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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]

First - I want to thank all of you for your kind responses to my post on Friday.  He was a very special man and I was privileged to have known him.

Uncle Dick's funeral was yesterday.  It was only about a month ago that we buried Jonathan's Great-Uncle Malcolm, in the same family plot.

It's been a rotten summer.

We had more people and from further away than we expected.  My mother, who never met Uncle Dick because he rarely traveled from his home, and her boyfriend drove in from  New Jersey.  She was there for my mother-in-law, he was there for her.  My brother-in-law drove down from Amherst, where he's packing and closing his lab before moving to Queens.  His girlfriend, who met Uncle Dick once, flew in from Ann Arbor.  My sister-in-law got the last seat on the post-Shabbat plane from Israel and arrived four in the morning; Jonathan's cousin Herbie took three days to drive up from Memphis and arrived twenty minutes late.

We rode in the limo from Brooklyn.

It was a glorious day - bright sun in a cloudless sky, but so dry that it was cool in the shade.

It's nearly impossible to find a rabbi in New York in August.  It's vacation time before the holidays, I suppose.  My in-laws called everyone they had a connection to, and no one was available.  They ended up with their synagogue cantor - a lovely and experienced man who could not have been more perfect.  And if he'd not been available, Jonathan could have done it.  He nearly wasn't available - his vacation had just ended.

We had a graveside ceremony.  With a small group and nice weather, they make sense.  This was a small group, really.  After carrying the coffin as close as they could to the grave - the one that has been waiting for him since his younger brother died in 1935.  "Jonny" died of strep a  year before sulfa drugs became available.  Jonathan was named for him.  He's very prone to strep.  Their father had to buy a plot in a hurry, so he bought a portion of his father-in-law's family plot.  That family is now together again, leaving my mother-in-law alone.  She was born a year after her brother died.  Just like sulfa drugs.

She tore <i>kriya</i>.  We literally rend our garments, you see.  A tear over the heart for a parent; a tear on the other side for a non-parent.  Mourners do not wear new clothes.  Some people tear a ribbon, but I'm not sure how that would work - I wore an old sweater over a t-shirt for my father's funeral and the rabbi started the cut and I tore it right down.  And I wore that sweater, over other shirts, for the week except for Shabbat.  My sister-in-law helped tear her mother's shirt.

Then we filled the grave.  Some of us (me) did two or three shovelfulls, but others - my husband, his brother, a cousin - filled half the grave between them.  At that point, we went on with the service. 

My mother-in-law made a speech about a beloved older brother.  My husband had a long eulogy of a brilliant polymath who taught him the joys of figuring things out and using his mind and my brother-in-law spoke, teary-eyed, of the man who showed him what his life should be.  And we said kel mole, praying for his soul, and my mother-in-law said the funeral kaddish with my husband's help (it's only said at funerals and siyyumim, the completion of course of study.)  And then we divided into two lines and spoke ritual words of comfort to my mother-in-law as she became a formal mourner.  And we climbed into the cars and the limo and went to Manhattan, where my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law's girlfriend and I prepared platters of bagels and cream cheese and lox and vegetables for the incoming relatives. 

The burial changed things.  Before, my mother-in-law looked lost and broken.  She's a very strong lady, but she cried at the thought of her brother being put in the ground.  She cried a lot.  So did my husband and his brother.  Normal and expected.

But the tears were...not gone, but with the burial, things change.  We've done all we can for him.  His soul can be at rest or begin its journey to the Garden of Eden or back to the world again.  The focus changes now to the family, to his sister.  And she's an <i>avelet</i> now, not an <i>onenet</i>, suffering in limbo.  It's probably a cultural thing, but I remember how it felt in the days before each of my grandparents were buried and the day before my father was buried.  It's awful.  I don't know how those whose culture dictates later burials handle it, but I'm sure they don't think of the preburial days as limbo.

My mother-in-law is sitting shiva now.  My husband just took part in the evening minyan in her apartment.  When her week is over, she'll go back to the country and we will join them there and begin the process of breaking down Uncle Dick's house.


Thank you very much for sharing this with us, and for explaining some of the rituals and traditions. I learned a lot.

I sympathize with you, too. I lost a beloved uncle a few years ago. He had been a theology professor and had traveled in the Holy Land and elsewhere. We used to visit him at the assisted-living-for-old-priests-home when we visited my folks every few months; he was a little confused about what day it was or why I wasn't in high school, but he told us wonderful stories, sharp and clear, about trips to places like Petra, and meeting the archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, and what it was like to learn Hebrew in French. I still miss him very much.

But the funeral - which was attended by many priests and religious from his order - was comforting at many levels and in many ways, as was the family gathering afterwards. So I could relate to that part of your story, too.


It's odd, isn't it? We all have to deal with death somehow, and every culture seems to do it differently.

Some people tear a ribbon, but I'm not sure how that would work

they used ribbons at my grandparents' funerals (and, parenthetically, i was taught left side for a parent or a child, and right side for others, including siblings -- spouses, i forget). it's a swatch of black ribbon a couple of inches long, with a slit cut into it with a razor. you pin it to the appropriate side of your chest. it symbolizes the rending of the garments without literally rending anything. almost certainly not sufficient for you; but it's the same sort of thing, it seems to me, as the difference between catholic and protestant communion. the symbolism is enough for the conservative and reform crowd. :-)

Left side for parents, right for siblings, spouses and children.

