October 06, 2009

Three Shovels of Dirt

I had a funeral to attend yesterday with my husband. It was a family member of his business partner. She was 90 and had a good long life, but that does not mean those close are not entitled to grieve.

Afterall, they loved her, she was a good woman, and now she's gone. Her death leaves a marked void in their lives. There is never enough time for those we love.

It was another Jewish funeral for me and as always, I immersed myself in all that was around me for a better understanding. My favorite Rabbi was there, a tremendously spiritual Orthodox man, I loved when he spent the time speaking with my husband and me when we sat Shiva with the family at the last passing of a family member... that time a man close to us and much too young. We sat every day of Shiva and we found out later, we were the only non-family members to do so... added to the fact, we were the only Non-Jews as well.

I love the Rabbi's use of language. He has a quiet way of putting things together that make things clearer and provide such a large picture.

We walked to the graveside for the burial after the service. Sure enough, the big mound of dirt with shovels sticking out awaited us.

Single handedly, this is my favorite ritual of the Jewish funerals I have attended. As I stated before, I like that the family and friends bury the dead and not some $10 an hour stranger who could not care a wit less about the person in the grave, what they were to whom, what their life was like... how much they were loved.

It is a mitzvah to help bury the dead. And before we started, the Rabbi had a moment of silence so we could think of anything we had done that would have wronged the deceased and to ask their forgiveness.

I loved that. I absolutely loved that.

We got in line to take the shovels... the first shovel full is poured over the grave with the shovel back holding the dirt... upside down if you will, to show the reluctance of having to perform the mitzvah. I guess, the heaviness of heart. And then we took two shovels full on the right side of the shovel, replacing the shovel into the dirt after our mitzvah was complete.

At the end of the service, we formed two lines facing each other, and the grieving family passed through as we expressed our condolences.

As the Rabbi started the graveside ceremony, when I realized we were able to perform the Mitzvah of assisting in her burial, I looked at my husband and said, "We're doing this. It is an honor. And you know I want this at my funeral. I don't want strangers pouring dirt on my box. It needs to be family and friends."

He said nothing.

I said, "You know it. You know I'm serious."

Solemnly he replied, 'I know you are."

It was an honor yesterday for me to assist in her burial. Every time I participate... I feel such a great sense of closure and... honor.

A sense of Peace.

There was no Shiva this week. The Jewish faith is in the midst of a holiday called Sukkot. (My Jewish readers, please correct me if I've said something not right...) Holidays are a joyful time, so there is no sitting Shiva. The family has had some small gatherings, but that is the extent.

I wish them a peace in knowing she had a long wonderful life and that she will not suffer. I wish them a peace that they know in their hearts that she loved them as they loved her... and that love of her keeps her with them, even in death.

Posted by Boudicca at October 6, 2009 09:40 PM

You have all your Judaic facts straight, far as I can see.

A good friend will be doing this same thing tomorrow in South Florida, having lost his mother at the ripe old age of 93. Sad, but not tragic: it is the way things should work.

Our rabbi likens the filling in of the grave by family and friends to tucking a child into bed: You are tucking your loved one into the grave for his or her forever sleep. It's a powerful, touching analogy.

Posted by: Elisson at October 6, 2009 10:25 PM

Elisson- OH I like that analogy.

Every time I do it... it just feels... right. It is the right thing to do.

Posted by: bou at October 6, 2009 10:29 PM

Wow. Just wow... I like the sentiment tremendously.

Posted by: Richmond at October 7, 2009 06:57 AM

Wow too! I think I want that at mine too.

Posted by: patti at October 7, 2009 08:35 AM

That just sounds... lovely. Comforting. I wish we had done that for my parents; walking away from the grave site is one of the hardest things to do, but not if you 'put them to bed' yourself, I think.

I would want that as well.

Posted by: Pam at October 7, 2009 08:50 AM

When my mom passed away, we buried her with the blanket from her bed. It had been my grandpa's and she slept with it over her every night. Now, I had tried to buy her a new one, that wasn't faded or falling apart, but no, that was the one she wanted and she told us she wanted to be buried with it.

So, after her service, my brothers and I tucked her in and off she went to her new adventure. It was a nice way to send her off.

Posted by: Trudy at October 7, 2009 01:59 PM

The details of the send off are important. When Dad died, I don't know who picked out the suit he was buried in. I suspect it was Mom, at very bad time for thinking. So I did not say anything (although my oldest brother did).

At any rate, it seemed all wrong. For one thing, I think I saw him in a suit maybe once in his life. It wasn't his thing. For another, when he did brush up, Dad had good taste. That suit was all wrong, and he wouldn't have (pardon the phrase) been caught dead in it if he had had a say.

So sending him off like that - it seemed almost like it was someone else in his place. It still sort of feels that way after all these years! Rituals are important.

Posted by: PeggyU at October 7, 2009 02:30 PM

I never heard of before such a tradition of honoring the dead, but it makes perfect sense to me. What better honor is there for friends and loved ones to give the deceased such a proper sendoff? I myself wouldn't hesitate if asked.

Posted by: diamond dave at October 7, 2009 07:35 PM


Posted by: bx19 at October 8, 2009 04:10 PM