parent. Then, in my youth, I dispelled grief that came upon me unannounced and unexpected with indifference and anger. Like Hazrat Musa, I reacted with disregard. Youth allows that. Its strength is its vigour, which allows it to turn away its face with pride. I spent the next 20 years emotionally connecting to my Mamu at a snail’s pace. He and I had a deep bond of blood and feeling. Our hearts felt intensity in the same way because mine followed his blindly. I believed what he believed as he believed it no questions asked, despite our being a generation apart. That came to me easily because I welcome instruction; it makes me soar. My heartbeat listened to his, waiting for it so it could emulate it completely and my mind was lit by the fire he lent me from his own intellect. His surpassed mine exponentially but still, on a rare occasion, I would give him insight and the look of pride on his face would always make my soul smile. In the absence of my other family, Mamu became all of it.
This last week, when he passed away, I heard the shuffling footsteps of grief once again approaching my door. I waited for its gentle knock and this time I felt no fear, no desire for avoidance. I let grief into my life almost embracing it as one greets a familiar face, without trepidation. I let it condole with me for my loss and I made room for it in my heart, moving things around so that it could settle where it will stay for a long, long time to come.
My reaction to death had changed so much with age I could not help but ponder over it. That is what took me back to Mamu’s story about Hazrat Musa. He was a prophet. His reaction to death, his own, first repelling it with anger, then accepting it with submission lasted over moments. Mine was over decades but then I am ordinary; he was not. Still, I shared something with him, a most intimate friend of God, and that made my soul smile again, like it once did with my uncle. It helped me understand that I will react to death like I am meant to, slowly grieving it, slowly moving along forgetting it. The grief of death, like all pain, has to be borne with submission, just like the joys of life are enjoyed without question, the beauty of it is that grief is a scar of love and a scar of love contains within it a promise of reunion in worlds, unseen and unknown, the best of things to look forward to.
Mariam Mahmud is a freelance columnist