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A Celebration of Life
In the Jewish religion, there is a Jewish tradition when a person passes. For my daughters and I, we needed to decide whether to break from Jewish tradition by planning a celebration of life rather than a Jewish burial. What follows is how we came to our decision.
Breaking from Jewish Tradition
Traditionally, Jewish burials take place two days after a person has passed. They are buried in a simple all-wood casket. The family will sit shiva, a week-long mourning period. Shiva is the Hebrew word for seven. Friends and non-immediate family visit the mourners and provide food for them. Prayer services are conducted at sunset with the recitation of the mourner’s Kaddish, a memorial prayer.
This is where our decision got complicated. In a strange twist of fate, my husband had outlined his advance directives during a dinner conversation one night. It was not done in a morbid way or a premonition. He had lost both of his parents; his mom at age 56 and his dad at 80. Visiting them at the cemetery provided little comfort. So one night he stated that when he passed, he wanted a Fun-eral and celebration of life. And, he wanted his friends to smoke his cigars and drink his wine.
My daughters and I clearly remembered this discussion and made the decision to honor his wishes and break from Jewish tradition.
Speaking to the Rabbi
We belong to a conservative synagogue. Both our girls were bat mitzvah’d there and we knew our Rabbi well. The morning after my husband passed I knew I had to speak with our Rabbi. My mind was dreading making the call to our rabbi to explain that we would be breaking from Jewish tradition. I half expected needing to find a different clergyman to oversee the memorial service.
The Rabbi was out of the country but he called me back shortly. I explained that my husband had wanted to be cremated, donate his organs, and have a celebration of life. That’s a big ask of a conservative Rabbi. He surprised me and stopped my nervous rambling. The Rabbi stated, “enough said, I will take care of everything.” We would need to wait until later in the week which ironically is a break from Jewish tradition where you bury a few days after a person passes.
Naturally, when we met with him to discuss the service, he did try to talk us out of our decision. Some of the reasons were we would not have closure or a place to visit. While I understood his concerns, I also knew that we had closure every day we walked through our front door as just the three of us.
There have been some who questioned or judged our decision. I attended synagogue for the thirty-day period of mourning after his celebration of life. And, I continued to attend every Friday since, minus the synagogue being closed for the pandemic or if we were out of town. In fact, it is my faith that helped get me through a difficult time in my life.
Religion can be filled with all types of hypocrisy. I think it accounts for part of the reason why people leave organized religious communities. We ought not to judge another person for their decision when it breaks from tradition. His organs gave a heartbeat to a person needing a new heart. He gave vision to a person without sight. And his organs helped with medical research. I can live with that. And I am forever grateful that our Rabbi was willing to break from Jewish tradition for our family.
Here is where it gets open and personal. My husband’s wish to be cremated also outlined where he would want his ashes spread. It involved places that held significant meaning to him. One was the ocean. He loved the ocean and the notion that we were somewhat insignificant compared to the vastness of the ocean and its underwater life. Another location was the mountains. He grew up skiing and we had spent almost every winter with our daughters and other family members skiing in Park City and sometimes Colorado. The last location was in the stadium of his favorite sport’s team.
I won’t tell you where that was as it is not permissible to spread ashes in stadiums. Suffice it to say, this was the first wish we honored of his. While I was extremely nervous about getting caught and foolishly envisioned myself being arrested (that never happened), it was actually cathartic. I think we felt like he was looking proudly down at us that day.
When we spread his ashes in Park City, the day prior while snowshoeing with my sister, we stopped to take a break. I looked down and there was a tree stump with the initials MW… my husband’s same initials.
It has been almost seven years since he passed and thankfully we are all doing well. We knew his advanced directives. I would encourage any person to make certain their legal docs and wishes are clearly outlined. We received an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends, and acquaintances.
My daughters and I, no different than anyone who loses a family member, now recognize the fragility of life. Our bond has been strengthened through this experience. We enjoy life because we know that is what he would want us to do. We commemorate his life on his birthday, the date of his passing, and Father’s Day by doing something he loved.
Personally, he has made his presence known on several occasions that I will share in other blogs.
So for those of you who lose someone whether unexpectedly like we did or after a lengthy illness, know that you will get through this experience. Read Getting My Balance Back to learn how I was able to overcome this difficult time in my life.