When messages of condolence touch the heart
Dr Mohamed Elmasry
My younger brother Mamdouh passed away in Toronto on Saturday June 2 after a brief but difficult illness.
Although he was given three weeks to live after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he lasted more than twice that time, which gave me the opportunity to share more fully those final days with him.
I was at his bedside daily and although we both knew that the end was near we managed to talk, laugh, have lunch and supper together, and watch his beloved soccer games on TV.
Although I was focused on Mamdouh during my visits, I was also impressed with the facilities of the Toronto palliative care centre where he quietly left us.
It has a floor with facilities for visitors, a dining room with kitchen, two hotel-like rooms for napping or sleeping overnight, three recreation rooms with TV, and a playground for children.
Following Mamdouh’s passing, funeral services were conducted at a Toronto mosque where I led the prayers for the deceased.
Still, more than a week later, his loss has not quite sunk in. I’m sure it will become most real for me during the upcoming World Cup soccer games, June 14 through July 15, when I will probably go to pick up my phone and chat with him about the games. And at the last moment I will realise that there is no one to answer on the other end.
Although it is often discussed among grief therapists, I cannot tell which is easier on the deceased person’s loved ones – a sudden and unexpected death, or one which occurs over a relatively predictable length of time, say, in a few weeks, months, or even years.
In most cases, sudden death bypasses the prolonged discomfort and often debilitating suffering in which the dying person and their near and dear ones can share in the process of grieving and leaving.
Sometimes that process can be soul-healing and enriching, even though it is not without sadness and grief. Other times, the gradual or rapid decline of the terminally ill person can be overwhelming; people feel helpless, knowing how little they can do to relieve the physical suffering.
Those who have lost loved ones through abrupt tragedies, whether human-made or natural, however, often remember the last conversations between themselves and the deceased.
When those last words have been angry, irritated, or perhaps even trivial ones, survivors grieve the lack of closure. They often blame themselves for years after, because they said something that devalued those last moments, even though they could not possibly know what was about to happen.
Now I know why grief therapy is such a specialised and necessary vocation. It is not only about the reality that we all die, but about the many ways in which we suffer during and after the loss of loved ones.
There is the grief of peaceful extended passings; the grief of painful extended passings; the grief (and disbelief) of sudden unexpected passings. And these are just three scenarios of loss. I find I still have much to think and reflect about here.
When news of Mamdouh’s death reached his friends and mine, generous messages of condolence immediately began to flow in, some in person in my home city of Waterloo, some on social media, some by letter mail, phone calls, or email. All deeply shared their sadness at his loss and I am grateful for every one of them.
Here are some excerpts from one friend’s message:
Dr. Br. Mohamed
I am deeply saddened to receive the sad news of the passing away of your brother. Times of loss are difficult times. The loss is great and irreplaceable.
I am sure that your late brother was a devoted and loving sibling and a model community member. He has certainly left you a legacy and memories that will live on forever. As you and your faithful family find solace in Allah's tender love and embrace, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt condolences to you on this sad occasion.
" O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction! Come back thou to thy Lord, well-pleased (thyself), and well-pleasing unto Him! Enter thou, then, among My devotees! Yea, enter thou My Heaven!" (Al-Fajr 27:30)
Khalil Osman, PhD
I know that grief is not a clinical checklist where one “gets over it” by completing clearly defined stages of emotion, ranging from disbelief to acceptance.
Rather, it is more like a journey of the heart where feelings gradually transition over time and where wisdom and healing come together in spiritual peace … the place we all aspire to.
For me, this journey is just beginning.
Egyptian-born Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is emeritus professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
Dr. Elmasry is also a founding editor of the online alternative news-and-views magazine, The Canadian Charger www.thecanadiancharger.com