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Dealing with Death: The Rollercoaster of Change

Khalida Haque discusses the ups and downs encountered during transitions, of which death is just one form.

“…we are not in control, in fact we have no control. However, the reassuring thing is that control lies in the best of hands …”

 

 

They say that a ‘change is as good as a rest’ but this refers to change that is chosen, when one decides upon a change of scene to enable one to recuperate from the stresses of life. However, the change I am hoping to explore here is a tumultuous one. The kind which once you’ve come out the other end, you feel as though you’ve just come off a rollercoaster ride. This concept was devised by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote many books on death, dying, mourning and grief. Her theories are now widely accepted and have filtered into professions other than counselling because it is recognised that mourning and grief need not only occur during bereavement. There are other forms of transition that also require us to grieve and mourn before we can move forward.

Stages of the rollercoaster
• High expectation
• Shock, mourning, fight/flight (anxiety response), disorientation, nostalgia, turmoil, rage, guilt, depression, feelings of loss, needing to let go and detachment
• Decision
• Searching for the new, focussed exploration, informed choice, focused study, problem solving, refined purpose, finding new structures, hope, internal commitment, testing, reattachment and excitement.
• Realistic expectations

 
Prior to a loss occurring, be it through death or via some other form of ending such as divorce or job loss, we are often in a place of high expectation, a place of dreams and aspirations. When we are in this state we are, Islamically speaking heading towards a state of ghafla (heedlessness). This is not intentional and almost inevitable when we live in a world that is so distracting.

 

“Alluring unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and lands. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world…” ( Al ‘Imran:14).

 

And so unfortunately we are in need of reminders. These reminders come in various shapes and forms. Alhamdulillah, we get these cues when we stray into a lack of focus and become caught up in the dunya (this world).

 

If Allah intends good for someone, then He afflicts them with trials. (Bukhari)
One such reminder is death, the destroyer of pleasures: “Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits (of your toil)…” (Al Baqarah:155)

 

 

When the reminder comes into play, we enter a downward spiral involving shock, mourning, fight/flight (anxiety response), disorientation, nostalgia, turmoil, rage, guilt, depression, feelings of loss, needing to let go and detachment. No matter what the transition, research has shown that all these stages tend to be experienced. Perhaps not exactly in the order stated but more often than not, the emotional flow tends to follow that sequence leading us to the ‘bottom’ – a decision point. When we get to this place, and some get there quicker than others, we can choose to move forward or to become stagnant. Some may even move backwards up the rollercoaster to the previous stages and emotions, refusing to accept the change that has occurred. Once we can accept and embrace the change, we can make the conscious choice to advance in life, learning from the experience. We can then slowly move through the more positive stages of the rollercoaster: searching for the new, focused exploration, informed choice, focused study, problem solving, refined purpose, finding new structures, hope, internal commitment, testing, reattachment and excitement.

 

 

Consider any change that you may have experienced, be it failing exams or divorce or loss of a loved one or just something that didn’t go quite as you had hoped. Only take yourself back to an event that is not likely to trigger you and cause some form of relapse. This can happen with incidents that have not been processed sufficiently and thus not stored properly in our long term memories. Once you’ve chosen an event that you feel you can comfortably revisit, go through it and think about how you overcame it step by step using the headings above (from the ‘rollercoaster’). See if you recognise having gone through these stages. Some may be more easily identifiable than others, but you are more than likely to have gone through the rollercoaster similar to the way an actual rollercoaster ride feels: the quickness into the down portion and the slow steady climb up, not knowing what to expect once you get to the top. Usually, just as with a real rollercoaster, when you come out the other end you have more realistic expectations of life, others and even yourself.

 

 
There are some Islamic things we can do to help ourselves through the rollercoaster and to be able to manage transitions better, bi-idhnillah:
• Reflect on your own soul regularly, identifying what it might be doing wrong.
• Ask: What prevents me from doing better?
• Repent regularly: “Truly Allah loves those who turn (to Him) in repentance …” (Al-Baqarah:222)
• Keep company with those who remind you of Allah (SWT).
• Try to engage in daily morning and evening adkhar (plural of dhikr, remembrance) and learn their meanings to enable better connection.
• Visit graves (although in some schools of thought this is restricted to men only) and remember death often: “Remember much the destroyer of pleasures (death).” (Ibn Majah)
• Pray tahajjud (the optional night prayer).
• Make ad’iyah (supplications) for refuge from falling into ghafla (heedlessness).
• Read the Qur’an with meaning so as to understand.

 

 

If we can accept that we will encounter changes, big and small, throughout our lives and we do not fight them nor deny them then we will have an easier existence. To be able to do this we need to have tawakkul or trust in Allah (SWT) and His divine plan. This necessitates our recognising that we are not in control – in fact we have no control. However, the reassuring thing is that control lies in the best of hands – with Allah (SWT), the best of planners. (Al-Anfal:30)

 

 

Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced counselling psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and group facilitator. She is founding director of Khair Therapeutic Services (www.khair-therapeutic.com). She enjoys reading, writing and building up other people so that they can bi’idhnillah become who they are meant to be. She can be followed (and contacted) at https://www.facebook.com/#!/khalida.haque.9

 

 

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