In this blog post, Ramlah writes about her experience of Ramadan and grief, and offers advice and tips to anyone experiencing their first Ramadan since a loss.
Ramadan is a holy month in the Islamic calendar; a month of virtue, introspection and charity. It has often been said to treat each Ramadan with plentiful humility and devotion, because you never know when that year might be your last. Not in a sense of morbid urgency, but gentle perspective that our lives are fleeting and there’s no time like the present. Count your blessings, carpe diem style.
We all knew my dad’s last Ramadan would be his last, even if we didn’t say it. Pre-pandemic, we ensured iftars were spent together and that Eid was a family-filled affair, with plenty of photos taken and memories made.
Fast-forward four years, and each and every Ramadan since has held a new combination of feelings and tribulations, something that lockdowns and pandemics have only heightened. A time of year that places so much focus on spirituality and self-reflection undoubtedly has an impact on the grieving person. Faith and grief can often have a tenuous relationship. Symbiotic yet challenging, and often taboo to confront.
I’m still learning, year-by-year, how to manage these feelings, but I’ve pieced together a few thoughts on how to navigate Ramadan since a loss. Take only what speaks to you and remember there’s no one right way to grieve.
Being patient with yourself, with others, with your emotions. Whatever you may have been told about religion and grief, specifically strength of character and sabr (a term that encompasses patience and endurance) just know that expression of emotion is a most natural response. Reflection and reminiscence is a core part of Ramadan, and will naturally bring up a whole host of fairly intense, even existential, emotions. Cry, laugh, write, make dua, whatever it takes to express yourself. It is human to feel – human to cry. It is not a weakness and does not in any way put your faith into question. Grant yourself this kindness.
Giving charity in my dad’s name feels like an honour, and has helped bring peace and purpose to an otherwise insurmountable loss
Ramadan is primarily known for the focus on abstinence (of food/drink consumption from sunrise to sunset) but charity is just as important. Most Muslims use Ramadan as a time of year to organise their zakat (obligatory payment to charity) but an additional form of charity that lends itself to the notion of remembrance is sadaqah jariyah – voluntary charitable acts of kindness that will continually benefit people for years to come. They are essentially gifts that keep on giving.
In Islam, there is a belief that these acts, when done in the name of a loved one, bring them blessings both in this lifetime and even after they’ve passed. Giving support (be that time or money) to causes close to your heart/that of your loved one – be it teaching an invaluable skill that gives someone the tools to support their family, or donating to a project that will improve the prosperity of a community – is the ultimate way of paying it forward. For me, giving charity in my dad’s name feels like an honour, and has helped bring peace and purpose to an otherwise insurmountable loss.
To yourself. Cliché but true. Ramadan is about selflessness and charity, but it can be challenging for a number of physical, mental and emotional reasons, so self-awareness is just as important. Long days’ fasting coupled with work/responsibilities is tiring, add in grief and it can be exhausting.
There’s a different sort of isolation with grief, the feeling alone in a crowd kind
Embracing Ramadan means experiencing a full spectrum of spirituality, and that includes humility; a reminder to recognise what you need to look after yourself and respecting those needs. Plan nutritious meals and stay hydrated. Stretch your legs and get fresh air daily. Reshuffle your social calendar to surround yourself with warm energy. Ask for accommodations at work and take time to factor in rest. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so find that sustenance and fill it up.
The new normal is a concept almost everyone has experienced in the past couple of years, and one that is not unfamiliar to seasoned grievers. Ramadan has always represented a time of togetherness – whilst Covid has taught us a lot about isolation, literally. But there’s a different sort of isolation with grief, the feeling alone in a crowd kind. Maybe you’re finding it hard to face the empty seat at iftar, or your support system is scattered far and wide, maybe you can’t help peering through the rose-tinted lens of social media and comparing your celebrations and rituals. Or perhaps you’re struggling with the guilt that you’re actually coping better than you thought you would, and does that make your grief disloyal? (Spoiler: it doesn’t)
Eid has never been the same since my dad passed – it’s been missing a certain child-like lightness and excitement
Milestone celebrations have felt emotionally taxing, with a heavy weight of (largely self-inflicted) expectation about what I should be doing/how I should be feeling. Eid has never been the same since my dad passed – it’s been missing a certain child-like lightness and excitement. But I’ve learnt to make it special in other ways that honour him and his memory.
Reminiscing about the chaotic early morning dash to the mosque that would signal the start of Eid day, making sweet kanji as he’d maintain it be the only acceptable festive breakfast, and remembering how he’d always insist that being together on Eid, as a family, was the most important part of any celebration. I’ve always felt that grief is best described as a yearning, for all that was and might have been. But now I’ve come to understand that, really, there are ways in which we’re always together, even when apart. The new normal, whatever that means to you.
As we find ourselves near the end of Ramadan, do what you need to take each sunrise and sunset as they come, without pressure or expectation, in the hope that you find the compassion, community and peace that makes your Ramadan one of gentle joy and contentment.
If you would like to write a post for our blog, email email@example.com.