In 2011, 1,636 Emiratis and 3,475 expats died across Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Fujairah, yet the number of people who felt – and likely still feel – the impact of each of those deaths will be far higher. And until now, there has been no free support available to those people anywhere in the UAE.
In November, Dubai community mental health clinic The Lighthouse Arabia launched the Raymee Grief Centre, which became the first pro-bono support facility in the UAE for the many people who are grieving in the emirates. Part of Raymee’s purpose is to educate people on the process of grieving, and open up a dialogue in the community about death and bereavement, a subject that the founders say is too often ignored or brushed under the carpet. As well as offering talks on a particular area of bereavement, grief or loss every six weeks, the centre hosts community support groups twice a month, which are open to people of all ages, nationalities and religions.
‘All our services are offered in Arabic as well as English, and it’s a culturally, religiously and linguistically sensitive environment,’ explains Dr Saliha Afridi, managing director of The Lighthouse. ‘It’s not one-size-fits-all at all, but grief is the thing that joins us, and this is a place of understanding – no one is excluded.’ Dr Saliha decided to set up the centre after hearing the story of a young woman named Raymee, who lost her mother to terminal illness. ‘It reminded me that no one should have to deal with death alone,’ she explains. After visiting the The Dougy Center for grieving children in the US, she decided to bring the idea to Dubai.
Dr Saliha also discovered that many adults taking part in private psychotherapy or counselling sessions were addressing issues that had arisen as a result of childhood loss. The prevalence of ‘unprocessed’ grief compounded her decision to set up the centre and, given the turnout already, it seems to have been well-judged. ‘The talks have been very well-received,’ she says. ‘People come, they talk, they ask questions, they cry – so we know we’re reaching people.’
Dr Saliha’s knowledge of the rites surrounding bereavement in her own religion led her to believe there was a particular need to open a dialogue about the process of grieving. ‘As a Muslim, I know that people sometimes expect you to transcend grief, saying, “This is God’s will – don’t question it.” Sometimes that’s mixed with, “Don’t be sad about it, because if you’re sad you are questioning God’s will.” Some Islamic interpretation says you cannot be sad when someone leaves, but I believe you can definitely be sad,’ she explains. ‘In the Islamic tradition we’re supposed to mourn actively for three days, but your grief doesn’t
stop there. Your mourning stops there, and that’s when grief begins.’
Beyond the confines of religion, Dr Saliha says research has shown that healing often happens within a group structure, which is exactly what the centre’s support system offers. ‘Grief can be isolating. By sitting with people in that environment, you’re saying there is nothing pathological about it – you don’t need psychotherapy to process grief. Somebody died, and you need to be within a community that understands that.’
When friends and family find themselves unable to offer the right words of support, it helps to be among people who are comparing similar experiences. That said, Raymee Grief Centre also offers talks to help people who are supporting their partners through loss, equipping them with a better understanding of how to be the right kind of support for the person they love.
With the help of this new initiative by The Lighthouse Arabia, bereavement in Dubai will hopefully be a little less debilitating, a little less isolating and a little less misunderstood, for a lot more people.
Raymee Grief Centre, The Lighthouse Arabia, Beach Road, www.lighthousearabia.com (04 380 9298).
The five stages of grief
Emotions rarely fit into neat boxes, but these are the common responses that many people have to loss.
The first stage of grief: denial helps us survive our loss. We are in shock, and everything becomes meaningless and overwhelming.
A necessary part of the healing process. Underneath anger lies pain, and feelings of being deserted and abandoned. People are often encouraged to feel their anger fully, as the more you truly feel it, the more you will heal.
A period of ‘what if...’ and ‘if only...’. We think about what we could have done differently, whether we are to blame, and often attempt to bargain with a higher entity to make us realise it’s all just a bad dream.
Thoughts return to the present, and we feel empty. Grief takes over in a manner that we could never before have imagined, and we sink to an impossible low.
Not to be confused with being ‘okay’ with what has happened. Acceptance means accepting that the person we love is physically gone, and that we must now learn to live with this new reality.