I woke up to a text message from a friend.
“I’m really sorry for texting you early on a weekend, but I need to ask you. How can you forget someone who caused a tragedy in your life? I’ve done many things to forget him, but until today I can’t seem to do so. And it is really bothering me. If you can please try to send me some ways that I can try to follow, maybe it will work.”
I smiled, but my heart ached for her. I wished it was that simple. Layla’s marriage had recently ended, and she was struggling to adjust to the new loss in her life.
We will all experience losses in our lives. A loved one may pass away. A relationship may end. We may lose a job or be diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Thus is life. God tells us:
“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.” (Qur’an, 2:155)
Grief can be one of the most intense emotions we experience. Researchers have developed many theories about grief to help us make sense of the complex but normal process that is part of our human experience.
Mourning is how we heal through the grief. According to Worden (1991), this process involves a series of four tasks. In order to come to a sense of closure about our loss, in other words- in order to heal, we must:
- Accept the reality of the loss,
- Work through the pain of grief,
- Adjust to the new environment, and
- Emotionally relocate the “loss” and move on with life.
But perhaps the most famous theory is the 5 Stages of Grief by Kubler-Ross. She describes five stages people go through when coping with a loss or personal tragedy.
1. Denial: “I can’t believe this is happening!”
Initially, we may react with shock and denial. It is our first defense to help us make sense of the situation and deal with the first wave of pain. We slowly let in as much reality as we can handle.
2. Anger: “Why did our marriage have to end? It’s his fault!”
We begin to feel angry, and may direct our anger at ourselves, others, or life in general. Underneath our anger is intense pain.
3. Bargaining: “What if I had changed my ways? Maybe she wouldn’t have gotten sick.”
Our normal reaction to helplessness is a need to regain control. We may think in “what if” or “if only” statements. If only I had sought treatment earlier. If only we had gone to marriage counseling. We may feel guilt and try to negotiate our way out of the pain.
4. Depression: “What’s the point? I’m so sad; I don’t even want to do anything.”
We become disconnected from life around us. We may feel deep sadness, emptiness, and withdraw from others. We may wonder if life is worth living anymore.
5. Acceptance: “I’m content and hopeful about the future.”
In time, we learn to live with a different reality. We reach out to others and begin living again. We acknowledge our feelings, come to terms with our loss, and find acceptance.
Grief does not happen in a linear fashion, as in the order described above. It is important to think about the five steps as “fluid phases” since our experiences don’t fit neatly into boxed stages. We will often experience a roller coaster of emotions—moving continuously between phases that may last a few minutes, hours, days, or even months. We should be prepared for occasional relapses in the future, even after we think we’ve moved beyond the pain.
For example, after some time, we can again be struck by the reality that the loss has actually happened, or we may find ourselves angry again. Sometimes, a simple memory, a smell, an anniversary, can evoke intense emotions, and we feel sad all over again. Even the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) teared up when he came across the jewelry of his first wife Khadijah radi allahu `anha (may God be pleased with her), and this was many years after her death! This is normal, and part of the long arduous journey of grief work.
There is also no completion date for grief. There will be some good days and many bad days. If we’ve been wronged, it may be difficult to forgive. We must allow ourselves to grieve at our own individual pace. Whatever grief blueprint we may refer to, they are only maps to help us track our healing.
Remember, grief is a very personal process that will be different for each person. Knowledge about the grief process can help us navigate this journey, but each person’s journey will involve different routes, traveling speeds, and tools.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is to honor our emotions instead of resisting them. It’s important to surround ourselves with others who can comfort us and help us move forward. We can engage in various coping methods such as:
- Talking to family and friends
- Connecting with God through prayer, reading the Qur’an, dhikr (remembrance of God)
- Eating healthy food
- Engaging in social and community activities
- Seeking counseling
- Discovering new hobbies or returning to old ones
Finally, we must also remember that all things (good and bad) come from God. In His wisdom, He tells us:
“[…] perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.” (Qur’an, 2:216)
God always has greater plans for us, even if we may not understand His decree. Loss is just an essential part of the experience we call life, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy process. Learning to adjust to a changed life, while focusing on the future, will help us to move on God-willing.
Helpful Du`a’ (Supplications) for Grief and Distress
اللَّهُمَّ لا سَهْلَ إِلاَّ ما جَعَلْتَهُ سَهْلاً، وأنْتَ تَجْعَلُ الحَزْنَ إذَا شِئْتَ سَهْلاً
Allahumma la sahla illa ma ja-`altahu sahla wa anta taj`alu al hazana etha shi’ta sahla.
O Allah! Nothing is easy except what You have made easy. If You wish, You can make the difficult easy.
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَ الْحَزَنِ وَ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ العَجْزِ وَ الْكَسَلِ
وَ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْجُبْنِ وَ الْبُخْلِ وَ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ غَلَبَةِ الدَّيْنِ و قَهْرِ الرجال
Allahumma inni a`oodhoo bika minal-hammi-walhazan. Wa a`oodhoo bika minal-a’jzi-wal-kasal. Wa a`oodhoo bika minal jubni wal bukhl. Wa a`oodhoo bika min ghalabatid-dayni-waqahrir rijal.
Oh Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, from helplessness and laziness, from cowardice and stinginess, and from overpowering of debt and from oppression of men.
اللَّهُمَّ رَحْمَتَكَ أرْجُو فَلا تَكِلْنِي إلى نَفْسي طَرْفَةَ عَيْنٍ، وأصْلِحْ لي شَأنِي كُلَّهُ، لا إِلهَ إِلاَّ أنْتَ
Allahumma rahmataka arjoo falaa takilnee ilaa nafsee tarfata `aynin wa aslih-lee sha`nee kullahu, laa ilaha illa anta.
O Allah! It is Your mercy that I hope for so do not leave me in charge of my affairs even for a blink of an eye and rectify for me all of my affairs. None has the right to be worshipped except You.
اللَّهُمَّ إني عبدك ابن عبدك ابن امتك ناصيتى بيدك ماضٍ فيِّ حكمك عدلٌ فيِّ قضاؤك أسألك بكل اسم هو لك سميت به نفسك أو أنزلته في كتابك أو علمته أحد من خلقك أو استأثرت به في علم الغيب عندك أن تجعل القرآن ربيع قلبي ، ونور صدري ، وجلاء حُزني ، وذهاب همِّي
Allaahumma inni `abduka wa ibn `abdika wa ibn amatika, naasiyati bi yadika maadin fiyya hukmuka ‘adlun fiyya qadaa`uka, as’aluka bi kulli ismin huwa laka sammayta bihi nafsaka aw `allamtahu ahadan min khalqika aw anzaltahu fi kitaabika aw asta’tharta bihi fi `ilmi al-ghaybi `indaka an taj`al al-Qur’aana rabee’a qalbi wa noor sadri wa jilaa’a huzni wa dhihaaba hammi.
‘O Allaah, I am Your slave, son of Your slave, son of Your maidservant, my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is ever executed and Your decree over me is just. I ask You by every name belonging to You which You have named Yourself with, or which you revealed in Your Book, or which You taught to any of Your creation, or which You have preserved in the knowledge of the Unseen with You, that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety.