Returning to nature’s earth

I pulled myself together to make the burial.

My friend’s dad fought a long battle with a vicious infection that was eating into his lungs – something he said was contracted on the Hajj, in Mecca.

He had struggled for several months in two of London’s hospitals. He was attended by  nurses on 24 hour standby most of the time, and on several occasions was on life support.

After a long battle with this infection, leaving his body emaciated and without much strength, and after an induced, two – week coma, death was closer than ever before.

It was not meant to be and my friend’s dad died – the only breadwinner – leaving a young family behind him. His situation seemed to have improved, albeit slightly, but soon, with a few days, died in the presence of his family. My friend wondered whether it would have been better for him to have passed away in his coma. I said this was at least a chance to say a proper goodbye before his final resting place.

The burial in North London, on a plot reserved for Muslims in the cemetery, was deeply sad. I found it hard to think, to speak and bring myself to realise what was happening around me. The cemetery looked more like a recreational park – serene, green and calm. Yet I wondered how strange a place this was – a symbol of the things we hardly speak about.

The shia burial was regimented, organised by those who had probably done this a 1000 times before, both here and in Iraq. It reminded me of all those I had known in Iraq who had died in recent years. I felt this was part of that experience.

I looked at his youngest son – only four years old. I couldnt bring myself to think about this loss to his family.

The men did all the work – carrying my friend’s dad from the undertaker’s car to his final resting place, several feet deep into the ground. Phone cameras from the mourners – a strange sight – were used to capture those last few moment. Shrouded in cloth, his body was lowered, laid to rest.

The women, wailing, as the body was put to rest whilst the men and men of religion recited prayers, read from the Quran and recalled sayings of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali. We recited the Fatiha several times – it was the only practice that was repeated.

I watched as the previously dug out soil was returning to its place, now to bring calm and rest to a man that strove with the might of his love for life and morals to care for his family.

Another victim, as I saw it, of decades of war, dislocated from his homeland and against great adversity had managed to carry with him the well of love that he was so easily willing to share.

Women wailing, dressed in black Abayas and wearing sun-glasses, stood on one side, while the men on the other. Women’s expression was the correct one – crying, and crying out loud whilst the men seemed to have accepted what was happening more easily.

I picked up a piece of soil and laid it down to sit with him. Others did the same until the grave was now full.

It was at this point I felt a semblance of calm as nature’s earth had reclaimed him as its own.

I walked away without uttering a word. I had come to see him with his family one last time.

Rest In Peace.

About Mehiyar

Dr Mehiyar Kathem is a researcher at University College London (UCL). Mehiyar completed a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he researched peacebuilding interventions and the formation of Iraq’s domestic NGO sector after the 2003 War. During this research, he looked at the gradual evolution of Iraq from totalitarian dictatorship through the country’s emerging domestic organisations. His research interests include statebuilding, civil society peacebuilding and the ways in which development, politics and money interact at a local level. In 2012 and 2013, Mehiyar conducted field research in Iraq for his PhD programme, spending a year meeting with and interviewing domestic NGO actors, political parties, government officials and international donors. Previously, Mehiyar worked on a number of grassroots programmes geared to build the capacity of civil society organisations and continues to advise international donors on the effective design and delivery of projects in Iraq. He tweets at @mehiyar

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