My father in law left us on Saturday morning. A day in which we were supposed to be flying to London for a holiday. We were to leave for the airport that afternoon. Supposed to be on that 12+ hour flight, then spending 10 days on the other side of the world.
Supposed to…in our human plans. But Allah’s plan always prevails.
Instead, at the time we were supposed to leave for the airport, we were finishing the ghusl (ritual final bathing of the body). I didn’t do as much as I could have, or wanted to, but I was there in the room. It was the first time I’d participated in this act, which previously scared me. I always feared when I will have to wash my own father’s body. But as I watched my brother-in-law assist those handling it, that fear dissipated. It actually helped in bringing a sense of closure: one of the last acts that can be done, physically, for someone before they’re no longer accessible to us.
Before that, though, when they brought his body from the hospital, all the grandkids (including my own kids) came in to see him. Laying there with a smile on his face, his two front teeth still sticking slightly out. My youngest didn’t want to see. She was scared of the body, and likely still trying to register what had happened.
It didn’t feel real for me, either. Not for a long time.
After the ghusl, his body was moved to the lounge, where friends and family were all gathered. It was his daughter’s new house – not his (which would have been too small for this gathering). She’d moved there only about 10 weeks before, to a house which turned out to be the perfect size for all that needed to happen. He’d prayed for their wellbeing in that house upon moving in. It was a special night that, at the time, felt momentous to me. Another “future memories” moment.
We had all spent Eid there just weeks ago. Prior to that, we’d spent some time there in Ramadaan. He’d sat on the couch watching the Taraweeh prayers from Makkah, like he often did. Reading the translation. Nodding his head in agreement. He always followed the translation and watched it in Ramadaan. None of us ever suspected it would be our last Ramadaan with him.
Anyway. Back in the lounge, everyone gathered. In such circumstances, everyone prays, and recites Quran for the deceased – intending the reward of that recitation to go to the person. They also mourn, of course. The room was filled with grief. The sadness was immense…overwhelming. Especially when he was placed in the middle of the room, his face slightly uncovered for everyone to pay their final respects.
This was the last time he’d be with his whole family.
I sat fairly close to his head as everyone recited prayers, and the afternoon sun streamed in, catching me in the eyes. I briefly watched the silhouettes of others in the room, including his 90+ year old mother, and right next to her, his wife. I felt the energy of the tremendous loss. The heartache. The sadness. Everyone’s pain. It was too much. Too much.
I looked around a few times – but only briefly, to capture the moment in my mind. To capture this future memory. The day he left us.
I recall a saying:
“When you were born, you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.”
That’s exactly what happened. He lived his life as a happy man, always spreading laughter and positivity. And he died with that smile on his face. I didn’t go to the hospital to see him right after he’d passed, but my wife said his face was filled with light, and he had a huge smile on his face. The smile was still visible as we all sat in that room with him, though it had relaxed a bit by then.
As sad as it all was, it was beautiful. I wish the same for me when it’s my time.
The kids all kissed him before it was time to go. My youngest didn’t want to, but my wife forced her to. She didn’t understand yet, but in time she will probably appreciate having taken this last chance to kiss him goodbye.
The day was sort of a blur. A different reality.
We placed his body into the coffin, into a van, and on to the mosque, for the final prayer that is recited upon the deceased before burial. Before this, it was announced that if he owed anyone anything, they were to inform us afterwards. It’s important for all debts to be settled, because in the Hereafter, debt takes on a far greater meaning. It’s best for the family to settle all material debts before we all assemble on that Last Day.
Next, we moved to the graveyard, where a hole had been prepared for him. A space right next to his best friend, who had passed just 20 days prior.
He was wrapped in white sheets, which were tied together. And as we placed him in that final earthly resting place, his body was light. His cancer from years before, and his adjusted lifestyle after, had significantly reduced his weight.
And once he was in place, we loosened the strings holding those sheets closed, and turned him to the side – to face Makkah. I touched him one last time – over those white sheets – then climbed out. I didn’t want to throw sand in. I was taking up space there. Space that others should have, because they needed a chance to contribute to this final departure.
The grave was filled, prayers and recitations done, and the imam gave a short advice to us all. He ended by saying that before we leave, to pray for him, because once we leave, the questioning of the grave will begin. (Details added at the end of this post.)
Afterwards, one of his close friends spoke to me and his other son-in-law, saying how highly he spoke of us, and how we needed to take care of his daughters and grandkids – as he knew we would. I don’t remember all that he said, but I remember how genuine that friend’s feelings were. I could feel this outpouring of sincerity and emotion from his heart as he spoke. What comes from the heart goes to the heart.
