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After the Dust Has Settled: A Familiar Story of Grief

Our acts of compassion do not need to be the boldest but being consistent can be a means of magnifying even the most humble actions, a lesson taught by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).

Our acts of compassion do not need to be the boldest but being consistent can be a means of magnifying even the most humble actions, a lesson taught by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).

“It is not at this moment that these people need our support, it is several months later after everyone else has moved on, then they will need us most…”

The story is likely one we are all familiar with, although hopefully not too frequent an occurrence. A phone call from a friend in the middle of the night or perhaps noticing a colleague attempting to hold back the tears on a Monday morning. We can all relate to that sinking feeling of seeing someone we care about attempting to process complex thoughts and emotions following the death of a friend or family member.

Our initial reaction may vary depending on a wide range of factors; if it is a close relative, we may give them a hug or a shoulder to cry on, in other places we may revert to the British staple, “Shall I put the kettle on?”.

These initial moments of deep sadness sometimes lead to systematic responses without much thought, often following strict cultural rules. But as conversations progress we may take on a deeper role as someone to confide in and take on the responsibility for caring for a loved one. God willing, the initial shock soon begins to subside and although the sadness lingers, we return to carry on our daily tasks after the tears have started to dry.

Our lives go on and we get back to business. In those early days, we keep our friend in our Dua, we might even call them every day. We may try to visit them at the weekends, to bake their favourite cake and make sure they know that they are loved and are not alone in dealing with the challenge before them. Of course, it is possible that we are not the only ones going out of our way to support the person in need and this recognition may ease our sense of responsibility over time.

With the passing of each week, we may decrease our visits, cut down on the sharing of funny memes, and even spend less time thinking of them. This is, of course, natural and could even be essential, the last thing our dear friend needs is to be bombarded with visitors when they are emotionally exhausted – and we would become useless if we too reached a breaking point.

Consistent Acts of Compassion

Reducing our acts of compassion over time is necessary for both the people being supported and those who are supporting them. As much as having someone bake our favourite cake for us every day would be a wonderful thing, the fiftieth slice is unlikely to taste as good as the first. This can allow for much-needed breathing space for someone enduring emotional exhaustion as well as some respite for their kind friends. But there is surely a balance to be found between being overbearing in our kindness and neglecting our responsibility as friends, family members, and, most importantly, as Muslims.

There is a famous story from during the time of the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) which can serve as inspiration for us in forming consistent acts of kindness to support those who need us the most.

It has been narrated that after Fajr prayer, Umar noticed that Abu Bakr would leave from the masjid and walk in a different direction that his house. One day, keeping his distance, Umar decided to follow in the footsteps of the Caliph to see where he would go. It turned out that Abu Bakr would enter a run-down house and depart once the sun had risen. Umar’s curiosity led him to knock at the door of the house after he had departed, at which point an elderly blind lady answered:

She was so old, frail, and blind. He asked her:

“Who’s that visitor coming to you every day?”

She said:

“I don’t know who he is! May Allah reward him. He cleans my house, swaps my clothes, and maybe he would cook some food for breakfast, then he leaves.”

Umar said:

“Does he do this every day?”

She said:

“Yes, every day. May Allah bless this man.”

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Umar said:

“Do you know who’s that man? He was the Caliph Abu Bakr.” [1] 

From beautiful stories like this from the early days of Islam through to the abundant giving by the Ummah each Ramadan, we have no shortage of inspiration when it comes to finding kindness during both ease and hardship. In this story of Abu Bakr caring for the elderly woman, we see the beauty of consistent kindness shine through. Despite rising to the rank of Caliph, he maintained his humble act of caring for the most vulnerable in society.

Returning to the present day, I reflect on the opening quote of this article, words which I first heard around two years ago following the death of my father. As the early weeks and months passed by, my phone began to quiet. What had initially been a flood of phone calls and messages from friends and family, some of whom I had not spoken to for years, soon became a trickle. Of those individuals who made contacted me from the friends of my father whom I little knew, one of them surprised me with his consistency over the months and years to come.

Ian, a close friend of my father from childhood and throughout his life, was a man who I can only recall meeting around three times in my lifetime up until the death of my father. However, following his death, Ian continues to make an active effort to check in on me despite living in another country and living a rather hectic lifestyle. One day, a few months after the funeral, he told me that part of the reason he does so is because of words of advice my father had once shared with him regarding how to care for people processing grief:

“It is not at this moment that these people need our support, it is several months later after everyone else has moved on, then they will need us most…” 

Our acts of compassion do not need to be the boldest but being consistent can be a means of magnifying even the most humble actions, a lesson taught by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).

Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:

“Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.” [2]


References

Story of Abu Bakr [1]:

https://aboutislam.net/spirituality/abu-bakr-and-the-old-woman-an-inspiring-story/

Hadith [2]:

Reference: Sunan Ibn Majah 4240

In-book reference: Book 37, Hadith 141

English translation: Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4240

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