Five Things You Shouldn’t Do When Someone Dies

In our community, we rarely talk about grief or loss. Something important to differentiate is that when it comes to loss, there are usually two things that influence the way we interact with our loss:   The Quran, and the community/cultural traditions. So many people are quick to say that in the Quran it says we should mourn quickly… some four days, some 48 hours. That timeline may not fit your grief journey.

Grieving doesn’t end in 48 hours; you will be mourning and honoring the loss of your loved one throughout your life. In your lifetime, you will go through waves of different feelings and that is normal.

The Quran says we should honor the life that the person lived and shower them with prayers of forgiveness for them to enter Jannah, insha’Allah. People gather at weddings and funerals, but it’s not just another event for our ummah to come together. After losing my own papa at age 8, I have heard every version of pity and condolences and as a therapist and member of our ummah, I have broken it down into the major things you should and shouldn’t do after hearing about the death of a member of our ummah.

You may not be able to fix someone’s sorrows, but let’s take a moment and rethink everything we’ve been told to say, and the impact it has on those grieving.

Five things you SHOULD NOT do:

  1. Ask about the details of the death – This isn’t a movie or an investigation.  You don’t need to know this information to support the survivors. You don’t have the right to ask questions about the death, how exactly they died, or where the survivors were when their loved ones were found dead.
  2. “Let me know if you need anything.” – Their natural response is to decline out of politeness. It is really hard to ask someone for help, especially when they are going through so much. They probably don’t even know what they need.
  3. “How are you doing?” – When we ask them how they are doing, their normal response is “Alhamduillah,” and feel culturally obligated to not be as expressive as they may be in the inside. They may not even know how to express how they are feeling and within cultural expectations, they may feel guilty that they aren’t “finding peace” yet.
  4. Tell them to shush when they are crying. – Islamically, “wailing” is a different thing than crying. Culture blurs the difference, and it is hard to be put in a position to refer to the Quran for such a hard moment. They lost someone that will affect the rest of their lives. Let them grieve; let’s leave the judgement outside the masjid.
  5. Disappear. – You gave them the expected hug and duas at the funeral, and you don’t want to bother them, so you “give them space.” It creates feelings of shame and loneliness. When people disappear, we see how people define friendship during hard times like this.

So then, what should you do?

Five things you SHOULD do:

  1. Invite them to events. – This is very important, because when loss happens, people step away from families, not wanting to “bother” them. Even if they repeatedly say “No,” still invite them out. Don’t add more layers of loss or exclusion to this hard life transition. All my clients remember that first event they found the courage to attend after the loss, and how pivotal that was for their healing journey.
  2. Be there for the days after the funeral. –  Just because the funeral ended, your obligation has not. As a friend, be there for them when it gets silent. They are now trying to deal with a new normal without this person, and they are counting every single day without that person. Milestones such as Ramadan, Eid, birthdays…even Jummah are all very hard.
  3. Show up. –  Don’t say “If you need anything, let me know.” Just be there. Bring flowers, food, just be present. You don’t need to know what the perfect thing to say to “fix it.” Just say “I am here for you, anything you want to say or do I may not understand, but I can listen.”
  4. Ask about favorite memories. – Talk about the good, laugh about the past, share your own stories. This is a great way to honor the loved one, and help your friend have a different conversation than all the negative ones they are experiencing.
  5. Plan where to help. – Help with the dishes, support with errands, pick them up for Jummah prayer, take the kids to carpool. Don’t ask, tell them when works best for you both. They may feel embarrassed asking.

Granted, this may not work for everyone. The biggest thing is knowing you are there for them. Don’t disappear, don’t ask too many questions – and don’t cut them out of your normal life because you want to “give them space.” They experienced one of the hardest things they could ever imagine being in; don’t add to the loss. On the day of the janaza, they may hear a million prayers, and we are culturally trained to feel we did our part.  Even if you aren’t talking about the loss, and are just watching re-runs of Friends and eating ambala samosas, at least they know you are there for them through the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Our Ummah needs more than polite gestures around topics like death, we need unconditional compassion.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un to all those we have lost.
May we be granted sabr in this dunya insha’Allah.

Follow me on Instagram at @rabhi__.