Cultural differences: Grieving

I woke up today to the sound of wailing in the neighborhood and knew that somewhere near someone had died. Later I learned that a 2-1/2 year old child had died in the night. The wailing continued until it was light and then diminished. It will come again when they have the funeral later today. Burials in Congo are required to take place within 24 of the death which is understandable given the climate.

Yesterday we attended the funeral for a former student of ours, Mr. Celestin Worl Towe (48). The Lord took him home at 1AM Friday morning and the funeral was early Friday afternoon. We attended and there was loud wailing at times during the ceremony. It would come and go in waves and was particularly acute when the service was over and the carpenters came to close the coffin. As many people as could, seemingly mostly women, crowded the coffin, some reaching in to touch their loved one. The wailing continued as they carried the coffin to the truck to take it to the cemetery in town. We did not attend the burial, but from previous experience we know that the procession will sing hymns all the way and there will be some wailing.

Today we attended a short memorial service for Pastor Dedua who went to be with the Lord in Kinshasa last Sunday after a battle with kidney problems. As he had served at Karawa and our local church for many years the decision was made to transport the body back here for burial, an expensive proposition. Loud wailing accompanied unloading the coffin and carrying it into the church. During the memorial the wailing came and went at times with someone nears us, I think a daughter, overcome with emotion and women coming to comfort her.

Contrast this with the funeral taking place in our home church today. The Lord took Vivian Christoffers (85) home early this past Tuesday morning. In our rural Iowa culture the funeral is planned several days later allowing the family time to gather. There was a visitation at the funeral home at which her children, spouses and some grandchildren will be present. Friends in the church and community will come to express condolences to the family. There will be hugs, tears, sharing memories and the telling of stories, but very seldom to no public wailing. Wailing as we experience it in Congo does not happen often in our Iowa culture.

Certainly situations the ages and situations of these deaths are very different: an older woman in Iowa who has lived a full life, a pastor in Kinshasa who had served the church for years and suffered from a deteriorating illness, a man under 50 who had suffered from an illness for six months and a young child who had their entire life in front of her. Each of these is grieved, is missed by their loved ones.

It is the expression of grief that is so strikingly different for me. In my culture we are reserved and seek to minimize public expressions of grief. The cries are there, the feelings are similar and the same, but the expression is different. Loud wailing in public seems to be reserved for tragic deaths and even then is much more limited. In Congo public expression of grief is the norm and expected. At a wake or funeral you can hear the wailing of grief come and go. I ponder, how close to the one lost are all those who wail? I have no way of knowing, but I ponder. Cindy reminds me that people here live closer to death than we do. They experience it much more frequently and even If you are not close to the deceased the finality of the loss can trigger you back into your grief over loved ones lost. The expression of grief here is to cry and wail. Neither right nor wrong, but different, vastly different.

In each of these times of grief the Lord is present to comfort and console as He takes His children to Himself.

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