On Wednesday, July 21st, I received news that my uncle had passed away. We weren’t blood relatives. He was my mum’s neighbour in Fiji when they were kids and also her best friend from childhood, one of the few that she had. As long as I can remember, he’s always been a strong and positive presence in my life. From my own childhood, I have always loved, respected, and perceived him as a second father to me. When I received news of his death, I felt nothing but shock and disbelief. Then as I learned more information pertaining to his death, my disbelief melted into a pool of burning hot anger and then hatred.
On the Saturday preceding that Wednesday, my uncle was involved in a car accident with another driver who was driving under the influence of alcohol. My uncle died on impact. Since the authorities had such a difficult time identifying him, he was left to rot in a freezer in a morgue, all by himself, for three to four days. In Islam, it’s imperative to bury the body as quickly as possible upon demise. The goal is to return our bodies to Allah as purely as we can. But my uncle wasn’t able to receive that blessing. When I think about how he died and the fact that if the authorities never figured out his identity, he would’ve just been buried as another John Doe, my entire body fills with an incomprehensible white hot rage.
Shortly after learning the truth, I made a very angry tweet online about how drunk drivers are extremely selfish with no consideration for the other people that they hurt when they choose to get behind the wheel inebriated. While I still very much feel this sentiment right down to my core, I’ve also come to recognise that the anger that spurred that comment was done so in poisonous emotional incapacity, and for that I’m incredibly sorry. I’m not perfect. Between dealing with this incredibly heart-breaking and intimate loss and having seen the impact that drunk driving has had on my loved ones (my uncle is not the first person whom I’ve loved dearly to die from another’s irrational and irresponsible decision to drive without full sober capacity), I felt an overpowering urge to scream and yell to validate my fury.
Who does that anger help? How does it fix this situation or make things better for me and his other loved ones?
Nobody. It doesn’t.
It won’t bring my uncle back. It won’t bring him peace and it won’t change the reality that people will continue to commit these atrocities. It’s not going to help me grieve or to process his loss in a healthy and meaningful way. All it does is give way to hatred.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t hate the man who got drunk and drove. But the very harsh truth behind this whole situation is that my uncle wasn’t innocent either. He was speeding above the posted limit. The reality is that no one will truly know if the culprit was the drunk driver that ran a red light, or my uncle who was speeding and may not have noticed a light change. All we know is that they crashed into one another, and it led to the demise of a very good man. The other harsh truth is that I have no idea who the drunk driver was. Let’s just say for argument’s sake that it was his fault, in a blatant and unarguable manner. Was he a brother? A husband, partner or a father? At the very least, he was someone’s son, and he came out of that mess severely injured. There could be someone out there grieving for him as well. Who am I to judge another human being? I’m not Jesus or Boss Man or Allah.
On Wednesday night, Gabs took me out for a drive. I couldn’t feel anything. I was in such a state of shock that my whole body and mind went utterly numb. Gabs knows me well enough to understand that if I didn’t find a way to release the incomprehensible backlot of emotions that I didn’t even realise I had, it would be absolutely detrimental to my emotional and physical well-being. So, we got some coffee and a chocolate brownie from a local Starbucks, and then we parked in the parking lot, and I started talking about my uncle.
I began by talking about how much he did for me and my family ever since I was child. How he had always loved my mother dearly, but life had other plans for them, so his love remained unrequited. Yet, that never stopped him from always being my mum’s best friend. It never stopped him for being there to help my family, including my dad, when things became tough. He always treated me with the love and compassion one would their own child or daughter (I was assigned female at birth, although I am nonbinary). I never knew a man that worked so fucking hard to support his family (his brothers, siblings, and nephews and niece). Every penny he made, went to the support and livelihood of everyone he loved. Slowly, the conversation began to veer into darker parts as I started to vent about the people who never cared for him when he was alive but felt they could gripe about him in death. That anger that I tried to bury, bubbled to the surface. I ranted and I yelled about the drunk driver. About people who always treated my uncle like absolute shite. About how much I regret that I hadn’t seen him in years due to my own health circumstances… Then the dam fucking broke.
