I’m an introvert. Not a hermit, not a friendless social pariah, but someone who will fairly predictably panic before any situation in which I need to go out and interact with others. And that includes going to synagogue every week. Because I know better than to give into my introvert fears, I push myself to be out in the world, and I’m frequently glad that I did. Social events can be tremendous fun. It’s just that I never anticipate that I will enjoy them, and I feel happily surprised when I do.
I’ve been an introverted mourner for the past 11 months since my mother’s death, and I’ve often wondered if the rules for introverted mourners should be different than the rules for extroverted mourners. I have a suspicion that many of the traditional restrictions for those mourning parents that I’ve accepted upon myself have had an effect on me that is entirely the opposite of the effect they would have on extroverts. For example:
1. During the first month of mourning, attending Shabbat services is encouraged, but participation in Kiddush is not permitted. My reaction: “Hooray! I have a perfectly valid excuse to go home immediately after services are over!” Kiddush is a rather stressful experience for me, as I don’t know where to stand, who to talk to, etc. Of course, after the first 30 days I no longer had this excuse, but sure appreciated it while it lasted.
2. For the first year, mourners are not permitted to attend social events such as parties and other celebrations. My reaction: Again, “Hooray!” Because I generally don’t like the noise and crowds at parties.
3. Mourners are to avoid public events and organized entertainment. You can guess my reaction, right?
An extrovert may prefer the distraction of crowds of people and social encounters, so for extroverts who thrive on social interactions, I imagine that restrictions such as these would be very difficult. But for me, these restrictions were a great source of relief. I have honestly felt (I dare to admit), happy to be free of the pressure to be a social being.
Now, as my year of mourning draws to a close, I am slowly beginning to accept that my perfectly valid reasons for avoiding social situations are slipping away. For an extrovert, perhaps the restrictions of mourning provide an opportunity to learn how to be alone, away from others. For me, as an introvert, maybe I am meant to learn how to live with the natural intensity of my feelings, particularly the raw emotions of grief, while also living among others (despite my natural instinct to withdraw). It has not been hard to accept the traditional restrictions for mourners, but it will most definitely be difficult to let go of the restrictions that, ironically, have helped me feel free.