Escorting the dead

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Old Jewish Cemetery, Prague, by Jim Killock on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Yesterday we buried J’s grandfather. He passed away this week, at the grand old age of 103. The Hebrew word for funeral actually means “escorting” – and that is just what we did.

When someone reaches such an age, everyone is quick to claim a little bit of their aura. He wasn’t my grandfather, but for the length of time my story has been intertwined with J’s, a dozen years or so, he formed a small – and charming – part of my story, too.

From what I could see, he seemed like a very lucky and resilient and healthy guy. He adored playing Bingo, and even won a game a couple of weeks before the end. He cheated death all these many years, even as his wives could not. He leaves behind his third wife. He was buried yesterday next to his second wife.

My main role in all of this was to introduce the kids to death and funerals and mourning. (I mean, who better for them to learn from than the person who has that big sword over her head all the time?) I’m not big on concealing things from my kids. And I didn’t deal with the death of a close relative until I was pretty old (post-college). I wanted them to learn the Jewish way in these things.

And so they did, this week – helped by the rabbi in J’s family, S, who conducted the service yesterday, and surprised everyone by insisting the grave not only have some dirt in it, but that it be almost completely filled up by the mourners. It made for a long few minutes, and some people were not being very accurate with their shovelfuls of dirt and sprinkled the new widow (who is not Jewish, and seemed a little shocked by the protracted shoveling). There was a young kid hovering a bit too close to the open grave. Rabbi S was turning quite red and was urged to take a break from shoveling.

That’s the salient detail from yesterday. I find I can remember one salient detail from each funeral I’ve attended which seemed to have little to do with the funeral. For example, on the way to my grandfather’s funeral, which was during the Memorial Day weekend, the highway was clogged with motorcyclists on their way to Washington DC for the annual Rolling Thunder gathering. At my grandmother’s graveside, we all – and there were a lot of us – huddled under the small tent against a sudden and violent thunderstorm – which, come to think of it, did not seem unrelated at all, at the time.

How did the kids take this news? Young A seemed okay – when we told him the news the other day, he did ask whether Grandpa H was “really gone, or will he come back after three weeks?” Young J took it much harder – burst into tears, then retreated to his room for a while. Yesterday he watched everything intently, while Young A sat down on the grass, quietly waiting for lunchtime.

As we drove out of town, we passed the amusement park which in the past has always signaled our arrival and departure from the town where J’s grandfather lived, during our annual visit to celebrate his many birthdays. It was dormant yesterday, and that is how it will stay in my memory, since we are unlikely to pass that way again.

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Idle amusement, Allentown, PA
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One thought on “Escorting the dead

  1. So glad that you talk with children openly about death. Isn’t death the only thing one can be certain of! Why not talk about it? Children have great understanding of these things. Hugs to your entire family.

    Liked by 1 person

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