Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Assignment: Compare and Contrast?

Jewish funerals are short, (bitter)sweet and for the living. The family funerals that I’ve attended have had services that have lasted about 10 minutes. The Rabbi opens with a short prayer, spends about 8 minutes talking about the deceased, and then closes with another short prayer. Very often, the drive from the funeral home to the cemetery takes longer than the events that bookend the drive. At the cemetery, the rabbi will speak a few words and the coffin will get lowered into the grave. That’s it. And, last Friday, at my Uncle’s funeral, we didn’t even go graveside. It was a military funeral and he was buried at a VA cemetery-it seems they don’t do graveside services, as there is no little space between gravesites.

I’ve been lucky, I’ve never had to attend the funeral of a child, or an adult who died suddenly, unexpectedly, so I don’t know how something like that would proceed. In my (limited) experience, we go from cemetery to the home of the chief mourner, in this case, my Aunt, where shiva will be sat. (And, yes, at this emotional distance, and back in my multicultural/pagan/jewitch home, that is a very strange looking sentence.) Family members change out of their funeral clothing, back into comfortable clothes, and we sit and talk and eat. You can generally tell the mourners from the visitors by how they are dressed. Those who come to offer condolences or pay their respects tend to be much more formally dressed.

I don’t know who arranged the food delivery for my aunt, but it all seemed to have come from Brooklyn, and, as tradition demanded, there was far too much of it. I seem to recall a lot more alcohol after my mothers burial-but that could have been because she was so young when she died, or because it is now so much easier to legally acquire pharmaceuticals. Or maybe it is just the difference between Florida and New York. The other big difference is that we; me, my sister, my cousins, are now the adults. My aunts are now both widows, and my father is the last surviving male of his generation. He seemed to visibly age over the course of this trip.

Traditionally, one sits shiva for ten days. The idea is that people come and keep you company and bring you food and take care of things so you can properly mourn and say Kaddish. I think the “real” reason is so that at the end of the period you are glad to take up a regular life again. After my mother died, I think that I lasted about 3 days before wishing everyone would just go away. On Friday, my Aunt interrupted the Rabbi (not an uncommon thing for a member of my family to do, btw) at the funeral home to announce that she was only sitting shiva for 2 days. She told me later on, that as long as she had all of her children and grandchildren visiting, she intended to salvage something from the week, and enjoy her family.

All in all, I was away for just over 26 hours, in Florida (and outside of the airport) for about 20 hours. It has taken me nearly five days to recuperate. At first, I thought it was just exhaustion, and sadness at the passing of my Uncle. But I think that issue of the passing of the generations may have affected me, as well.

One observation did amuse me. While I was packing to leave, DH noticed that I put three books (plus notebook and tarot cards) in my carry on bag, thereby constituting most of the weight. He pointed out that I wasn’t likely to have much time to read. I agreed, but wanted to make sure that, under the circumstances, if I did have time to read, I would have a book to fit my mood. When I met up with my Dad and my sister to leave for the airport, I found that they had each done the same thing. Among the three of us, we had nine books, three magazines and a newspaper.

And now, I’d like to get back to the life-that-passes-for-normal, please.

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