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He Followed me to Mexico...

I’m sad to say, he followed me to Mexico.

It was three weeks into the iddah period, the Islamic waiting period that comes after a spouse issues the “talaq” pronouncing divorce, when I decided it was time to book a vacation. It was a chance to run away from my problems, from the daily-reminders of a happily-ever-after gone wrong. I scheduled the trip to align with the holiday break, so I could minimize my vacation days. When I purchased the plane ticket, I imagined laying on white beaches, drinking virgin pina coladas, with a stack full of books next to me. I visualized the ease and comfort of no meal prep, with oodles of cheap eats just a hop away from my boutique hotel. I longed for the calming spas and massages that would make me forget, even momentarily, that my husband quit our marriage. 

What I didn’t visualize is the unexpected guest that accompanied me during the whole trip. 

He was there with me in the shower, on the beach, and in the treetop yoga class when I went into shavasana.  He whispered tragic things to me while I was covered in Mayan clay on a massage table at a fancy spa. And he had the nerve to follow me to bed each night, begging me to spill tears over all that I had lost. 

I’m sure you guessed by now that this phantom who followed me was none other than that ghastly abstract entity named Grief. I thought I could escape him by fleeing the country. I thought I could have a moment of peace, but alas, I had to confront what happened.

And that’s why you’re reading this dear reader. Because I barely know what happened in the last seventeen months, from the day I got married (July 24, 2022), to the day he issued the talaq, November 2, 2023. Before that, I had a great year. In fact, days spent with my ex were the happiest I had been in years. The low-grade depression/anxiety I have battled since around 2017, was tame. Sure, there were moments when I wasn’t sure about my career, and I worried about things like my fertility, and paying off my student loans, but it came and went like a honeybee checking for pollen on a fake sunflower. Overall, I was happy, really truly happy. 

It’s only now that I understand I was living in a fantasy world set to end. 

There are lessons, morals to every story. And that’s what the intent of this year’s blog series is. It isn’t to disparage my ex-husband (who I will from now only refer to as X), or to spill all the beans, or add fuel to the already blazing fire. The purpose is to find meaning in the mess. Because there must be some meaning, right? It’s impossible to have your entire world flipped upside down and there not be any takeaways or any teachings that both, you and I, can learn to build upon. Right? I mean God must have had a reason for tearing apart my little world, my little family, right? I’m praying the answer is yes.  

But at this point, only a few months out, I have no idea. 

What I do know is what has helped in the past. The last time I fell into a deep pit and wasn’t sure how to climb out, writing saved me. In the height of my singleness, writing was my confidante, my savior, my compass.  When I began to share my writing and my experiences about finding love and marriage as a practicing Muslimah online, it opened doors to finding a community of women that were struggling too. The commiseration helped me to feel less alone. 

I’m hoping to use this substack as a way to grow the community. Any lost souls feeling like they’re the only ones who have been rejected, unwanted, and ignored, can find solace knowing they are not. We are not broken beings that are searching for a home. We are in a temporary place, a temporary moment, and we will make it through, and find ourselves on the other side of this loneliness, stronger than ever before.

At least that’s what I’m praying for. I’m praying that I get through this tragedy stronger than before. Because what else can I do, but shine positivity on a moment of otherwise devastation? If God has placed me in this moment, with such a test, what else can I do, but persevere?

A lesson on Grief

I’ve been learning a lot about grief these days. I am blessed that I have not yet had any serious losses in my close circle of friends and family to which I encountered the grief process, Alhumdullilah. But since my marriage ended, I have been familiarizing myself with it. 

The physical manifestation of grief strikes me most mornings when I realize the nightmare I dreamed is my new reality. The first few weeks after he left, I would wake up with a jolt. It was a stabbing in my heart that shot through my whole body. I had a hard time breathing. All the memories of the words said before his departure, and immediately after, played in my mind on repeat. All the tears shed. All the shouting. The cycle of memories crippled me. I had to play Quran on Youtube to distract myself. Sometimes I had to call friends for strength. It took me hours to get out of bed. I was completely disoriented.

Now, the pain comes at different times during the day: at Whole Foods when I go to grab the bottle of Elderflower water we used to drink, or when I’m walking to the coffee shop he used to grab me coffee from in the morning. Everywhere I go, especially in my neighborhood that I love and refuse to leave, is tainted with memories of what once was. 

So of course, I thought I could trick grief into leaving me alone for a few days when I went to Tulum, Mexico with a friend. Sadly, I was wrong. Grief was there at every corner showing me this depression wasn’t going away any time soon. 

Andrew Huberman did a podcast on the grief process and healing from grief. He said, “grief is a motivational state… and a desire for something…” He said modern science says that not everyone goes through all the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross). Some people can blend these stages together. The depression state which he describes as the “why should I go on living” stage is where I’m stuck now. 

I wish I was months out from this and could tell you something positive like time heals all wounds, but I’m not there yet. I’m still in immense pain. I’m still trying to see all the reasons that I need to be enthused about continuing to live in this life that is so marred by disappointment, and illusions.  

In addition to intense praying, I have been supported by hearing others’ stories. I have made contact with Muslim women who have unfortunately also been blindsided by their husbands. What they all tell me is that it does actually get better. And the healing I’m searching for happens. Each one of them had their own way of moving forward. A few of them are even re-married now. That gave me hope. My favorite story thus far was from a woman who actually had to make the brave choice to leave a marriage that was not working after twenty years of loving and trying to create a peaceful home with her husband. 

After I told her my news, she said “I’m excited for you. What’s coming next is going to be so beautiful, so amazing. These may in fact be some of the best days of your life.” She said the experiences in the time after she got divorced, and before she met her second-husband, were transformative, necessary and beneficial. 

Without alerting her to the fact that my natural disposition is one of pessimism, I just said “inshaAllah.” Because that’s where I’m at right now. I’m praying that there’s a reason this happened and that this is a test from Allah that I can survive, and more so overcome. 

I’m praying that the ayah from the surah on divorce, surah Talaq, applies to me: And whoever puts their trust in Allah, then He ˹alone˺ is sufficient for them. Certainly Allah achieves His Will. Allah has already set a destiny for everything. (65:3)



Lawyer by day, writer by night, Nailah Dean reports from the front lines as she investigates the “isms” that exist in the Muslim dating world. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, and Insider. Nailah directed and produced a photo series and documentary titled the Isms Project, about Muslim women and the barriers they encounter on the road to love and marriage. The project was recognized in Newsweek, AJ + and the Washington Post. She is a blogger for Salams, the popular Muslim matrimonial app, and a regular contributor to ICNA’s The Message International. Nailah is a member of the SF Writers Workshop and recipient of a 2019 Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Fellowship. She is currently working on a novel about Muslim dating. Nailah Dean lives in the Bay Area.

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