Mahjabeen's Musings: A Muslim Traveler along the American Way; Coping with Adolescent Grief Planted the Seeds for Inner Peace as an Adult

By Islam-Husain, Mahjabeen | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

Mahjabeen's Musings: A Muslim Traveler along the American Way; Coping with Adolescent Grief Planted the Seeds for Inner Peace as an Adult


Islam-Husain, Mahjabeen, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Mahjabeen's Musings: A Muslim Traveler Along the American Way; Coping With Adolescent Grief Planted The Seeds for Inner Peace as an Adult

My adolescence was ushered in with the simultaneous loss of my two older brothers in an automobile accident in Turkey. From an only daughter I was suddenly an only child. Prior to our loss I had most-favored-child status with my father, a Pakistani diplomat. After it, I was faced with the specter of a broken man, who just could not reconcile with the awful void.

A 13-year-old mind can figure out situations and their fallout only to a point. My mother submitted to the will of God, while my father had internal and overt arguments about free will and predetermination, played out against a backdrop of guilt and overwhelming grief.

Those were dark days indeed. No physician made the obvious diagnosis of depression -- although we were at this point well past the three-month grief reaction. In fact my father probably would not have accepted any pharmacological help, for, ironically, weeping for his sons was the only balm for his unending sorrow.

Meanwhile my own turmoil of the teens, where glancing at the mirror was a rude jolt, was accompanied by the culture shock of transplantation to Singapore. I was trying, not very successfully, to cope with Oriental adolescents who probably could not get past their own teen-turmoil to befriend me.

At a time when peer approval is something to live and die for, I had none. The picture of the kids at school unabashedly staring at me, arms folded, mouths zipped, is permanently etched in my mind. Of course I blamed myself for my adjustment problems. I was sure I was weird in some way or other.

The frenzied schedule of the diplomatic corps still left room for my father's grieving. At this point we were five years past the loss of my brothers, but our home was always heavy with sadness despite my mother's heroic efforts to go forward. Perhaps an individual's will to live influences his life span. In any case, my father's yearning for his sons took him to them fairly quickly. A 52-year-old avid tennis player with no diagnosed medical problems, he simply collapsed on the tennis court.

I bade farewell to my teens as I had to my brothers and now to my father, but somehow just did not get it. Why them? Why him? And why not me? I would awaken every morning, only to wish I had not. Life in its brutal unconcern went on as though nothing had happened.

Friends and family would tritely ascribe our loss to the will of God. Despite my despair I remember wanting to tell them that regardless of His will, all I knew was that it felt like hell.

My relationship with God was pretty strong. But, to my chagrin, my love and fear for the children was stronger. TX.-The "spiritually developed" quoted from the Holy Qur'an: "Allah does not lay a responsibility on anyone beyond his capacity" (2:286). Unfortunately, that seemed to just wash away with my tears. After the denial stage was over, I went headlong into the deepest abyss, wallowing in a self-perpetuating agony. A yearning to transfer from the emotional pits to the other world simply would not materialize. Relatives added insult to injury, minimizing my grief in comparison to that of my mother, a widow at 40, essentially demanding that I "snap out of it." Snap I did, but sort of the other way -- into it!

The whirlpool of my endless grief finally settled into the calm of non-function. Depression was so poorly recognized that I was stigmatized with its label -- as though, good Lord, I still did not have the right to follow the course of normal human psyche and have the "luxury" of a breakdown! All this because my mother is indeed of an entirely "super-human" cadre, not following the principles of human psychology. So excuse me for being normal!

My recovery was prolonged and painful, and, interestingly, it planted the seed for my current inner peace and contentment. "Hold fast together to the cable of Allah. …

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