Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Loss, grief and a ray of hope

While losing loved ones is always heartbreaking, empowerment is available for martyrs’ families seeking a ray of hope on an otherwise dark horizon, writes Nashwa Abdel-Tawab

Al-Ahram Weekly

There are four little kids wearing white T-shirts with four red-and-black Arabic words spelling out the principles of Egypt’s 25 January Revolution – bread, freedom, social justice, and human dignity – leaving their father’s grave after a visit and walking hand-in-hand together up the road.
Their father, sheikh Emad Effat, was killed a year ago during a sit-in by the cabinet office in Cairo because of his righteous stand with the Revolution in word and deed. He sacrificed his life so that his children could grow up in an uncorrupted environment and one that conformed to revolutionary principles.
One year later and his children have grown in awareness, and the principles of the Revolution are still there even if the deeds of the Revolution sometimes seem to be receding into the past.
The scene comes from a documentary film called Sheikh Emad Effat: Truth Seeker, which was made by his wife, or, in other words, me. The film is intended to shed light on a precious life stolen by a gunshot wound to the heart. It will be shown for the first time on 28 January at the Press Syndicate in Cairo. Another documentary, this time entitled Who killed Sheikh Emad Effat?, is also in production.
It isn’t at the moment that you first hear bad news that you most need courage. Courage is needed on the long uphill road back to sanity and faith, and it is needed to pursue a man’s killers and to find the truth.
This is what I am trying to do through these documentaries. I am pursuing all avenues, not only to hold his killers accountable, but also to achieve what he wanted when he went down to Tahrir Square, which was to reclaim the nation for its people and to free it from its enemies. I won’t rest until these supreme goals are met, goals for which his blood and that of the other martyrs was shed. 
“Grief equals the value of the person you lose inside your heart, and, amazingly, it also equals the gains you might make,” Ali Soliman, a leading psychologist, told me after I lost my husband in December 2011. Soliman knew how deeply I felt Effat’s loss, and he gave me his advice as well as his condolences. “If you loved him 10 per cent, then you lost 10 per cent of your own life and you might fill it with another love for someone else. But if you were united with him 100 per cent, then you have two possible roads to take.”
“You might lose your own life as a result of this loss, because you lost yourself with his death. Or you might become a better person, especially if you put your love not in another person or in your work but in loving Allah, and even loving everyone in Allah, in order that you can be closer to the divine. When you lose someone, which is a fact of life, you still have Allah to assist you. You will still grieve, but at least you will be able to walk.”  
The first days after my husband’s death I managed to remain standing, and I was even happy that he had achieved what he had been longing for throughout his 52 years of life: martyrdom. But then I entered the trauma of real loss, and it was then that the shining knowledge of the creator came to me, bringing me closer to Allah. Thus, my loss and grief and mourning were all still there, but I had acquired new boundaries of knowledge and understanding of life.
Yet, my story is as nothing besides those of other martyrs’ families. Listening to their stories, I have been struck by the power they have given me and by their stories of weakness and strength and the ways they found of surviving the deaths of their loved ones. 
Mama Leila, the mother of 25-year-old Khaled Said who was killed by policemen six months before the Revolution started, was totally broken when she saw her son dead in the morgue in Alexandria. Zahra, his older sister, came later from Cairo and didn’t want to see the body. When she saw a videotape of what had happened to him, she fainted and was hospitalised for two days. Her mother had to pray that she would not lose her daughter as well. 
Like her son, Leila then became an icon of the Revolution. Everyone was counting on her, and she became the first person to support any suffering person. She was there for any injured person or for any martyr’s family. She took part in all the protests and rallies. The question was raised about how she could do so, given that she and her daughter had been totally devastated by Khaled’s death.
“The key was in the people’s support, especially the support of the young people,” Zahra said. “They never abandoned us. They became like her children. She had lost a son, but she became the mother of all the youth of the Revolution.”
With such support, Leila felt her own faith being renewed, especially when she dreamed of her son washing her heart in sacred Zamzam water. She started to get better, though she remained grieving in silence. As a result, she was able to turn her grief into a positive force for change and into a way of changing a corrupt society for the better, taking her son’s death as a way of fulfilling a nation’s dreams.
Mothers bury themselves when they bury their children. That is what I felt when I met a grieving mother who couldn’t stand the loss of her 19-year-old son killed in December 2011. Six months after his murder, his father died, and she found herself running to his tomb in a vain attempt to see her son once more.  She is better now, with her attempts at seeing her son again apparently enabling her to live again without him.
The sisters of martyrs are also fragile psychologically, and Reham al-Sharqawi felt her younger brother’s death more than any other member of her family. “My parents used to tell me to take care of my brother when we were kids,” she said. “Now he has been killed, and I am the one who must find out who murdered him, even if his murderer is a member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself.”
Al-Sharqawi left her job and took up another in a human rights association to be nearer to the investigations into her brother’s death. She even volunteered on the second fact-finding committee to help gather information on her brother’s case. She attends events in Tahrir Square and every rally she can. She comes to Cairo every day from Al-Sharkeyya to attend to her brother’s cause.
“My brother will be dying over and over again for the rest of my life. Grief lasts forever. It doesn’t go away: it becomes a part of me, step by step, breath by breath. I will never stop grieving for Ramy because I will never stop loving him. All I can do is live his life until I find mine.” 
Support from friends and family is to be expected, but the support of other people is another positive outcome of a revolution, and some of these people can eventually become just as close as family members. People call the martyrs’ families to thank them for their relations’ sacrifice and to support the family psychologically, and many famous visitors come to support afflicted familes. 
Psychiatrists such as Manal Omar, Amr Salah and Omneya Mohamed have played a leading role in trying to minimise the trauma such families suffer by providing support groups for free to the injured and to martyrs’ families and children. During these groups, discussion centres on their loss, until over time they are able to overcome their depression.
Even artists have shared in the task by contributing paintings, sculptures, graffiti, poems and songs. Waleed Yassin, a famous artist, has painted many of the martyrs of the Revolution, and he has had such paintings framed and presented them as gifts to families. “I wanted to thank the martyrs with my art,” Yassin commented. “So I drew them and then I started to search for their families. I was very happy to do so. What affected me most were the tearful eyes, the shining nostalgic looks, and the faint thank-yous I heard from the close family members of a martyr.”
It is indeed heart-warming and heart-breaking when I myself see pictures of Effat’s angelic smiling face being shared among thousands of people on social media sites and his image painted on walls in Tahrir Square, next to where he was shot, and in other places where I go. It’s very difficult to live without him, and yet to see his image everywhere around me. But I am sure that people remember him and are using the images of him to make him part of history and ensure that he is remembered.
“To Allah we belong and unto Him is our return. O Allah, recompense me for my affliction and replace it for me with something better.” This is an Islamic supplication by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Most of us say such things, but we may not fully understand them, though this can be a gain in disguise.
It doesn’t mean forgetting the grief and betraying the memory of our beloved one, but instead it means promising us the spiritual gain of physical loss until our roads cross again and we meet hand in hand as we used to do together. Empowerment in the face of loss is a long process that can help you dare to live despite your refusal to live. It can make affliction into a kind of reward. It can mean that when you know you can’t cope, amazingly you’ll still find a ray of hope.

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