Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Looking in the mirror

Jewish rituals surrounding mourning are incredibly complex. There's a rule for everything, for every moment, for every place, even for the clothes you wear.

It may seem overwhelming, and on a certain level it certainly is. But at the same time it's somewhat comforting to know that there's a given structure or cadence to the process, that over the centuries successive generations of folks far wiser than I'll ever hope to be have pondered the matter and applied as close to a logical framework as one can add to the illogical process of death and irreplaceable loss.

I could start an entirely new blog just on the topic alone, spend the rest of my life writing about it, and still not even scratch the surface. But I'd like to touch on an interesting snippet that seems to have stuck with me as we've moved, foggily, through these past few difficult weeks. It revolves around mirrors.

The basic tradition is a simple one: no mirrors in a Jewish house of mourning. You're not supposed to be able to look at yourself, so every mirror is covered up - either with smudged on stuff or taped-on paper or some other substance. My in-laws' place, festooned as it was with mirrors by the previous owner, presented an especially significant challenge, and I think more than a couple of trees were felled to make the paper and masking tape needed to cover all of them.

The sliding door near the front door presented a bit of a challenge, as the tape would blow off fairly regularly courtesy of a breeze that blew in from the hallway every time someone opened the door. I quickly learned to keep my ear attuned to the telltale sound of flapping paper, and I always seemed to know where my roll of masking tape was so that I could quickly retape the offending corner and once again cover up the glass. As the week of shiva wore on and we spent day after day having countless friends and family coming through the house, I became ever more comfortable walking away from conversations to take care of it.

I'll share more about the whole walking away from folks thing in another blog entry. But for now, I simply wanted to share another slice of this surreal journey. Because as trivial as covering up errantly exposed mirrors may seem, in retrospect I realize how important it was to hold onto rituals as a means of making sense of something that'll never make any sense at all.


Kalei's Best Friend said...

Not to be disrespectful of the tradition.. and I understand the reason for the cover up... but eventually one has to look in the mirror... I know for sure the 'surreal' part for me was the body going thru the shock and grief... I felt that for about a month and my grief seemed to follow the same cycle as my friend's... both of us felt that cloud lift after about 5 years... Believe me, you will definitely feel that cloud lift. Journaling helps, and I hope your kids are writing their hearts out, mine did, even my son drew pictures that really showed what he was feeling... I know for me looking in the mirror helped me in dealing and facing what I knew I had to do... Everyone is different and many need the comfort of religion/ritual... Whatever works as long as the result is the same..

Anonymous said...

so agree with that last sentance of yours Carmi

Bernie said...

I am constantly fascinated, by different cultures, religions and even people as a whole, and I find this very interesting... Not so much the 'covering' of the mirror, but the way we do things during the day when a mirror may be needed!

You say that "no mirrors in a Jewish house of mourning" - is this just in your mother-in-laws house, or yours as well?? Would make shaving an interesting thing to do! Is it only 'IN' a house, or does it extend into other areas, say, like cars, and how do you use the side and rear-view mirrors if so?

And lastly, I can recall it being mentioned, but how long are the mirrors covered up for?? Is it until such time as the family member is finally laid to rest, or for an extended period??

Sorry if this is 'prying', but as I said, I do have a fascination with the many cultures and religions that are about...