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Wednesday, 25 April 2007

“Make Spacious His Grave…

…and illuminate it for him.”

extract from a supplication to Allah for the deceased (technically only recited when closing his/her eyes).

Uncle dead. All gone now. Mother’s last remaining brother. Only one in England — others used to live in Pakistan. Family feud. Not seen him or his family in more than 6+ years. Sudden call around midnight today. Sudden? Well, 5 missed calls on my mobile and 4 on the house phone. Uncle remained in hospital since Wednesday the 18th, ill with heart trouble. 70+ years of age. In & out. Seemed recovered on Saturday. Then… gone.

My mother didn’t even know he’d gone to hospital. They hadn’t told her. Mind you, he’d never even told her when his daughter got married. She had to hear it from other people in our local community. When my mother saw his face (he lay on his bed in the hospital after having passed on), she burst into tears again (had cried as I took her and my Dad there by car) and screamed at him (I translate this from Urdu):

“THIS is it? You couldn’t even bring yourself to speak to me for the rest of your life, and now you call me? For … this??”

Today his son Naveed made the funeral arrangements, helped by a friend of his in the know. Islamically we bury the deceased within 3 days, usually within a day. No point hanging around, I suppose. When Naveed’s mate came into the room at the hospital last night and told my aunt that he’d sort the preparations and get my uncled buried the next afternoon she started, suddenly coming out of her bubble. “That soon?” she asked. Poor thing. I don’t like her, but she suffered from cancer these past few years and my uncle took complete care of her — he devoted himself entirely to her to the point he didn’t even leave the house for weeks at a time.

Her daughter, my cousin Sarah, sat there with her trying to convince her that he would never return. “He’s gone, mum!” she kept saying. “He’s not coming back!” My aunt hadn’t cried ‘properly’, apparently, and Sarah wanted her to let it all out so the grieving and healing processes could begin.

Naveed had to remain strong and take care of matters such as the funeral arrangements, as well as comforting the overwhelmingly large proportion of female members of his family. But a couple of times he cried out in grief and then quickly wiped his eyes.

The worst such incident came when we had to bathe my uncle’s body this morning at the mosque, in preparation for his Islamic burial. My cousin, his 2 brothers–in–law, and I lifted the enshrouded body onto the table where we would wash him. When we uncovered him (except for the obligatory covering of men from navel to knee) my cousin Naveed took one look at his Dad’s face and burst into tears. He quickly suppressed his outburst though, and we took to washing him all over. I helped out as best as I could (I even had to clean his genitals), and we included the ritual ablutions, as though preparing him for prayer.

His body felt so heavy, and cold (undoubtedly from his night in the mortuary). His head had gone purple from the ears down — all that blood pooling due to gravity and no heartbeat to circulate it all. Little holes in the table through which the water drained left purple marks all over his back. Marks which did not go away. The solidity of his body when I touched, cleaning him, his arms stiff and crossed over his chest (in Islam we bury people with their arms straight by their side), and remaining that way as we tried in vain to straighten them, all created a weird sort of bond between us. I can’t even get my head around it, let alone attempt to describe it.

After we cleaned him, put him in his coffin for the open casket viewing, we left to ritually purify ourselves before prayer. In situations like these we always have what we called a ‘Janaaza’, a funeral prayer. We do this with the casket in front of us, but we remain standing during the prayer; we do not bow as we do ordinarily when praying to Allah.

They buried him in a cemetary in Almondbury. I even helped to shovel in soil onto him. He has gone for good now. Until the Day of Judgement, so they say…

What now?

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