It’s an age old question: what drives or motivates us to change direction? To move away from a previous, perhaps ho hum existence or perhaps harmful behaviour with real consequences, to adopt a new, hopefully, more meaningful way of living?
As you can imagine there’s no one size fits all. What does it for one person, doesn’t do it the next person. But there can be common themes that wake us up from our business as usual ways of living. This story by Alice Moldovan , As a Muslim Mariam lives the ‘five before five’ — and finds meaning and balance as a death doula (ABC Radio National Soul Search) is a bit more dramatic than most, but it serves the purpose for this post.
“I collided head on with a truck, the car caught on fire. It was a huge emergency operation,” says Mariam Ardati. It was one of those car accidents “you think nobody could have survived.”
‘When she crawled out of the wreckage of her car, Mariam was amazed to see that she didn’t have a single scratch on her.
The close brush with death turned her thoughts to what would have happened to her body under Islamic tradition if she had in fact, died.’
The experience prompted a spiritual journey to reconnect with the Sunni Muslim faith she had grown up with.
“I was largely self-centred up until that accident happened,” she told RN’s Soul Search, “and it helped me find purpose and meaning.”
For the last 15 years she has helped other people in the Muslim community through the transition from life into death — as a doula. Mariam supports the dying and their families in the lead up to death, then leads the ritual care for the body of the deceased.
Muslim burial rituals have a “very human touch”, says Professor Mohamad Abdalla, referring to the practice of men going down into a grave to lower a body in with their hands, sans coffin (without a coffin, in these cases a shroud).
Much of Mariam’s energy is directed to increasing death literacy in the community — helping people become accustomed to the idea of dying.
She encourages the same open approach at home with her own children, in a “mother-daughter bonding exercise”.
“I have cut my own [death] shroud, and I had my daughter by my side with the measuring tape saying, ‘No mum, that’s too short, we need to make it longer this way’.”
It’s a sense of purpose that leads to an understanding that “your actions have consequences, and that you’re part of a larger social context”.
A Muslim is encouraged “to take advantage of what’s known as the five before five,” she explains.
“Your health before sickness, your life before you’re overcome with death, your free time before you become busy, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you become poor.”
She says she’s glad her own encounter with a near-fatal accident showed her that she wasn’t invincible. Rather, it gave her a sense of purpose and meaning.
“I didn’t find that in the world of the living — I found it in the world of the dead.”