Sunday, January 13, 2008

In Memoriam: A Family Affair

We drove up this morning, unusually for a Sunday, from Laguna Beach to Los Angeles for a family gathering to mark the recent death Ellie’s Aunt Sylvia, of one of our elders—one of the last, be it said, since we are rapidly becoming them ourselves. We have seen our elders, to paraphrase that famous, overused saying, and they are us.

The memorial was a beautiful and moving moment. I suspect that many of us have experienced those events where, instead of a funeral, we are invited to “celebrate the life” of the recently departed. In all the merriment of getting together and “remembering the good things,” the fact of death is frequently—pardon the phrase—passed over, perhaps because that is the hard part, the part we don’t much want to look at.

Thanks to the thoughtful preparations of Ellie’s cousins, Aunt Sylvia’s memorial certainly gave us the opportunity to remember her, and to celebrate the fact that she had touched so many lives. But it was also appropriately serious and reflective.

There was a rabbi on hand to lead the proceedings, which were called to order promptly and captured everyone’s attention. The rabbi spoke quietly and with appropriate gravity about the inevitable cycle of life and death—by wonderful happenstance, Sylvia’s great-granddaughter had arrived in this world only hours before her own departure, and was on hand to contrast her lovely presence with Sylvia’s poignant absence.

The rabbi then read a couple of beautiful, familiar passages from Ecclesiastes and the Psalms (“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”) before making space for family members and friends to add their own words of remembrance, which they did with loving grace and humor; and the memorial part of the event ended with the recitation of the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer of mourning.

Then, only after this moving and respectful tribute to the person we had come to honor, there was food and drink and conversation, and catching up with those we had not seen for too long a time, and promises to remain in better touch than in the past. All in all, it was a fitting farewell, one that did not too readily dispense with the sadness but also celebrated the joy of a life lived long and well. We should all wish for so warm a tribute, once we have followed Sylvia on that journey into the unknown that awaits us after this body in which we are given to spend our human lives gives out.


MandT said...

Lovely post. The Kaddish is so beautiful, particularly when canted and reminds me of the keening my dear great aunts wailed in sonorous waves at family wakes before the tears, laughter, stories food and booze broke out! :)

robin andrea said...

That is the blogging tradition for a stone on her grave.

Whenever I think of Kaddish, I think of Allen Ginsberg. Not the best association, but one that I will have always.

I hope all of these good traditions stay, long after we have waved farewell to monotheism's religious baggage.

btw-- I tried to comment on your post over at Huffington's but I seem to have forgotten my password, and they have spent days trying to send it to me :(

Robin said...

Life is like attending a wonderful concert.

Do people cry and hold unhappy feeling when a concert ends?

Or do they rejoice to have the opportunity to attend this concert and be part of this wonderful experience.

Sometimes, this is what I felt when someone dear to me pass on. I would treasure that opportunity rather than feeling sad.

I would be grateful for being a part of this person life than to feel loss of someone dear.

For all you know, death is impermanence too.