by David Walker
Chaplain, East Valley
“Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.”
― Jalaluddin Rumi, 13th century Sufi mystic
The patient was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity. His wife was also Christian. The couple spoke a language other than English and communicated through an interpreter. The patient’s Muslim family lived in the Middle East and did not know of his conversion. The couple’s young adult sons were atheists.
I was asked to assist with burial plans for the patient, preside over the service, and address everyone’s needs. First I met with the patient. Through the interpreter, the patient explained that Muslims cannot be buried with non-Muslims, but he wanted to be buried at a place that would allow his Christian wife to be buried beside him. That issue was resolved with a plot in the Muslim section of a regular cemetery.
After the patient died, arrangements were made for a Muslim imam to prepare and dress the man’s body for burial, in accordance with traditions. I communicated by secure email with the wife to plan the funeral service. She asked me not to mention God, Christianity or anything religious at the service for fear of offending the couple’s sons.
Halfway through the graveside service, a car pulls up and out pops the imam. I stopped talking and said: ‘Can I help you?’ The imam said he thought the man’s body was being sent back to the Middle East, but since burial was underway here, it was vitally important that prayers be said.
The imam’s participation opened a spiritual door. When I resumed the service after he left, it hit me that he had set the stage for me to have some prayers for this man and his family. Plus I could talk about the grief cycle – the boys were grieving deeply for their father. In the end everybody was ok, and I was grateful that it all worked out!