Friday, April 12, 2013

40 Days of Mourning

40 Days of Mourning

Several weeks ago, we celebrated the 40th day of my neighbor’s passing.  In accordance with custom here, every Thursday following a death, family and friends gather for memorial celebrations, but the most eventful is the gathering on the 40th day.  The widower specifically asked that my neighbor and friend, Gulnaz, and I attend.  

Following our early morning classes, we went to his apartment a little after ten a.m.  There in a circle, sitting on the floor on cushions (most of the furniture had been removed to accommodate the floor cushions), were a dozen or so female family members, relatives, and neighbors, modestly covering their feet and legs with sheets.  Even the wall mirror was covered with a sheet, so that the female mourners would not be distracted from the seriousness of the mourning process by admiring themselves—or so it was explained to me.  The males waited and milled around outside the apartment building.  Soon we were called to leave, and several taxis were waiting outside to transport us to the cemetery.  Immediately after death, the body is buried, but only men attend the actual burial service, women remain at home to mourn.  So this day was the first day women could go to the cemetery, now that the grave stone was completed and in place.
Female mourners gather inside the apartment (2nd floor, first stairwell in the back) both before and after the ceremonies at the cemetery
At the cemetery, the women gathered around the grave-stone monument, while the men stood in the background.  Soon the closest female relatives—the daughters-in-law—wiped and kissed the etched image of the deceased on the upright grave stone and began to chant and wail.  Soon all the women took out handkerchiefs, held them to their mouths, and likewise began to mumble and cry.  The moaning and wailing continued to a fevered pitch, as it is considered proper and expected for all the women present to physically shed tears, cry and show emotion; the men stoically, however, continued to mill around in the background (some quietly chatting with each other and smoking cigarettes), while the women finished extolling the virtues of the deceased through their chanting about how wonderful she was as a mother, wife, neighbor, and friend.  When the moaning and wailing on the part of the women subsided, the molla and his assistant from the near-by mosque stepped forward to the head-stone, and the men, too, gathered round.  In chanting fashion, the molla sang the appropriate verses from the Qoran.  Eventually, all returned to the waiting taxis, and went back to the apartment building.
Grave headstones frequently have etched portraits

Sometimes the headstones have full-bodied etched images
Frequently red ribbons are wrapped around the headstones

There are very few fresh flower shops and most people do not have flower gardens, so artificial flowers are the most common

Back at our apartment building, the male mourners began to assemble in the event tent outside, while the women once again gathered inside the apartment, sat on cushions around the room, covered themselves with the sheets, and participated in the female molla-led crying, shedding of tears, and chanting.  This continued for about an hour, and as more arrived, we left to make room and went to the event tent.  There waiting for us and all the other mourners was the feast of mourning, complete with national foods of plov (rice) and beef stew.  Many people are expected for the 40th Day of Mourning, just like the actual funeral itself, so it is expected that those in attendance pay for their meal.  A record is kept of who paid, and how much (much like at wedding celebrations, too).  It is basically on the honor system, but since it is such an important part of tradition here, everyone complies as is expected.
For the actual funeral meals, portable event tents are erected, but for the 40th Day of Mourning  meal, the more permanent "tent" is used.  This is actually a long, low building with corrugated metal roof located near a group of apartment buildings--ours is directly behind this structure.  Behind the first door is a small kitchen (sink is outside, between the doors) and the second door opens to the eating hall with two rows of long tables, separated by a curtain.  Men sit at the first row of tables, and behind the curtain the women mourners sit at the second row of tables.   For the funeral itself there were two separate tents, one for men, one for women.  
I learned that it is customary for family members to return to the graveside of the deceased every Thursday for years to come.  This way the deceased’s memory and legacy is continually honored.  Personally, I find this a very respectful, honorable tradition.  In our society, as I have heard it expressed among family and relatives, once someone has died, the comment can be made:  he/she is no longer with us, so now we can do as we wish.  This attitude would be considered so disrespectful here, that making such a comment would be considered despicable.  In this culture here in Azerbaijan, abiding by the hopes and wishes of the deceased allows the family and relatives to stay united in honoring family legacies.  It may not have the binding of a legal document, as would be required in our society, but it definitely holds the fabric of this society together and in tact—the family.

1 comment:

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