We buried my son yesterday – Wednesday 14th July 2021. His name was Adam Salih and he would have turned twenty-one on that day. It is not in the natural order of things for parents to have to bury their child.
Flashback: I have just returned home from work and my heart lifts as I see Adam. He is three years old and he runs up to me with his bright and eager eyes and issues his familiar demand: “Pick meeee uppppp!” Adam loves being held to adult height and then cuddled closely.
It is hard-wired into our DNA to protect our children from the danger around them. We would do anything for them. And yet, I could not protect my son from the dark cloud that I first noticed began hovering over him shortly after he turned sixteen. I witnessed his troubled and agonising struggle to escape the shadow of that cloud. Sometimes the cloud would appear to clear to a certain extent but you got the definite sense that the cloud was never very far away and indeed was closely tracking him. I could not grasp the full extent of the torment that was afflicting Adam on the inside.
This wholly innocent, gentle and sensitive boy endured so much over the past few years. He was so blameless and kind-hearted but was suffering inside while putting on a brave face for the rest of us so that we would not worry. We found out at the end of the last weekend that Adam had come to the conclusion that he could not endure the pain any longer and so had sought an escape from his illness in the only way he could think of.
The morning after Adam has passed away, I look for help to try and cope with what has happened. I send a message to a journalist and friend whom I have known for many years who I know has experienced a similar loss in the past and was also aware of Adam’s own struggle. He responds saying that I will feel wave after wave of overwhelming grief and that I will just need to let it all wash over me. He says that eventually the waters will calm and I will arrive at a place of peace. I am crying as I read this. Not normal tears but huge fat tears. The sea analogy is an apt one. At this time, however, I feel like I am on a little flimsy raft in the middle of an ocean. I cannot see land in any direction.
Flashback: It is the first Covid lockdown in the summer of 2020 and I am playing badminton in the garden with Adam. The sun is shining and I catch delightful glimpses of Adam breaking into a smile as he wins point after point against me. I am happy that Adam is beating me.
Calls of sympathy start coming in. I wish they wouldn’t and I bring them to a conclusion almost instantaneously – I find it impossible to finish a sentence at this early stage without breaking down. If you called me and I did not pick up – it’s because I can hardly bring myself to speak. I receive text and WhatsApp messages. These are from friends I made during my activist years – friends who remained friends despite me seeming to alienate just about every UK Muslim group in the country with my frequently non-conformist views. I also receive kind messages from some surprising quarters. I try and find the time to read them all and try and respond whenever I feel up to the task. Please do not feel slighted if I was not able to respond. An old friend writes to remind me of the inspiring story of the long separation and re-uniting of Ya’qub (Jacob) and Yusuf (Joseph) in the Qur’an. The story inadvertently begins to make me feel bitter: even Ya’qub was allowed to see his son again in this world. I, however, will never see my handsome Adam or hear his voice again in this world and this thought is killing me right now.
I am just staggered at this turn of events. I go to Valentine’s Park in Ilford. It is a gorgeous park and Adam spent many blissful hours here as a little boy joyfully exploring and running around in the children’s playground. How did we get from there to here? I just don’t know. I was speaking with Adam less than two days ago and he had said he would be coming over to my home to eat. I keep shaking my head as I look at all the children now playing there. I desperately want my child back. Please God.
I am wracked with guilty questions: How could I have failed to notice the very recent danger signs which now seem so obvious? What kind of person would fail to notice and act on those signs?
Flashback: It is towards the end of 2020 and Adam is reading a book while he lies down on the large thick rug beside my bookcases. He likes to pull out a book to read and then sprawl out on the rug. I notice wryly that he always appears to select books on spirituality or the humanities – never my books about science.
I place my prayer mat where Adam used to lie down on the rug and imagine myself in this very same place but at an earlier time when he was reading here and I find myself trying to stroke his luxuriant hair. He was such a prodigious reader. He had no desire for material goods or money. The wealth Adam valued was knowledge and understanding. He had built himself an extensive collection of classical literature. In the past three years he had taught himself Arabic, Latin and French and the art of drawing and how to play the flute. I really have no idea how he managed it. I was so incredibly proud of him.
My mum was younger than I am now when she passed away many years ago after contracting meningitis during the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah). I recall being bitter at the time of mum’s death too. In time, however, I was comforted by the knowledge that this had been God’s Will and that she had gone to a much better place. My Adam has now gone and departed this world too after a much briefer period of time. And as with my mum, it is this same knowledge and assurance that what has happened is God’s Will and that Adam is now in a far better place and has finally found the relief and peace he was so desperately longing for that is my only solace at this time.
The Qur’an is explicit that we will all be tested in various ways. I console myself repeating Abraham’s words: “aslamtu li rabbil ‘aalameen” – I submit to the Lord of the Worlds.
It is the morning of Adam’s funeral and I am with the team at the Gardens of Peace cemetery near Hainault as they are performing his ghusl (washing of the body) prior to the Janaza (funeral) prayer. I feel stunned and numb as I now gaze at Adam’s body on the ghusl table. I shake my head in disbelief – that is my own son’s now inert body.
In our wider society we rarely discuss death, yet it is surely the bluntest of facts. The Qur’an reminds us that “Every soul shall taste death” (Qur’an 3:185). This realisation ought to force us to ask ourselves the profoundest of questions about what we are doing with our lives and how we relate to each other. All of us without exception will be joining Adam – we just don’t know when.
The kindness, compassion and professionalism shown by the entire GoP team throughout the day serves to soothe much of the pain we are feeling today.
It is true that Adam’s body which we now see being lowered into the grave is lifeless, but I am convinced that his beautiful soul will surely find acceptance with His Creator. My lovely boy had been unwell and had suffered terribly through no fault of his own and I am comforted in the knowledge that Adam’s ultimate judge is God alone – not ill-educated ignorant human beings. And God informs us that “He is the Most Merciful of all that show mercy” (Qur’an 12:64).
Flashback: A couple of close friends are visiting me and my little Adam takes delight in proving to them that he is without question as strong as the Incredible Hulk and can jump equally great distances. Look – he can jump from the sofa on to the floor. Can there really be any doubt that he is a super-hero he seems to ask.
Yesterday, just a couple of hours after Adam’s burial, with those very same friends, we go to visit Adam’s grave together. Their support and banter helps to lift my spirits for a little while. I am grateful to them.
I have experienced – and continue to experience – a lot of anger at myself over the past few days as I have been floating on that raft in the middle of the wide ocean. New questions keep popping up and troubling me about what more I could and should have done to help Adam. I am not sure that those questions will ever go away or receive a fully satisfactory answer. A lifetime of Qur’an study convinces me nonetheless to try and be patient and persevere through this awful trial. If I place my trust in God alone, I believe I will surely reach land and be re-united with my beloved Adam once again.
“…Never give up hope of God’s Soothing Mercy: truly no one gives up hope of God’s Soothing Mercy, except those who have no faith.” (Qur’an 12:87)
It is that welcome promise along with the kind support of our family and dear friends that enables me to cling on to that raft.
“The eyes weep and the heart grieves, yet we do not say anything but that which pleases our Lord.” (Sahih Bukhari)
See you soon, my darling boy. We all miss you so very much.
“To God we belong and to Him we return.” (Qur’an 2:156)
PS: The family has set up a Sadaqa Jariya fundraising page for Adam. All monies raised go directly to the Ummah Welfare Trust who have been instructed to set up water wells in a number of developing countries.