Friday, April 27, 2007

Condolence Customs

When I first arrived in Jordan, I found the condolence customs overwhelming. Because they were steeped in rigid tradition and duty, I thought they were hypocritical as well. I have changed my mind since.

My husband is related to several thousand people who all live in Jordan. When someone dies in his family or tribe, which happens quite often - he had three deaths in his family this month - he may spend the three days of official mourning sitting with the close male relatives of the deceased to receive condolences. However, if the deceased isn’t closely related or known to him, he will make one brief condolence visit to the family which is the more common practice. The obituaries in the daily papers dictate which visits he must make on any given day. These will include the Jordanian society at large as well as his family. He considers making a condolence call his duty and one that he and all Jordanians seriously honor.

Years ago the mourning period lasted for 40 days. It was the men who traveled from one village or tribe to another to make the condolence calls and the women stayed at home. The women of the grieving family had to cook and take care of guests throughout that 40 day period. The burden on the grieving family was monetarily and emotionally exhausting. My mother-in-law used to say that at the end of 40 days their grief was completely spent, and they were eager to get back to their normal lives. I’m sure they were. Of course 40 days of official mourning isn’t compatible with modern life, but sadly in America the family of the deceased is generally left alone to struggle with their feelings as best they can. Their grief is private and probably more difficult to overcome because of it.

As inconvenient as mourning customs can be, they are healthy and supportive to those who are grieving. That is what they are all about. If my presence will momentarily relieve the pain of someone who grieves, I feel grateful. And when I grieve, I am comforted by the touch and embrace of each person who has made the effort to see me. For a moment I feel the universal connection that binds me to others, and this is compassion when we need it most.



Anonymous hamede said...

Good post,thank you.

Friday, April 27, 2007  

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