Friday, October 1, 2010

Righteous Mourning .... in Black

When my Grandpa died I was 8. I remember going with my family to my grandpa's apt and at one point we, kids, were left in the living room and wanted to watch cartoons. We turned on the TV and immediately got rebuked by my Aunt who was wearing black, like the rest of the women who were visiting to give their condolences. When we went back home, I asked mom if I could turn the TV on and she said that it was okay as long as it was not too loud.

Years later, my Aunt died, and mom had to wear black all over again. Wearing black in Syria is a tradition for respecting the dead. But wearing black for a whole year has been frowned upon by the older generation because it was too short of a period and disrespectful to the person who passed away. My friend George told me how he never saw his grandma in colored clothes because her husband died young and she wore black for the rest of her life. So now you can understand why wearing black for a whole year is an inappropriate behavior.

I turned 18 and my uncle passed away, he was only 52. I remember sleeping over at their place because his wife couldn't bear the idea of sleeping alone with her daughter without a man in the house. Boy I was the man of the house for three days till her son returned back. There was something in my pocket that was burning my skin for the whole three days and the minute I went back home, I had to take it out of my pants and play it. And if you think it's anything other than "Air supply"'s newly released tape, then shame on you. Anyway, I politely asked dad if it was okay to play music and he smiled and said "don't be selfish, play it here in the living room so we can listen too". Again, I was only 18, but I knew then and there that Dad was not like the rest of the grown ups. He was more open minded and he realized long time ago that if we stopped breathing every time someone died, we'd follow shortly. Dad told us that when his father died and everyone left the apt the very first day except for him and his siblings (who were all married and lived with their families close by) his mother, my grandma, asked them to play cards because it was something their father would have enjoyed. How disrespectful according to the customs in Aleppo!!!

Now Dad himself had passed away this year and it's been a struggle for us keeping up with the expectations of the society. So let me highlight a few pointers first so that you can tell how little we loved our father. According to the rules of mourning, men have to earn a living, so they don't need to do anything except visiting the first three days to pay their dues. Women on the other hand have a lot of rules to follow. If they were married, and one of their family members passes away, then they're supposed to wear black for 6 months only, now that we're in 2010. If they're not married, then they're supposed to wear black for a whole year. Once the period is over, then they should switch to black and a little white, like a scarf for example, a period of 2 weeks is served in black and white before another month or two are served in transition. That transition includes wearing dark colors, like gray, navy blue, and dark brown. In the old days women were not supposed to cut their hair while they're mourning. Now they can, as long as it's not too fashionable and as long as they don't wear make up or accessories. A full year has to go by before they can celebrate Easter or Christmas because celebration means happiness and they just buried a human being, not a dog.

If you think that's all there's to it, you're wrong. Women are not supposed to leave their place for a full month (it used to be a year but because we're open minded, we shortened that sentence). The first three days all the relatives and I mean all the relatives (with their kids) come to visit every single day and dine with the family. Something I call "Suffocating with love". After the first mass there's the 9th day mass, then the 40iest day mass which you would naturally think it would be left to the closest ones, but no, everyone who lives across the street has to come and socialize too. People then go to a hall where they drink black coffee. A certain kind of pastries is served with the coffee because candies and anything that includes sugar is a sign of happiness, now no need to remind you about happiness while grieving. Music is not supposed to play for 40 days and TV is supposed to remain turned off. Yes, you don't need any kind of distraction because distractions mean you don't love or respect that person who passed. The custom after that is returning those visits by visiting back, not for the purpose of socializing "God forbid", but as a token of appreciation. It's a gesture of "Thank you" for not leaving us alone in during those hard times and for not giving us any space whatsoever.

Mom went through a lot before and after dad passed. I wanted her to come live with me after a month from dad's death but she said it was too soon to travel and that she would prefer to wait a year so that no one badmouth her. Anyway with the help of my sisters she finally gave in and crossed the ocean four months later to spend 6 months away from the "He said, she said"-Society. Being away from all the sickness and ignorance of the tradition was not enough, she felt some kind of guilt and next thing I know, a woman wearing black was living with me. We talked, we talked again we cried, we argued and at one point she stopped wearing black. When I posted a picture of her wearing black and white during our trip to NYC, one of my family members made the call to give us the guilt trip. Mom COULD wear colors, but not advertise it.

So, I wrote this blog to say that I admire the western tradition when someone passes away. I call it "common sense". They actually celebrate the kind of life their late family member had. They mourn and they grief, and they cry over the loss too, but they know that life goes on. Be reasonable before you judge, and do not pretend that you're open minded when you actually live as a slave to your society. We do what we can to help move on, so if you imprison yourself in black, you are free to do what you want, and so are we because wearing black is not going to bring the dead back to life, and not wearing black does NOT mean we loved our late family member any less than you loved yours. As much as I love Aleppo, I have to say, there are certain things there that literally make me feel SICK to my stomach. Mourning is definitely one of them.

Let go, seriously, it's pathetic .....