When we returned to the house, a meal was being served – as is tradition – and people hung around for a while after. As always, the kids were all playing outside. It’s always like that at family functions – even at funerals. Of course they’re sad, but their laughter and joy – even in such devastating circumstances – reminds us that life must continue. And there’s another generation to follow.
It’s something I’ve realised lately: how my generation are now where our parents were when we were growing up. We are now that middle-aged generation. We are the parents. And our parents are now the elders. There are fewer weddings and births in our generation. And funerals come more often. It’s just the cycle of humanity. We will all be replaced.
It’s why we have to do the best we can in our time here. Particularly when we are in our prime and still able to do so much good.
Anyway…that night, and the next few after that, still included prayers and recitations for him, in gatherings of different family members who came to the house. But there was also a wonderful atmosphere – joking and laughing all around – as people recounted stories about him and fondly remembered him. It was so fitting. Some may say that a funeral home should be sombre and quiet, and while that has its place, it’s also so important to honour the person’s memory in a way that they would have liked. And this is exactly what he would have wanted: his family being together, sharing happy moments, remembering his impact on their lives.
It was perfect. Just perfect. There’s still a long road ahead – don’t get me wrong. But life is moving forward for many. And we move forward remembering this amazing person we were blessed with, and who we hope to be reunited with in a far better place in the Hereafter.
The Ultimate Success
We lost a good man.
One who was
loved by everyone,
and treated everyone as family.
A heart of gold. A teddy bear…
So much compassion.
So much care,
even for those he didn’t know.
A soft heart.
A huge heart.
A heart filled with love.
And everyone around him felt that.
He was a gift to this world.
And we were privileged
to have played a part in his life.
He taught us to
Put family first.
He taught us
how to treat others –
whether we know them or not.
Prophetic character –
living up to his name.
using terms of endearment.
Always jovial –
happy, joking, smiling.
He left with that smile on his face.
The way you live
is the way you die.
to live each day
in a way
you’d be happy to leave.
And though he left with debt,
what he gave
in the immaterial
was worth far, far more
than that which he took.
So we pray
that those who still hold rights over him
for if you relieve another of such burden,
perhaps Allah will relieve you
when you need it most.
Though we do not know
which journey his soul took
we hope that his
was the journey of those
who Allah is satisfied with.
And for those who remain behind,
may we carry forward his legacy.
For when loved ones pass,
they’re never really gone.
They live on through us.
So let us strive
to embody what we admired in him,
in our own ways,
and whatever good comes of that,
share that reward with him.
Once we’ve processed the loss
and sat with the grief
for as long as we need to,
we’ll try to move on,
even if we can never truly do so.
But Life goes on, and so must we,
remembering that death is Reality:
This is not home.
Our souls don’t belong here.
But Allah gave each of us life,
and while we’re here,
to live the best we can
according to His will.
Gather those good deeds –
the provision we take with us
to the next leg of the journey.
And always remember
that the best provision is that of taqwa.
Our purpose is to worship Allah –
living the way He asked us to.
And though we can’t do so perfectly,
With all our flaws
and emotional and psychological damage
We hold all this inside,
but we still try
our best to please Him.
Because that’s what we were asked to do.
And no matter how imperfect we are,
no matter how many times we fail
and feel hopeless,
Allah is always there,
and sincerity to Him
counts most of all.
And none knows our sincerity
It’s your heart.
Take good care of it.
Strive to make it as beautiful
as the heart
of the man we just lost.
So that when your day comes
to be called “the janazah”;
and it’s your turn
to be wheeled into a room,
cleaned and washed,
prepared in pure white sheets,
with beautiful scent…
your turn to lie in the middle of a room
while loved ones recite and make dua;
your turn to enter that box
and be taken to the masjid
for your final salaah;
your turn to return
to the soil from which you were created;
may your soul be calm:
No fear of what’s to come,
over what you leave behind.
And when your earthly companions make dua for you –
everyone gathered around –
may angels surround them
in even greater number
than Laylatul Qadr.
And when the last of their footsteps
can no longer be heard,
may your good deeds sit with you
as a beautiful companion;
calming you and giving hope.
And may the squeezing of your grave be easy.
And when Munkar and Nakir arrive,
may you greet them without terror,
and may all you did in life
translate to the correct answers.
And may all your time down there –
whether years or decades or centuries –
with good neighbours,
and a window
to the Success that awaits. And on The Last Day,
may you be raised under Allah’s shade.
And may your reckoning be easy.
And may you cross that siraat in a flash,
and enter, with your loved ones,
into the Ultimate Success.
