Usually around these parts of the inter webs, we talk about fun, happy, pretty things — the wedding equivalent to rainbows and unicorns and fairy dust. I like it like that. And clearly you do, too, since y’all are so loyal as fellow Yentas. But here’s the thing: sometimes, gefilte fish gets real, and we need to talk about things that aren’t as rainbowy and unicornish and fairy dust-like.
I’m going to be frank with you: sometimes, people die. Well, people always die, but sometimes it’s poor timing and they die within the year of your wedding. This could be a, how do I say this? a problem.
I once got a phone call from a hotel catering manager who was looking for some information about the Jewish mourning period because her bride and groom just notified her that they’d have to postpone the wedding. The wedding was set for summer of 2013 and a grandparent just passed away. They want to delay the wedding until the period of mourning is over, but the venue clearly stated that their deposit would not be transferrable as noted in the contract. Obviously, the couple is upset by this, and they are currently working on a solution that is mutually beneficial.
This sad tale brought the catering manager to me via phone call (she and I did not know each other previously as we live in different states and have never worked together on The Wedding Yentas) and we spoke about the significance of mourning in Judaism and why we both think that the venue should accommodate the couple and transfer their deposit to a TBD date.
So, not to sound like your bubbie, but, a thousand times POO POO (spit), in case you need to know, I thought I’d share some Jewish mourning guidelines and how they might be relevant to your wedding if the timing is unfortunate. As always, the way you choose to observe Jewish traditions is up to you and what’s best for your family, or consult your rabbi for guidance. As with most traditional Jewish observances, there are many layers to the restrictions. What’s covered here is literally the tip of the iceberg and should not be used as the absolute manual regarding the mourning period.
Basically, after a loved one passes away, there is a series of stages that the mourner goes through varying from solitary grieving to being comforted by others, from staying in the home to returning to the normalcy of life. Typically, the first seven days (Shivah) are the hardest for the mourner who, only at the end of Shivah, begins to take callers and well wishers. Shloshim lasts 30 days and the mourner begins to move on as he or she goes out into the world to do what he or she needs to do. However during Shivah and Shloshim, joining in on celebratory parties or taking part in joyous events is not acceptable as the mourner’s wounds are still so fresh.
When Shloshim ends, the mourner is bridged into the remainder of the year (the whole year makes a revolution from the burial date to the anniversary of the burial). According to Jewish observances, for the mourning of one’s parents, there is to be no attending celebrations of joy during that first year.
Now, who is to say what’s a joyous occasion? This can be such a subjective term. What if going for a walk with your dog brings you joy? What if eating ooey gooey chocolate chip cookies for breakfast brings you joy? The “joy” that the scholars refer to is religious joy or celebration like… you guessed it… a wedding celebration. Going to wish the couple “mazel tov” or attending the chuppah ceremony is OK. However, joining the festivities of a meal and dancing to gleeful music is not.
If a wedding ceremony takes place in a catering or banquet facility where music is played, there is a general rule that people who are mourning parents should not attend for 12 months and 30 days for other relatives.
A festive meal with friends and relatives is considered joy, and the mourner should avoid occasions like these until after 12 months when mourning for parents, and 30 days when mourning for other relatives.
Interestingly, if a mourner chooses to not be part of the wedding day or has requested that there be a postponement of the wedding date and there is a possibility that the delay might cause the bride or groom to withdraw from the marriage, the mourner may attend at any time of mourning and under any conditions in order to avoid indefinite cancellation. The bottomline here is: mourning should not cause the wedding to be canceled. However, if the wedding can be simply postponed, that is better.
It is said that if a mourner feels her or she must attend the wedding celebration before the mourning period is officially over, he or she should perform a serviceable role, like help prepare or serve the dinner or usher guests to seats at the ceremony.
In my personal opinion, a delay of a wedding due to a death in the family is absolutely reasonable, though unfortunate, and wedding vendors should honor this custom without penalizing the couple monetarily. Most contracts typically say that events can’t be canceled without penalty unless there is an act of God. Typically, most people think of natural disasters that make it impossible for society to function. However, a death in the family may also be considered an act of God by some people, and is typically unavoidable.
I hope that none of you ever have to refer to this cheat sheet, but thought the information may be helpful. Now, go out and live life and enjoy your wedding planning!