Mama Deb (mamadeb) wrote,
Mama Deb

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.

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