The journey of the soul soon after death: It is reported that al Bara bin Azib said "We went out with the prophet (peace be upon him) in order to participate in the funeral rites of a man from the Ansar. We arrived at the grave, but the inner chamber had not been prepared yet, so Allah’s messenger (peace be upon him) sat down facing the direction of the qiblah, and we sat around him so attentively that it was as if birds were sitting upon our heads. He had a stick in his hand with which he sketched upon the ground. Then he began looking alternatively to the heavens and to the earth, raising his gaze and then lowering it. Finally, he said two or three times, 'Seek refuge in Allah from the torment of the grave.' Then he said, 'O Allah, verily I seek refuge in You from the torment of the grave.' He repeated it three times, then he elaborated, 'Verily, when the believing servant is leaving this world and entering the next, angels from the heavens descend to him - their faces white with brightness like the sun and carrying with them burial sheets and scents from Paradise. They sit before him at a distance as far as they eye can see. Then the Angel of Death (upon whom be peace) comes to the person, sits at his head and says "O good soul [in another narration 'O confident soul'], come out to your Lord’s forgiveness and pleasure."' [The Prophet (peace be upon him) continued], "Thereupon, the soul flows out of the body like water flowing from the mouth of a waterskin, and all of the angels between the skies and the earth supplicate for Allah’s blessing upon him. The doors of the heavens are opened for him, and the keepers of these doors [i.e., the angels] all plead with Allah that this soul might pass in front of them as it is being carried upward. The Angel of Death barely receives the soul in his hands, whereupon the other angels take it from him and wrap it with fragrant winding sheets. This is what is meant by Allah’s saying "Our messengers [i.e., angels] seize his soul, and they do not fall short of their duty"' (Surah al An’am 6:61) Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, 'There exudes from the soul a scent like the most beautiful fragrance of musk that one could find on the face of the earth. The angels descend with the soul, never passing a host of angels without hearing them ask, "Who is this wonderful soul?" They reply, "So and so, the son of so and so," addressing him with the best names he was known by during his earthly life. Upon reaching the first heaven, the angels request that it be opened for the soul - which is granted. The soul is then accompanied by the angels of each heaven until it reaches the one above it and finally arrives at the seventh heaven. then Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, says [to the angels], "Place the record of My servant in 'illiyyun' (a ledger for the righteous deeds)."' The person’s record is then placed in 'illiyyun', whereupon a command is heard: "Return him to the earth, for verily I have promised mankind that having created them from the earth, I will return them to it. And I will make them come out of it, yet another time." Then the soul is returned to the earth, back into its body. Verily, the deceased hears the shuffling feet of his companions who attended his burial as they turn away and leave his grave. Thereupon, two angels, severe in interrogation, come to him, and sitting him up, they begin to ask him questions. They say, "Who is your Lord?" He replies, "Allah is my Lord." They continue, "What is your religion?" He answers, "Islam is my religion." They proceed with the questioning, saying, "Who is this man that has been sent to you?" He responds, "He is the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him)." Finally, they ask him about his deeds, to which he replies, "I read Allah’s book and believed in it."' (In another narration the Prophet (peace be upon him) indicated that the angels ask, "Who is your Lord, what is your religion and who is your prophet?" [Allah’s Messenger explained that] this was the believer’s last test, and is what is meant when Allah says, "Allah strengthens those who believe with a firm testimony in this worldly life and the Hereafter." (Surah Ibraheem 14:27) The deceased answers, "Allah is my Lord, Islam is religion, and my prophet is Muhammed.") [The prophet (peace be upon him) then indicated, 'Upon the believers answer to these questions], a voice is heard in the heavens, saying "My servant has told the truth, so clothe him in the clothing of Paradise, spread for him the furnishings of Paradise, and open for him a window with a view of Paradise." Thereupon, he is engulfed by a breeze of fresh air and fragrance, while the expanse of his grave is extended before him as far as the eye can see. There appears before him a man with wonderful face and beautiful clothing, emitting a splendid fragrance. He says to the soul, "Rejoice at the news which will gladden you! Rejoice at Allah’s pleasure and His Paradise, whose joys and delights never end. This is the day which you was promised." The deceased says to him, "And who are you, for your face bears glad tidings?!" The figure answers, "I represent your good deeds; by Allah, I've always known you to be quick in obedience to Allah and slow to His disobedience. so may Allah reward you with good." Then a door to Paradise is opened, whereupon it is said to him [regarding the Hellfire] "This would have been your final abode had you disobeyed Allah; however, it has been exchanged for this other abode [i.e., Paradise]." When the soul sees what is in Paradise, he cries "My Lord, hasten the arrival of the Hour [i.e., the Resurrection] so that I may be joined with my family and wealth" Thereupon it is said to him, "Rest in tranquillity."' Excerpt from the book "Mysteries of the soul expounded" by Abu Bilal Mustafa-al Kanadi, pages 34-42. (Note: There’s an opposite version of events for the bad soul, but I’ve not posted it here.)