By: Polly Rahman
Those particular words have a whole different context in my mind as of today. After 45 years of walking the planet, today for the first time I saw what a body looks like when it is no longer full of life.
I volunteered to assist in the washing of our sister Harwa without a seconds thought. Instinctively I thought it’s the right thing to do. Since joining Eden Care my priorities have been juggled a little. Granted – I’ve hit my mid 40’s so clearly my perspective of things will change – However today was a the equivalent of a year of formal education.
Last night while psyching myself up, I prepared myself for the worst. I’m not a dainty wall flower. I’ve been through my fair share of horror stories and scenarios, but I’ve been blessed in never ever having to attend a funeral until a year ago – and never having seen a lifeless person. Until today. Today even that preconception of ‘Blessing’ has changed.
In my mind I was prepared for the most crazy realms where your mind can take you. Subconsciously prepping myself to hold myself together no matter what I face. For one split second last night I questioned if I am strong enough to actually do this. Me – the woman who has zipped across a rain forest, undergone laser surgery without the laser and moved across continents and rebuilt my life multiple times. Here I was wondering. Can I really do this without doing this person any injustice and without infuriating my Allah?
The washing was scheduled to take place in East London Masjid. I’m probably one of the few Londoners that have rarely been in there. Today was my second time to ever set foot in a masjid. Just the fact that its a masjid is daunting enough. I grew up in a time when the women were taught that the masjid is for men. After not having lived in the UK for 25 years, it was news to me that women now do attend!
We met up with our fellow Eden Care sisters and were shown into the washing area by sister Ayesha. As we entered the room all my fears dissolved instantly as there was this aura of peace and tranquility that I have rarely felt before. All the apprehension I was feeling just fell away as I looked at our sister Harwa.
For the last few days I had been reading up on what the process is, how it should be performed, which steps are undertaken and variations on the steps. Nothing prepares you for the overwhelming sense of responsibility you feel when you are in a room with someone who is no longer alive. Just being in the presence of someone who is no longer breathing is a huge wake up call on many many levels.
Religiously, culturally and as humans we are taught that we have obligations to other people. We are taught what we should do when someone is ill, disabled, hurt, injured, poorly and we have been taught to bury our dead as soon as humanly possible. So today when we were instructed to be gentle and I actually saw how another human was being treated with the utmost respect in accordance with all I had always heard – it truly warmed my heart.
I felt honoured to be allowed in the room with sister Harwa as the last worldly act was being performed. I watched and participated in a process which is equal for every Muslim the world over, no matter when or where death occurs. It felt as if time had stood still as we focused on preparing her for the next stage of her journey – one which we will all have to make. For the first time in my life I actually understood that this is the reason why we say in death we are all equal. No matter where we come from, how we have lived, who we are, what we own and what we look like – we all leave in an identical manner.
After her body was prepared with the utmost respect and gentleness we reserve for newborns, prayers were held in the masjid for Harwa and another person who had passed away. The sense of unity when standing in a line of women who are all praying for a person they never knew is something which just boggles the mind. Women of all ages shapes and sizes all coming together for one reason only: To pray for a person who is no longer with us.
As the prayers ended we waited outside for the coffin to be brought out. We met up with our Eden Care brothers who had made the arrangements for the entire burial process of sister Harwa Sani Garko. We stood by as they placed the coffin in the hearse and we made our way to the graveyard.
The coffin was taken to the burial site. There were 13 of us present for the burial. 5 of us from Eden care. One relative and one friend of Harwa and 6 people from the funeral service or masjid.
We watched as her coffin was lowered into the grave by the brothers. Once again utmost respect and care. As a bulldozer put the earth onto the coffin we all watched silently. Minutes after the last batch was piled on – the earth slowly sunk a few centimetres. It’s an image that is etched onto my brain.
Prayers were said by 3 people for our sister. The plaque identifying the grave was placed. Yellow roses and daffodils were placed over the grave. Sister Harwa’s next of kin was kneeling beside her grave saying his last goodbyes.
My last thought as I walked away: Each soul shall taste death.
I’d like to thank Eden Care for giving me the opportunity to be part of this process. For widening my experience and broadening my horizons. I’m deeply grateful to part of such a worthy organisation!