This is a blog interview with Umm Layth of the blog World of Umm that she did of me on the death of my daughter.
This is a re post of that blog here on my blog.
Holly Garza is a Mexican-American mother of two (one alive), currently living in Illinois, U.S.A. She has a Certificate of Achievement in Early Childhood Development and is the founder of the groups Homeschooling Muslimah Mommies and Ummis Seeking Sabr.
In April of 2004, Holly’s eldest daughter died during a house fire. This interview was conducted with Holly not to exploit her experience, but to try and provide other grieving moms with support and perspective, inshaAllah. May Allah make it of benefit, ameen.
1. Tell me the story of how your daughter died.
I was having a really bad day. Our electricity had been cut off because I was overdue on the bill. I was going to have the money the next day but the company wouldn’t budge. We needed light that night so we lit all of the candles we had. We lit some on the walls in those decorative candle holders (dumb, I know) some tapers, some teacup candles, and some in the living room and bathroom.
It was Spring break so my ex-husband’s son, my brother’s son and my best friend’s kids were all there. The kids all had those little glow sticks, the ones you put in your mouth. My ex-husband and I had a disagreement and had been arguing.
My daughter and I decided to sleep early since the lights were out and it was a little chilly outside. I was four and a half month pregnant, stressed and extremely tired.
I laid down with my daughter in the back room who rubbed my belly and said, “Mommy, today was not such a good day, maybe tomorrow will be a better day.” I felt so stupid for arguing in front of her. Then I got mad. She was barely seven years old and worrying about me when she should have been thinking about her own birthday party that was only two days away!
I lost it. I told her, “Shut up! Don’t worry about it. This is grown peoples’ problems. You’re a little girl. When are you going to stop worrying about mommy?!”
I wish I hadn’t said it, but I’ve cried and begged for forgiveness. None of us can change the past. Now it’s just a reminder for myself and all parents to remember to watch our words and actions. We’ll never know what we will regret later.
She let out a big sigh from her skinny body and turned over to fall asleep. At one point, before I fell asleep, I tried to apologize to her but she didn’t answer. All she did was moan or mumble in her sleep.
A while later, there was a bunch of noise and screaming, then pounding at my door. I was so tired and groggy I can’t describe it. I later found out it was the effects of the carbon monoxide. I gently pulled my daughter off my arm so I wouldn’t wake her, walked outside my room and closed the door behind me.
The boys were there as well as my husband and my brother. They all looked bewildered and dirty. Their faces were black. They were jumping up and down, screaming at me. They yelled to me that the house was on fire. I went to the kitchen sink to grab a wet rag and put out the little fire I saw. I turned back to the direction I came and saw that the living room wall was ablaze.
I ran outside to gather more adults to help and come back in. I thought we had more time. When I opened the door, it was as if I set off a bomb. The windows exploded and the fire spread into the next room. My ex-husband and my brother ran in to save the kids in the front room. I ran in looking for my daughter. It was pitch black and the smoke was thick. It felt like an intense acid blanket of poison and heat all over my body. I was so disoriented in my own house.
I headed back to the front door for air. My husband saw I didn’t have her. I saw that he didn’t either! He pushed me out of the way and outside and then ran back to get her. While my husband looked for her inside, the firemen had to hold me back outside while I screamed at them to let me go.
The other kids stared in horror as the flames engulfed the second floor and roof. I managed to escape and go back in but I fainted and was carried back outside. I came to while being restrained from going back in again. They pulled my husband out of the house too. There was still no sign of my daughter.
I was kicking, punching and screaming for people to let me go. But they held on. As the top floor of the house caved in, I felt my heart shatter and I knew that she was gone.
After three days in the hospital, drama, investigations, autopsy, and her memorial service, it was determined that she had 97% carbon monoxide in her lungs and died from the poisoning. The investigation showed that one of the taper candles from the wall had cracked, melted and dripped hot wax onto the carpet and wood floor. The candle kept melting until a piece broke off, stayed lit and ignited the carpet and floor beneath it.
I also found out that she died with no pain. Just a few breaths and she was gone. Alhamdulilah she is in Jannah (paradise).
La Hawla Wa la Quwata Ila BilAllah (there is no might or power except with Allah)
2. How did the news of your daughter’s death affect you emotionally, physically and spiritually?
Oh man, where do I begin? The pain that people caused by saying “I know how you feel.” They didn’t. They don’t. NO ONE grieves the same way. It was the worst insult to the pain that I was already going through.
I wasn’t religious then. I had belief in “God” as one entity with a “son” but I didn’t practice anything. I took it very hard. It literally broke me. I was angry with “God” and said VERY hateful, angry, depressed, hurtful things, May Allah forgive me. I became aloof, distraught, very distant, angry, cynical, quiet, and withdrawn.
3. As a non-Muslim, how did you cope with the loss of your daughter? Who or what did you turn to for help and for strength?
I joined every grieving web site and group I could find. I wrote a book (not a very good one) with a lot of angry words towards people, God and myself. I made and joined support groups on myspace and basically talked it to death, no pun intended.
