I’ll remember September of 2007 as being a hard month. Two family friends died unexpectedly. One day they were here and the next they were gone. Their loss has weighed upon me. It is a reminder of just how tenuous our grip on life is. It is just one more sign that in a moment it can all be taken away.
Two years ago I came very close to being an example of what can happen. In one of those links you can see some of my thoughts about that day. Now when I think about I really feel lucky. If things would have transpired a bit differently I would have been seriously injured, if not killed. For a while afterwards I carried physical reminders of the accident. One of my knees hit the dashboard. They said it was just a bad bruise, but it seemed to take an awfully long time to heal. There are some other aches and pains that made their appearance that day and have yet to leave me. But enough about me.
This last funeral was heartbreaking. Some deaths are more tragic than others. In this case a parent, a sibling, and a spouse was taken far too early. On the off chance that someone stumbles onto this I am intentionally being vague about the identity of the deceased.
I have been to more funerals than I care to think about. I have seen parents bury children. I have seen children say goodbye to their parents, but I don’t think that I have ever witnessed a more heart wrenching goodbye from one spouse to another. The anguish of the surviving spouse was a terrible thing to see. We’re not supposed to be exposed to such raw emotion, the intimacy was not meant for us. The sobbing and wails of pain were not for our eyes, but the pain of the loss was so great that they didn’t care.
They collapsed at the graveside and clawed at the earth. If you didn’t know the couple you might think that this was a show, that it was ridiculous, a hysterical over reaction. But I did know them and I am here to say that they had that kind of love. They were best friends. They were lovers. They were something more than husband and wife.
Jewish mourning ritual includes shoveling some dirt on the grave of the deceased. For the third time in my life I was part of a funeral in which a group of us took care of filling in the grave in its entirety.
It was hot and it was hard work. It was hard because I could feel the eyes of the spouse and children upon me. I could feel them begging for mercy, that they should wake up from a bad dream. And with every shovelful we proved that it wasn’t a dream.
But we shoveled on. We couldn’t bring about a miracle. We couldn’t remove their pain, but we hoped that that our presence would help them begin to heal. And it was one more way to show our love and respect for the departed.
It was a hard day. September was a hard month. But I learned from it. Some of those lessons I keep to myself, but here is something that I’ll share with you. When I die I hope that I merit having people fill in my grave. I hope that I have made enough of a difference in the world around me that they give my family that one last gift.
Baruch Dayan Emet.