Halacha says "clothing" so a ribbon wouldn't work ever.

The tearing itself is a symbol of one's grief. I'm not sure how a symbol of a symbol works.

I'm not sure how a symbol of a symbol works.

symbolically. :-) (same way a symbol works, only more so. you know there's a lot of that with the less-vigorous observation of various things.)

Except that the actual tearing of a piece of clothing you're wearing is cathartic. It makes a concrete act of destruction, reflecting one's inner anger at God, for taking the loved one away, or at the loved one, for going so soon. The ribbon is not a real act. I can't see it filling the same role, or what would substitute in that role.

You're overcome enough to throw a chair, or a fit - so someone makes a cut in something and pins it to you? How does that relieve anything?

How does that relieve anything?


i'm not here to argue theology with you -- clearly the conservative and reform ways of observing don't do it for you, and that's your business. but the fact that it doesn't make sense to you doesn't, obviously, mean it doesn't work for someone else, and that's theirs.

i'm very sorry for your loss.

And she's an avelet now, not an onenet, suffering in limbo. It's probably a cultural thing, but I remember how it felt in the days before each of my grandparents were buried and the day before my father was buried. It's awful. I don't know how those whose culture dictates later burials handle it, but I'm sure they don't think of the preburial days as limbo.

It's interesting how cultures come up with these things. My dad died on a Wednesday and was buried on a Friday morning. That's about average for Baptists. But people aren't supposed to openly cry or be sad at Baptist funerals. If the person is in Heaven, what is there to cry about?

However, African Americans usually wait about a week for the whole family to gather. And the mourning is a lot more open and intense. When I was in high school, a boy who had been in several of my classes and was very popular in my school died in a car accident. Everyone went to his funeral. His family were weeping and wailing and hanging on the coffin, and some of the women fell out (kind of a fainting deal that is done at moments of great emotion). Just a couple months after that, my dad's mother died and my aunt pinched me for sobbing out loud in the familiy section.

That said, I've never actually been to a Jewish funeral of any stripe. Not that I'm in a big hurry to go.

The only Jewish wedding I've ever been to, for that matter, was my own.

Bar and bat mitzvot, however, I've been to plenty, and I hope I get to go to many, many more. And I hope that you do, too.

I've been to too many lately.

Bar mitzvahs - yeah. I've been to a few and I have several coming up over the years. Bat mitzvahs, not so much. The girls I know tend to celebrate by having a party with their classmates and maybe a speech in synagogue if their synagogues do such things.

My wedding was my first Orthodox wedding, other than a Lubavitch one when I was thirteen.

You know what I mean.
New generations, more and more kids, life affirming and so forth. I wasn't trying to be rude.

the one that has been waiting for him since his younger brother died in 1935. "Jonny" died of strep a year before sulfa drugs became available.

My mom's parents had six children, only two of whom lived to adulthood. Three died in infancy, the fourth was developmentally disabled and died of polio when my mom was about 9. When my grandparents were buried, I thought a lot about those little graves. Because they died during the Depression, their gravestones were poured cement that someone had written on with a pointy stick.

At my grandmother's funeral I had this image of my grandparents reuniting in the next world, my granddad standing there to meet my grandmother, holding the babies in his arms and with the other one standing beside him, whole and healthy. Don't know how theologically sound this is, but I found it very comforting.

What a lovely image! I hope it's, somehow, true.

I'm glad your mother/family had all those people there for her/them. It sounds as if it was a good funeral, in as much as any can be considered good.

The graveside service you describe reminds me of the one for my father's father 3 years ago, except that that one was much smaller. We didn't have a minyan (I think we had 6-7 Jewish men, about that many Jewish women, and a few non-Jews) so there was no kaddish, and I'm not sure who did kriya (my dad probably, but probably not his sibs). We also did most of the burying ourselves, and a bit of looking at the neighboring graves ("look, that's great-uncle so-and-so") and at a near-by section where another side of the family has space (yes, I was told afterwards that going to visit others' grave isn't to be done at a funeral, but the (Orthodox) rabbi didn't say anything against it, probably because he realized that (a) he was dealing with a bunch of unorthodox (in both senses) people and (b) most of the people weren't local and were unlikely to be able to do any visiting there for quite some time).

And now the cantor who did my uncle's funeral has to bury his own father tomorrow. He was able to do our funeral because he had to be in the city (he had been on vacation) to do paperwork for his father's post-surgical stay in a rehab place.

A lovely family, they are. They've had their share of tragedy, losing a daughter in her late teens to illness.

This has been such a month of deaths:
my great-uncle Malcolm, the last sibling of my grandmother;
my uncle Dick, my mother's brother;
Jeff Levinson, longtime executive director of my parents' synagogue;
Herman Goffin, father of the cantor at my parents' synagogue;
Joseph Cohn, father of a worshiper in my synagogue;
and now Claire Maier, Georgia filker.

Jon Baker