4. What role did your daughter’s death play in your journey to becoming Muslim?
This was, has been and is always in my mind. At the time, I was beyond angry with God but I knew God didn’t “kill” children. nor did he damn children to purgatory or hell for lack of being baptized as I had previously been informed. I was always able to comprehend the concept of one single ilah and ONLY Him as God. The Islamic concept of children not having original sin made a lot of sense and appealed to me as well.
In the Qur’an, Allah says that every soul shall taste death. It is inevitable. I had to learn that God does not take children in order to “have more angels.” I started learning little by little and tried to live with the pain.
5. As a Muslim, how does the way you continue to cope with your loss differ from when you were non-Muslim? What has changed and why?
I stopped the constant hurting of myself via depressing songs and pictures of my daughter on every wall, book, table, and room. I stopped talking about it every single moment of every single day.I stopped worrying about “what if.”
6. What Islamic lessons has your experience with loss taught you?
As painful and hard as it sounds, I learned to prepare for the worst. No one is guaranteed any time. No one is guaranteed to reach old age.
I also learned to love Allah more than myself or anyone else. As hard as that is to implement, it’s way too dangerous to love someone or something other than Allah more than ourselves because if and when they go, our very lives, deen, mental stability, and emotional selves will go as well.
7. What did your experience teach you about yourself as a mother?
It taught me I am weak. It taught me I love hard.
It taught me that sadly, and maybe unfairly, one second, one minute, one decision can and does affect our entire lives. It also taught me to cherish every moment, to seek out Al Islam because our main focus is to worship Allah and not to stay in this Dunya.
It taught me fear and liberation. Fear because I am no longer afraid of the “what if” because it CAN happen. Liberation because it ripped the naive bandage from my eyes and showed me not to sweat “the small stuff.” After losing your child, it’s ALL small stuff.
It’s also taught me to teach my other daughter Islam, love, and to enjoy the moments I have with her.
8. Tell me about your efforts to connect with other grieving moms.
This was after many dua’as, months of thought, praying istikhara and seeking my husband’s advice.
After I converted, little by little I left the jahiliyyah things I did while grieving and started learning more Tawheed. I left behind hurting myself emotionally and the incorrect aqeeda (i.e. “praying” or asking our child to tell God things for us and other practices that are prevalent in grieving communities).
I wanted to do so something for the Muslim mommies. So I decided to make a private group on Facebook. I thought long and hard for over a year before I made it. Before Islam, I HAD to grieve. So I belonged to forums, death web pages, and had basically made them my home, my own morgue/ cemetery, so to speak.
But in Islam, it’s not permissible to attribute more love to any being, living or dead, than you do towards Allah and His messenger, sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. When you lose someone that was “supposed to” outlive you, it’s HARD! It’s also haram to hurt ourselves by causing ourselves extra guilt or depression and staying in that dark place.
With that said, I saw the need in our Ummah to remember that helping our sisters is a blessing. Just because Angels (creations of Allah which are described as huge and different than anything we have EVER seen) are not our children doesn’t mean that our children aren’t in Jannah. Allah is Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem.
I wanted to make a place for togetherness. Maybe a venting, crying, sharing place if need be, but more so for encouragement and reminders of patience, love, and worship.A place where the Shaitan could not use our tremendous loss against us, but where we could InshaAllah use it to build our Eman and work towards being with our children one day in Jannah, InshaAllah
I wanted a place where the sad, suffering or grieving Muslim Mother would not only be told “be patient” and then ignored. Patience is definitely something to strive for but not to the point of neglecting our sisters in Islam. I wanted something to remind them of the wonderful words of Hope from Allah and His Messenger on this subject.
9. What advice do you have for other Muslim moms who may have lost a child?
Love yourself; forgive yourself. And not only on the surface.
There is NOTHING you can do to change what happened. Blaming yourself and saying “if only” will just cause further hurt. Come back to the perfect Oneness of Allah and His book and what His Messenger promised us.
Be nice to yourself. Remember it is OKAY to be sad sometimes. Remember your child will InshaAllah be in Jannah, asking, begging Allah to bring you and let you in. Strive to get there, InshaAllah
10. What do you believe are some of the most important things a mother should remember if she ever loses a child?
Their blessing is with their Lord.
To ask for help on “bad days” from Allah first and foremost and seek refuge from the accursed Shaitan, depression and the was-was. Seek out a trusted confidant for support.
On the days where it literally and physically feels as if an elephant or a truck were sitting on their chest and it hurts to breathe, swallow, and live; the days where it just HURTS with no description: walk away from what they are doing and immediately make a change. If online, walk away from the computer and go outside. Go somewhere! Go near people!
If you are near people and they have suffered a similar loss and keep bringing it up, remove yourself from them. Get into sewing, scrapbooking, reading, gardening, cooking, Arabic, hadeeth, Islamic classes, homeschooling, exercise. Do something that can give you a positive outlet and a “get away” with something to do.
Always remember there is someone who has lost more than you, no matter how HUGE your loss is. This is not meant to belittle our pain or experience. However, it is to help us remain grateful. And we must ALWAYS be grateful for the blessings of our Lord.