Reflections at a Palestinian Funeral

Reflections at a Palestinian Funeral

In Palestinian culture, when someone dies, the customs surrounding mourning and condolences are separated by gender.  The day of the funeral, the coffin is first brought to the women, and afterwards it is taken to the cemetery by the men where they say goodbye. It is a long day where family and friends join in and communally mourn together. The hours spent sitting and mourning include many moments of silence, contemplation, grief and some outbreaks of humor.

Here is a look into two hours of my stream-of-consciousness observation and contemplation in the women’s section while the close family says goodbye to a dear son who passed away from a hereditary disease.

The way the family sits around the coffin resembles a picture from a movie where 15 women encircle a coffin, all crying dramatically.

Why do these funeral halls have bad phone reception? Is it on purpose?

I do a short eyebrow inspection: many are colored/dyed and some look stereotypically angry.

There are so many young women who just stand here and cry. They stop briefly, look around. They cry some more. The cycle continues.

“Forgive me if I have caused this!” cries his mother. What does she mean? Is it the happening of the day when he woke up at 6.30 AM and asked her to move his legs, or the fact that he was born with this disease? Why do moms and sisters ask for forgiveness first before anything?

There is much sulking and self-reflection.

What would it be like if I died or my dear ones died? What would I do? Thinking this way helps me participate in the crying. But I should stop. It is not about me.

Why would she want to go and bury her son in the cemetery? She wouldn't even let the ambulance take his body, or even let them cover his head. How is she going to let them close the coffin or put him in his final resting place that is so final and bare?

Even though his body failed him and looks all broken, a mother still sees her son in there and yearns for him to stay. This is powerful love.

She has a point that him gone will change her life, as she dedicated years to lovingly caring for him, and that became her life’s purpose for so many years.

Where do they get these couches from? They are hideous-looking yet comfortable enough to sit on. The pattern is very royal and reminds me of a typical Palestinian Holy Salon.

The fridge where you can put water has a bag of almonds, corn, zucchini and cabbage. Then two shelves for water bottles.

Score! Some women hold onto tissues and cups until they find the right time to throw them into a bin. It feels almost like an office basketball game, except no one can be too excited or cheerful when they get it in from an impressive distance.

These chandeliers. What is it with Palestinians and chandeliers? Why do we love them so much?

There is a lot of hair in a room full of women. It’s mostly dark hair. There are some blondes, but it is not natural. Many have highlights to keep them looking younger. This group doesn't have many grey hairs either. I like my mom's hair color. I wish I could grow it like that...

We are waiting for the men to come and take the coffin for burial. I wonder if they are more than happy to postpone it because of the difficulty of the task. It is not easy for them either, especially in a culture where they aren't allowed to express emotions.

I don’t think I have ever been in a funeral where men and women are together. What does that look like?

Even though he was born with a disease and all of us knew he was going to die young, it is emotionally and physically hard to let him go and say goodbye.  His death is considered a natural cause, but when that day comes, we are overwhelmed with anger, fear and sorrow.

This leads me to wonder, how do you deal with a loss of a son or a daughter caused by hatred? How do families process and grieve such a thing? All these young Palestinian men that we hear about in the news, murdered because they were mistakenly thought to be terrorists. How many family and friends will sit around their coffin in disbelief that their son has died? Do they ask for forgiveness thinking that just maybe they could have prevented it?

So many thoughts. So many emotions. No matter how you mourn, it’s always difficult to say goodbye.

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