Thursday, February 5, 2009

Remembering Those Who Have Passed

I hope this doesn't come across as sounding crazy but one thing that really fascinates me about Albanian culture is the understanding and expression of death, and how the society deals with those who have passed. Elvisa once took the time to explain to me how everything traditionally works when someone passes away, the mourning, the funeral, the remembrance, etc. Below I offer some of the activities that might occur when one loses a loved one in Albania:

1. Perhaps the second day after the person has passed, the remaining family members will have close friends and family over for coffee and everyone will mourn the dead person. These times can often involve lots of sad expressions of anger and bereavement. The close family and friends are also expected to give sums of money to the family in order to help with costs of the funeral processes.

2. Sometimes women are hired at the funerals as professional criers, and their job is to do just that.

3. The day of the funeral, a week later, 3 months after that, 6 months after that, and then a year later, the family has a meal to honor the death of the loved one.

4. These meals can go on for years, every year on the anniversary of the death.

Well today marked the 6 month anniversary of Ms. B's husband's death and she invited me to the lunch. At first I wasn't quite sure why because not only am I not family, but also, I didn't know her husband. However, she said that she wanted me to come, so I went. She said that we would have a "small" lunch and remember Josef (her husband) with some family members and friends. Well once everyone else arrived and we set the table I realized that it wasn't a small lunch after all. We ate: qofta (meat), pork chops, tzatziki sauce (Greek), tomato salad, another salad, red peppers, olives, potatoes, byrek me fasule (basically a bean pie), boiled eggs, bread and soup. When I inquired about the use of the word "small" to describe the lunch, I was informed that small referred to the number of people and had nothing to do with food.

So yes, 6 of us ate together, Ms. B, Josef's two nieces, his cousin, and Ms. B's sister in law. Later a few close friends of Ms. B came over, along with two of Josef's other cousins, a neighbor, and Ms. B's brother. In accordance with tradition we all drank Turkish coffee together.

I was just telling my student Sokol about my day and he was giving me more details about the Albanian traditions of mourning the dead, informing me that such festivities as this one are so very important to Albanians because during times of communism, when religion was banned and rules were so strictly enforced, it seemed that at times, family was the only thing that people had.
I wasn't sure what I was expecting to happen today, but I must say that more than sitting around and crying about the occasion, we talked and laughed. It was more about a celebration of life more than anything else, simply visiting with one another and me trying to follow the conversation in Albanian. Ms. B's always telling me that Josef used to enjoy having people over, that he was all about hosting guests at their home. So today we did just that in memory of him.


  1. Pershendetje Chelsi,

    I am an Albanian (live in NY for 14 years) and just came across your blog. I read a few posts and they were so very interesting! It is very interesting to read a foreigner's view about Albania(especially an anthropologist).
    Keep up your good work!! I forwarded your site to a few of my friends.

    Ps: I never heard that criers were hired when people were mourning the dead. You are right, it is a very dramatic experience, but those that cry are usually members of the family or those close to the dead person and not outsiders. Thought of sharing this with you. Mire u degjofshim!

  2. Dear Chelsi,

    I'm not sure whether you'll see this post, but I want to say thank you for your blog and,in particular, this post. My boyfriend is Albanian, and I stumbled across your blog in trying to research the culture. We've been together very happily for about a year, but we definitely have had a few cultural roadblocks to navigate, including the death of his grandfather in April. Since then it's been mourning, meals, visits from other Albanians in this area... As an outsider, it can be a little overwhelming. Since I began studying the Albanian language and culture, I have found it absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately there is so little information out there in English! Guess I'll have to wait for my Albanian to improve. Great job with the blog and your experience there!