An Enlightening Experience

by Jesica Diehl

There were many avenues to explore when trying to learn about culture. I wanted make sure that I interviewed someone I had no idea about their culture. The person I interviewed we will call Abe. He is a 41 year old male Egyptian. Abe is married and has three children. He came to the USA 6 years ago to study medicine. He is a resident in anesthesiology.

Abe told me there was only one way he could tell me about his culture and their grieving process and that was to tell a story(it was a rather short story). He began the story by telling me of his brother whom he was very close.Abe's brother was a Urologist at the only hospital in his town. His brother became ill and needed cardiac surgery. So Abe took his brother to London to the numeber one surgeon in the world. When they went to the airport to leave at least 2,000 people went along to see them off. His brother died on the OR table. When he arrived back to Egypt with his brothers body at 2,000 people came to meet them. They burried him as soon as possible and everyone attended. They closed the Hospital and everything. People came from all over Egypt. Abe stated that there were at a minimun of 15,000 who attended the burial.

Throughout the interview Abe talked about how tradition dominates more than the religion. People do more of what they want instead of following the religious beliefs. An example of this was the tradition was to bury the deceased but some people were afraid of the water from the rains and would house them above ground in tombs. He felt this was an insult to the religion and not nescesary. The burial was to occur as soon as possible after someone died. There were no cremations. The body was bathed in the burial house(funeral home) then wrapped in a clothe. When the body is being bathed and wrapped they read from the holy book and use perfumes. The body is displayed during the ceremony. The only time the body would not be viewed was if there was no body. If the body was not present it would be done as absentee.

Everyone goes to the Mosque for prayers. That is were the body is displayed. The ceremony consist of readings from the Holy book and prayers. The deceased is then buried and no markings or names are put on the grave. "Just someone on this day was buried here".

The comforts Abe finds in grief are having everyone around to know you are not alone. Abe talked many times of everyone, meaning a lot of people, would come when someone died. There are no Hotels or restaurants so the families and towns people would have to put them up and feed them. Everyone grieves together, eats together and sleeps together they are all family. Crying is sometimes thought of as a comfort measure in our culture but is not acceptable in their religion. Especially for the men they are not suppose to cry. The women should not cry as well but do because of tradition. What Abe finds most painful is when others do not hold to the religion. He does not understand why others should alter what is to be. This is what he feels is unhealthy grief. Unhealthy grief also includes the legal dealings after a death. Worrying about what they are going to get, taking what is not theirs and hiding assets instead of sharing. Grieving should include prayers, reading the Holy Book. To donate something in the name of the deceased is very meaningful. Talking about the deceased and charishing their memory. Grieving he feels last approximately one year. It is usually public grief. There is little time for private grief. With so much that needs to be done and everyone around the grief is shared by all.

I asked Abe if he believed in life after death. He stated that "there is life, then a fine line (death) and then life, be it life in heaven or life in hell. We never stop living just not all living on this earth. We have to meet our judgement day, then we will continue living in one place or another."

Abe also stated that when a person commits suicide, it is automatically assumed that he/she is going to hell. This look as a great shame and very bad. The whole family is blamed and looked at as committing a sin. The Islam religion does not approve of taking ones own life. They believe they continue to live but in the fires of Hell.

In conclusion we discussed the importance of family and community they are the support and the solace that is needed at a time of death. There is no need for support groups or therapy because everyone takes care of each other. The death is shared by all.

By interviewing Abe I was enlighted by the differences in some of his religious belief. I was amazed by how many people attended the burial. He said that they do this for all not just his brother because he was a doctor but for all people. (they don't always close the hospital though) In a way I feel bad for them because I myself appreciate some privacy during my sorrow and he said there is little if any time for privacy.

I enjoyed this assignment. I briefly interview many different people to decide which culture I would learn the most from but also I wanted to see, how many different cultures exist in my workplace and how they are not even acknowledged. I was really amazed.

Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F317, Spring semester, 1997.
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(C) 1996, Jessica Diehl. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at