A shorter version of this article was published in the newspaper Express Tribune:
I recently lost my mother on the 12th of January 2011. I was at the airport, waiting to board my plane for London. The flight had gotten delayed due to the heavy fog in Lahore and just as the call for boarding came, my brother called me and broke the news. I left everything and grabbed the first taxi to the hospital. I had just talked to my mother 2 hours before, and she had been home, getting ready for her doctor regular checkup, and fine. Upon reaching the hospital, she had suddenly died due to heart failure. To say the event was shocking would be an understatement. Since I am the eldest and the only girl in the family, I had to come and prepare the house for the Janaza (funeral). Needless to say, it was a tough and painful day, but I learned from the whole ordeal that some people do not think before they act in this very sensitive scenario and the appropriate etiquette needs to be highlighted.
1) Do not ask the immediate family members what happened again and again. If every guest comes and asks the person, causing them to undergo the whole traumatic scene by narrating it, it is highly unhealthy for that person. Please be a little considerate and ask someone from the extended family about such details.
2) Do pray and come to offer your support. I appreciated all my friends and family members who were there to offer genuine support at a time when one feels all may be lost. If you are not in the city or can not make it, your messages or calls can make a huge difference. The time is such when the emotional value of support should never be underestimated.
3) Do not ask the grieving family about the will. My mother has just died, and her body was lying in front of me, when an aunty came, sat next to me and after offering her condolences, asked me if my mother had told me about her assets and how to distribute them. I was in too much shock to realize at that time, until a few days later my best friend who had been sitting next to me pointed out how weird that aunty had been and the way she had asked that question. Especially since she wasn’t even closely related. Asking about some ones will when the dead body is right in front of you is not only extremely rude, it is downright disrespectful. A person’s worth is more than their material assets and honestly, it is none of your business.
4) Every Pakistani family has those distant relatives, the huge fat aunties who you have never seen but are somehow related to the family, and they come and howl and scream and squeeze the life out of you. One may think they are actually genuine, except once the drama is done, they sit down and start an amusing gossip and catching up session amongst themselves. Obviously the poor family members can’t help but fall victim to their screams which can cause headaches lasting too long and worsen the trauma, and in my case almost cause me to faint. But the cousins and other members not from the immediate family should try their best to make sure that these aunties do not cause the mourning individual to literally die from suffocation or give them a panic attack.
5) The Islamic ritual of washing the deceased person’s body before burial also takes place on the day of the funeral. This is a huge and emotionally intensive task. I got sentimental and agreed to wash my mothers body and then in the middle I realized that it was the most testing and painful experience of my life. Somehow I managed to survive it, and I am glad I took part, but the emotional capacity to wash the deceased body of someone you love should never be underestimated.
6) It is an opportunity for you to be helpful and share the grief of the immediate family. One can do that by looking after the other running of the house and funeral, such as food preparation, distributing Quranic Surahs and rosaries for prayers and helping in any way you think would be needed. I really appreciate the help of my cousins and best friends in such a traumatic time, since we could not have done everything ourselves.
7) You may not have met the family in some time, but this is not the best time at all to ask personal details about what one is doing, what they have studied, their job details. If you are so interested, come another day but the funeral is not the place to catch up on the grieving family’s current activities.
8) The grieving family knows the importance of the individual they have lost. You do not need to come and highlight that fact. So many people came up to me and highlighted how my mother won’t be there to pray for me anymore, or she won’t be able to see the important events in my life anymore. I know that, and it pains me enough. Do not pour salt on the wounds.
9) Pray for the deceased’s soul. That is why funerals are so important. Say Fatiha and recite the Quran.
10) Once the funeral and burial are done, it is best to politely take leave and leave the immediate family with their loved ones, so they can recover from the shock. Do not hang around gossiping unless you are genuinely concerned.
My mother was a pious and courageous lady, who had been praying five times daily without break since her childhood. MashAllah she had a smile and Nur on her face when she died. And regardless of this article, I am sincerely indebted to all those who came to offer their respect in her memory and pray for her eternal abode in Jannat, Ameen.