The more I think about it, the better and more openly we handle the death of loved ones, the easier the process of grief must be in the long run.
Here’s what I have learned about handling death in Ethiopian culture.
When somebody has died in our neighborhood, I immediately know it. There is a guy whose profession is to blow a horn and inform the people living in that area that somebody has died today, please donate money. The money is collected from the surrounding community to cover the funeral costs. I hear the horn at least once a week. If somebody dies in the middle of the night, then the horn is also blown at that time. No exceptions.
When somebody dies in Ethiopia, it is a big deal. There is no way you would go to work on the day your mother or father or uncle or sister dies. Not even the day after or the whole week. That is a time for mourning. You take time of work and your colleagues will respect that. Most likely they will collect some money to donate to your family in these difficult times.
When you mourn, you are supposed to cry out raucously. When people cry at your funeral, it is a sign that you were adored in your lifetime. In case funeral guests have difficulties finding tears, some funerals have specialized funeral singers who will tell stories and sing songs about the deceased person.
Mourning is a big deal. In some parts of Ethiopia, you are expected to cause yourself physical pain in your mourning. For example, some people might scrape their faces with a thorny fruit. Some might beat their chest.
My fiancé was once invited to attend an Ethiopian funeral. The day before he asked about the dress code. What colour should my clothes be? Doesn’t matter, no problem, was the answer. So he wore the usual western funeral costume, a black suit. He arrived at the funeral and was the palest dude on spot rocking a black suit – among Ethiopians dressed in all-white. Doesn’t matter. No problem.
After the actual funeral the family of the one passed away host guests for three days. Guests will come and go and bring injera and bread. There is also a tradition where people try to wash the feet of the family. These feet washers are supposed to bring some laughter into a sad period. The family will try to escape the feet washing. This is part of the game.
There are cemeteries in Ethiopia, although not nearly all have (big) gravestones like in the west. Burial is usually done as soon as possible. If you are widowed in the countryside, you may never remarry.
When the mourning period is over, life goes on. It has to. Or as the Amharic proverb goes: Little by little, an egg will walk.