The melodious Quran recitations were the first thing I heard before I entered the room. Tears rapidly flowing down my brother's cheeks were the first thing I saw. He was facing away from my dad because he didn’t want him to see how upset he was. We both tried our hardest to keep a calm composure so as to not add further distress to dad's situation. I later realised that this is what he had done with all of us when we were children.
If you asked me if I ever saw my dad cry; I would struggle to remember more than one time and even that memory is a little hazy. Looking back, I see that he didn’t want to upset us. But was it also the impact of societal and cultural expectations that boys and men should not cry; that crying equates to weakness? Either way, I hardly ever saw him cry.
In November 2018, just two months after I had embarked on my dream to become a therapist, my worst nightmare became a reality. That was the first time I had experienced the death of a loved one. I was in shock and tried to make sense of what had happened, whilst also attempting to attend to my daughter Amelia’s feelings of confusion and sadness. I didn’t want to hide my reaction from her because it was real and raw and although words were not coming to me at that moment, my tears spoke volumes. I wanted her to know that it was ok to not be ok, you don’t always need to put on a brave face, and that hiding emotions can lead to more sorrow in the long run.
I never spoke about death to her before this. It’s one of those things that I guess we don’t think about until it happens. Well, I certainly didn’t. My faith played a huge part in my grief journey, it was the glimmer of hope that I needed to get me through the day-to-day and it is what continues to get me through.
Amelia was attending Islamic classes at the local mosque and was starting to learn more about our faith. This helped me in trying to explain things to her from an Islamic perspective, but also being mindful about keeping it in simple terms so that she would understand.
I researched some children’s picture books to support me in trying to explain things further and it helped that the words would be accompanied by images. I felt that fiction books would be easy to follow as it was someone else’s story, in the hope that it would spark enough curiosity for her to ask questions and have a conversation about this important topic. I started to think about how I could describe it to her using analogies of things she had lost before, but somehow making her see that this kind of loss was different from all those other things.
Words and sentences started to sporadically come to my mind, and I made sure I noted everything down. After much thought (over several months), I decided to take the plunge and joined a writing academy as I was serious about telling a story which could resonate with many others, whilst also addressing the under-representation of south Asian Muslim characters in children’s literature; as well as creating a legacy for my dad.
The day before dad died was the first time I ever heard him admit that he was not ok. That’s when I knew he was experiencing an unbearable amount of pain. I gently held his hand and tried to reassure him that it was ok, just as he had done many times with me when I was younger. I would never have thought that I would be the one comforting my dad in his time of need.
I will always feel honoured to have been there with him in his last conscious moments. Allah chose me to be there by my dad’s side. That is a memory that will forever be etched in my mind. That was the last time I held his hand, the last time I heard him speak. My last goodbye.
Death is a part of life so it’s ok to bring it into everyday conversation. We may fear that our children won’t know how to handle such a heavy topic, but avoidance could create more anxiety in them. We could unwillingly be instilling that fear in them. And anxious children can become anxious adults and the cycle repeats itself.
Through this book, I want to let people know that it’s ok to grieve because death is inevitable. It’s ok to show emotions and tell our children that they can cry. It’s important to be able to support children through their feelings because all feelings are valid. It's necessary to create that safe space for children to feel like they can express themselves and not be ridiculed for it.