Death and Dying in the UAE
No one plans on the death of a parent when they move abroad. I mean, secretly, it’s everyone’s fear before the move. That foreboding question in the back of your mind like a glowing neon sign, “What if someone dies while I’m away?”
My father passed away on May 5, 2015, in the middle of trimester 3 (April through May). It was an unexpected expected death. My father went in for a routine checkup to see how blocked his arteries were; automatic open-heart surgery. I won’t bore you with details. Everyone’s death is close to them and other people can only empathize. I kind of knew he wouldn’t recover from the surgery. And he didn’t. It’s only so much liquor and smoke the body will take and an open heart surgery cares for none of that.
At school, I was walking through the courtyard to go to the teachers’ room before my class. My sister sent a text, 2 am her time.
Her: You busy
Me: Nah wassup
Her: Daddy passed
Me: ok, I’ll check flights
For the month he survived after the surgery I dreaded every iMessage notification I received. I knew it was coming but I didn’t know when it was coming. Hanging over every event after the surgery left me nervous. I had a spring break that was enjoyable but a cloak of anxiety hung over every moment. I felt guilty for seeing the world while my father was in the hospital. Here but not all the way here; caught in that place between life and death, but I digress. You may think to find out about the death of a parent by text is horrible. Living over here is communication by any means necessary.
The tears didn’t come at school. I put my phone in my pocket. I continued walking to the lounge (I stopped to respond to the text). I went to class. I looked for flights on my break. I came home. I sat on the bed and stared at the wall. I felt like I was on the set of a show for which I didn’t know the script. I’ve had the same address all my life, the same phone number, two parent home, never transferred to a different school, i.e. I’m use to consistency. This was my first major death. At 34, I lost my first close family member. I was blessed.
I couldn’t find a direct flight from Abu Dhabi to Atlanta. I had to catch a series of flights from Dubai via British Airways and Air France. FYI Majority of airlines could care less about your bereavement and have cut bereavement fares. Delta told me if I was in the states and needed to fly to Abu Dhabi for a funeral then I could use bereavement fare, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. They don’t allow bereavement fares for flying to the U. S. With the amount of expats all over the world you would think they’d be more sensitive to this situation.
I’m strong. Every woman in my family is strong. We don’t like to show any weakness. We are emotional though. Death doesn’t care about that. Being at home with my family was good for the healing process. I decided that I’d be the one to give the eulogy. I’d always fancied myself the strongest. Walking down the church aisle was a humbling experience. The realization and enormity of the situation caught up with me. I was able to give my speech, barely. It was over. That was the hardest part, it being over. You have to face reality that an important part of your life is gone now. I’m so thankful to friends I’ve made here that showed their support. I had one friend who was still in Atlanta because her father died 3 days before mine and she came to the funeral before flying back to Abu Dhabi. That’s what we do here. Support. The expat community is a strong one. It reminds me of how society must have been in the past, before everyone became ridiculously selfish. Side note: writing this shit is hard which is why I guess my last entry was May 2015.
The policy here is that you get 3 days off paid when a mother or father dies. Crazy, I know. Thank God I had a Western assistant principal that understood the magnitude of what I was enduring and made sure my pay was not taken away. He even offered to purchase my flight home. I was gone for a week and a half. I can say that knowledge and understanding of the Muslim mourning process did help me to heal. They don’t grieve wildly. They see it as not trusting God and his decision. I can respect that.
“Hidaad, or mourning, for a close relative should last only three days, and there are guidelines about how that mourning should take shape. Weeping is acceptable, but the Islamic faith discourages loud crying and acting out during the mourning period.”
Being so far away has also helped; Abu Dhabi is a great distraction. I miss my father and I think about him a lot. In all, I’m glad that when he passed I was away. I would never have been able to get through my mourning had I been in the states. The reminders I have aren’t painful. They are comforting and I’m thankful for that. There are many others here who also felt the wind from the swing of the Grim Reaper’s scythe. Some have dealt, some have left, some are just moving through life, some of us have a slight cloud hanging over us. Life won’t be the same and neither will we, but we press on.