a strange longing for a black armband arose strongly today.
no one knows my sensing of grief except those close to me. the people i encounter in the shops or pass on the pavement have no idea. there is, these days, no public display of grieving. there are no black wreaths on doors, curtains remain open, black is a commonly worn colour, no longer reserved for mourners. and so no one knows.
at the same time as i want the world to know, there is a deep desire to remain at home, to stay sheltered in my cave. every errand, every email, every phone call draws me out of the cave. i feel no hurry, though a friend is already becoming concerned about my "withdrawal". is there a prescribed period after which one is supposed to "get on with life"?
in the jewish tradition, there is.
we find three distinct periods, defined by the intensity of grief and mourning. the first three days after the death are the most intense and are designed to focus the attention of the mourners not only on the death of the person, but also on death itself. a jewish burial will take place during these first days.
the following four days, comprising the first week after the death, are less proscribed. during that week friends, family and community come to visit and share memories of the person who has died. the mourners sit on low chairs, to be closer to the ground where the deceased person now abides. no music is played, no parties attended, no social activities at all.
for the next three weeks, some of the initial restrictions are lifted...the mourners resume work and still refrain from social interaction.
after these 30 days in mourning for a close relative (other than a parent), life resumes its normal course of daily activity (for a parent there is a year of mourning.) not only does it resume, but this re-engagement is an important part of the process. music, parties, social events are back in the diary.
in a close-knit community everyone knows of the death. there is common understanding of the grief. in our contemporary culture we are expected to "get over it" quickly, not show any outward display and to be the same person we were before the death.
we can not be the same person. the world has a different axis. what was once the structure of family or friendship is no longer. it takes however long it takes to establish the new structure. someone new is now the eldest. someone new now takes the role that the dead person held in the network of friends. the place they held in the larger community is filled by someone new.
while we may no longer wear black armbands, grieving and mourning are a vital aspect of life. the ever-flowing life force is honoured in death.
when the 30 days after my brother's death have passed, i will remove my virtual black armband and once again listen to music, dance, sing and find joy in my engagement with life.