The Common Language of Grief
I had just returned from an extended and very much needed Easter/Passover break when there was a knock on the door of my office.
"B's mother passed away and this is the last day we can visit. Do you want to come with us?"
I did, indeed, so I got up and went downstairs to wait with the others. Only then it occurred to me that she perhaps lived in an area illegal for me to venture to.
I am one of the very few Jewish Israelis working at a school in Beit Hanina. The population of the kids is 80% Moslem and 20% Christian and the staff is the opposite. B is Moslem.
I was told she lives in Shuafat, which is permissible, so I got into the car and we were on our way.
Not quite, it turned out, because the principal had a puncture in her tire, so we went in someone else's car.
Presently, after a few wrong turns in which I got an inadvertent tour, we arrived at an upscale residential area and walked into a garden, fragrant with roses and jasmine. The apartment was on the third floor.
The door was open and we entered and sat down. There were only women present. Some had their heads covered; some did not. In the background, we heard the mournful sounding verses of what I assumed to be the Koran being read. It turned out that this was indeed the case.
We were served bitter coffee (due to the fact that death is bitter) and a date. We were also given a little booklet with verses from the Koran and the departed's name inscribed on the first page.
The mourners jumped up to hug us, and my friend said to me in English, "Thank you for coming."
Soon, others left and we moved closer to my friend and her sister. Sighing, she recounted the horror of the last days, when her mother of only 70 succumbed to cancer.
Since the conversation was in Arabic, I had the chance to observe. It struck me, for about the hundredth time, how similar we all are.
Her smile never reached her eyes as she spoke. She sighed deeply and wiped a few tears away, gazing into space. She then seemed to remember she had guests and spoke again.
She spoke for some minutes but soon began to run out of steam. She stopped, shrugging half apologetically. We simply nodded and held her hand, a gesture understood across language and culture.
The house was spacious with a large room, a hutch containing exquisite glassware and some verses on the wall. It was similar, in some ways, to my own house. There were plants-beautiful orchids in the corner; lovely snapdragons in yellow, orange and red on the window sill.
Everything was immaculate (unlike my own house) with no books or extraneous items out.
Soon, we left. She again rose to express her gratitude for coming, hugging and kissing me on both cheeks.
It will be a long road, this one to recovery from the death of her beloved mother. Since she lived in her mother's house, with her husband and children, it will be even harder.
On the way back, my colleagues and I spoke about death, grief, and the stages one goes through. We even shared funny and touching stories about our own dearly departed. It gets easier with time.
Perhaps we should all be made to go to each other's funerals, and pay condolence calls. Perhaps we should make it a point to live our lives together-to eat together, to celebrate together, and to mourn together. Maybe then we can stop the cyclical insanity that seems to have us in its grip.
My friend will be tender and vulnerable for quite some time. I must remember to be especially kind. We must all remember to be especially kind. We are, after all, human.
- Coach Karen Joy