A few days ago, the community in which I live and worship experienced a great loss. L. was a force of nature. Truly. If something needed to get done he made it happen. If a difficult truth needed to be voiced, it came from L. This man was an unexpected source of learning and spirituality in addition to having guided our community towards a new century with his unique leadership style.
But he is gone. And frankly, death sucks. It is painful (of course), infuriating (think the several stages of grief), and it leaves a hole where, in this case, a larger-than-life soul once stood. All of those things aside, death also brings with it a ridiculous amount of stuff!
Stuff to go through, stuff to do, stuff to keep — stuff to give away. If you have never lost an immediate family member, that is a blessing. If you have, like I have, good grief is there a lot to do! The “to do’s” start immediately, of course, with the funeral and shiva.
Shiva, also known as “Sitting Shiva,” is a dedicated time when the immediate family of the person who died can truly and deeply mourn their loss. The Jewish tradition suggests covering mirrors and sitting on low seats. While there are many reasons for these traditions, I like to believe that the mirrors are covered so one doesn’t need to worry about how they look (I.e., it is ok to look like crap) and the low seats, lord only knows why. Another tradition is for people to visit with the family to offer support. And…. Being Jews, to eat.
Come on, you knew that was coming. Jews eat — at every event, happy or sad. (Insert hand gesture, Jewish accented “nu?” and shrug here.) So on Tuesday, after the funeral, I had the honor of spending the afternoon with two amazing fellow congregants, J & M, receiving food and setting up the home so that upon their return from the cemetery, the mourners did not need to do a thing. M called it “setting up the shiva house.” Aside from my feet killing me (note to self: wear flats!), the experience was incredible.
There are many reasons why the experience was incredible; however there are two that rise to the top. The first being the unspoken knowledge between us three ladies. I would say M.’s name to begin asking her to do something and she was already doing it. J. automatically had the same ideas on how to put out the food, from using the wax paper under the cheese to organizing the platters increasing ease of flow. Which all made me wonder – how do we know what to do? M. had done this before but neither J. nor I had ever done anything like this before. Yet we just knew what to do. Perhaps this “knowing” is one of the things that characterize being a part of a spiritual community.
The other element that was remarkable was the incredible opportunity this provided me in which to teach my sons. May I kvel for a moment? Thing 1 is my Super Chesed Helper. Meaning, when someone is ill or in need, he helps me help them. A Jew in training. So after he had a brief pout about not going to the playground and my explaining the loss that L’s family just experienced, without another word, my dear Thing 1 displayed a compassionate side I had not seen before.
Our rabbi suggested giving the mourners mugs of hot broth immediately when they come home (nourishment that they automatically drink out of habit – highly recommend) which we had Thing 1 own. He was beside himself when he couldn’t find N, one of the family, because Thing 1 wanted to make sure he gave it to him.
So here is why this is special: Death sucks, hands down, but death also gives us an opportunity to live better. Through the Jewish customs of Shiva and Chesed, we learn how to live better through helping others.
L. will be deeply, deeply missed by many. But he will also be celebrated throughout the decades to come. The concept of l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation) was very important to L. and it being important to him has taught me that it should be important in my family.
So thank you L., for all that you have taught me and my family, both in your life and after. May your memory be a blessing to all.