Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Searching For Help - Faith Communities


Journal entry 4

I wasn’t finding much that was helpful in my own religious tradition for dealing with grief, so I went looking at other religions. This is what I understand about the Jewish grief traditions.

The Jewish pattern of care for the first year helped me realize that grief was going to last longer than I anticipated, and its 3000-year old traditions gave me permission to not rush the journey. The basic rabbinic guideline is three days for weeping, seven days for lamenting, and thirty days for mourning. If the death was due to an act of violence, then more time is allowed.

From the moment of death until the end of the funeral, survivors honor the dead in a time called aninut — the “hollow days,” an apt term because that’s how this time feels. They tear a piece of clothing, symbolic of how their lives have been torn.

After the funeral, mourners observe shiva for seven days, covering mirrors and sitting with their grief while others take care of their basic needs. They also receive well-wishers in a time when they’re numb to everything and the words of grief from others do not deepen their own. This also gives the community the chance to acknowledge its sorrow over the death.

Following shiva, mourners return to work but refrain from going to parties and concerts. As they continue to mourn for thirty days, shloshim. After this they rejoin the daily life of the world, believing that God will provide what they need. Public memorial services are often held at the end of shloshim. After twelve months, and on the anniversary of the death each year after, the yahrzeit, the dead person is remembered by lighting a memorial candle.

Also, after every worship service, a group of people, a minyan, gathers and says Kaddish together as a community. This is a reminder that death is always in our midst that someone is always grieving, and affirms that no one grieves alone. It’s a prayer of remembering to praise God even when you have suffered a tragedy and only want to curse. In this case, people say the prayer for those who are too grief-stricken, or too angry, to pray.

Guidelines:

Accept your emotions.
Express your feelings.
Heal in your own way and in your own time.

Share with others who understand grief.

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In Islam, followers observe communal mourning for three days, bringing food, reading verses from the Qur’an, and staying overnight so that the surviving spouse is not alone. The family often wears clothing of mourning for forty days. In some traditions the mourning color is black; in others it is white.

In the Japanese culture, with its mixture of Buddhist, Shinto, and folk beliefs, the bulk of grief work is focused in the first forty-nine days when the living express their sorrow and the community provides support. If grieving is not yet finished, as when the death was due to an act of violence, then more time is allowed. 

China has a number of native religions as well as world religions like Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. My brother Kurt witnessed the funeral procession of one tradition where family members wailed loudly until they reached the gravesite. Then the widow ritually tried to throw herself into the grave while other mourners ritually held her back.

In the early Christian Church, the faith community met on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after a funeral for a time of prayer and hymns. Members of the Russian Orthodox Church feel that the ghosts of the dead linger for forty days and then receive God’s judgment about entrance into heaven.

Celtic Christians have traditionally used wakes to celebrate the dead person. Elderly women of the neighborhood came in to wash the body and lay it out in a room where mourners would offer a prayer and say a few words of condolence to the family. In another room the deceased’s life was remembered through stories, song and drink.


In mainstream Christian denominations in the Midwest, other than a potluck meal after the funeral service, I don’t know of much that is organized for grievers. The exceptions are mega churches that are large enough to have an ongoing fellowship group for grievers, and individual congregations that hold quarterly or yearly focus groups for those who have lost loved ones. 

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