I sat in the car with a half-eaten brownie in one hand and Gabs fingers entwined in my other, and I cried. I cried and I sobbed, and I screamed. I mourned until I could mourn no more. When I was finished, Gabs and I held hands as I prayed to Boss Man to forgive his sins and to embrace him in Paradise (Islamic equivalent of Heaven). That he was a good man with a good heart, and I sincerely wished he finally found his peace in Paradise, that his rest would be calm and serene. That I always loved him and respected him and would until my own dying day.
When we came home, I collapsed into my bed and finally fell asleep. I didn’t dream, I didn’t even move much at all. I was like a brick that had simply fallen to the ground. When I woke up, I ruminated over everything that had happened over the last twenty-four hours. While I was left feeling cathartic after crying, I also realised the true nature of anger and hatred, and why they are the major poisons of Buddhism. I felt ashamed.
One of the main core concepts of Buddhism is compassion. Compassion and impermanence. Yes, I could be upset that my uncle died, especially under those very horrifying circumstances, but if I let go of my compassion and my ability to respect that life is impermanent, what is left? If I give into my anger and become so consumed as to feel nothing but hatred, what is left? As I mentioned above, it doesn’t help anyone to feel those things, to let those emotions take root and grow into a blinding bloom of blame. All that shall ever lead to are petals of guilt and shame, as I had felt that morning when I awoke.
This lesson took me completely by surprise, but it’s one that I deeply appreciate. It was one of the most eye-opening realisations that I have had in years. I had to let go of my anger and my hatred of the drunk driver. I don’t know him. I don’t know his circumstances or his situation. It’s not my place to judge with fallible feelings of negativity, but to have compassion and understanding in the fact that my uncle wasn’t the only one injured, and his loved ones weren’t the only ones that were hurting. I asked Boss Man to forgive me for my brashness.
Today, as I sat down to talk about the wisdom and tough life lessons that came out of this excruciating experience, I perceived something else that this ordeal has shown me. I am no longer incapacitated by grief.
I have always been someone that feels loss (via death) with such unfathomable strength that it leaves me confused and very broody at the world. But since becoming a Buddhist and opening my heart to life’s fleeting nature, as well as that compassionate bit I mentioned earlier, I have accepted that death shall happen, and it rarely occurs with an opportunity for good-bye. Because life is so damn short, it’s that much more vital to treat our loved one’s with care, concern, and empathy while we are able to. When the tides of the universe shift, we will never know or be prepared for it.
With my uncle passing, I wholeheartedly expected to become so psychologically fucked-up that I wouldn’t be able to function for at least a month or so (as per my past experiences). I even reached out to some friends to give them a head’s up. But after going out with Gabs and crying into my brownie, and accepting what has been done in the moment, I was able to mourn and grieve much quicker than I ever thought possible. I gave my grief to Boss Man and moved on. If this isn’t an awe-inspiring dose of hope for personal growth in the face of unexpected adversity and tragedy, then I don’t know what the hell is.
I wrote all of this today, not because I’m trying to be preachy or try to convert people to believe in Boss Man (God) or to become Buddhists. What you believe or don’t believe is personal to you and absolutely none of my fucking business. I wrote all of this because losing people we care about to death is an inevitability of life. Most of the time, people we love will die in rather unexpected and, oft times, truly terrible ways. It’s extremely important to grieve and mourn their loss, their presence, their warmth. However, it’s as equally vital—or even more so—to never allow those feelings of pain to consume us with anger and hatred. There is a reason why hatred is one of the three main poisons of Buddhism. It clouds our ability to empathise and to remain compassionate, even in the face of the world’s ugliness. Yet, if we allow ourselves to lose that compassion and empathy… then the very nature of hope itself shall go extinct. Never lose sight of those two things, especially when it is confronted with the manipulative toxicity of the other.