Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Funeral

We were greeted at the funeral grounds by a lovely man, I think he was Irish, who explained to us what was going to happen and in what order. My sister had the official documents that had to be handed over and we also discussed how we would like to perform certain traditions that can be approached in different ways.

My cousin's wife had brought a small pair of scissors so we could make a cut and tear our clothes. It's a small tear on the left above your heart in one garment and you wear that item for the entire week.

The order of service is that we start in the prayer hall for some prayers and someone or someones, in this case my father's rabbi and my sister, speak about the deceased. Then, led by the chief mourners (us), everyone follows the casket down to the grave. Then we all come back to the prayer hall for more prayers and finally the mourners walk out first and greet (not sure that's the right word) all the friends and family as they come out. (This final bit was the option we chose above greeting everyone inside the hall on our way out as that takes ages and feels a bit undignified - like we're celebrities on a red carpet or the Royal Family doing a walkabout.)

I had removed myself emotionally from the whole purpose of the occasion right up until entering the prayer hall. I can do that. Better than falling apart all over the place in public. But then you walk in and see the coffin and think, my Daddy's in that box. I felt my eyes well up but I got it under control before any tears fell.

There were over 200 people at the funeral. Possibly more, I'm not very good at estimating crowds so it could have been more. Two of my closest friends from school came and stood right behind me. It was a real comfort that they were there. I can't say why, but it was. Later as we walked to the graveside I saw and spoke to other friends from my youth - teenage years in our youth club, camping holidays, college days and trips to Israel. I had imagined that after almost 30 years living in Israel, it would be all my parents' and sister and brothers' friends I'd see so it was lovely and quite emotional to see that people had come for me.

A few elderly people came - Aunty Hazel! Aunty Judy! etc... None of them family but my parents' friends from our childhood who came round for tea while we played with their children in the garden before being called in for fish fingers and chips for supper together.

And the family. My father has 19 first cousins and there are about 39 of us second cousins. Apart from on facebook we only really see each other at funerals and shivas as there are too many to invite to a celebration. What can I say, it's lovely to see them all even if it's usually because someone has died.

There were prayers. The rabbi spoke and said how Dad had been the Bob The Builder of our synagogue - always on hand to fix or build something. I remember him painting the blackboards for the Hebrew classes and building the sukkah. My sister spoke about how Dad never saw a problem but would rather find a solution and quietly implement the solution before most people had even seen the problem. I cried a bit then.

We three children said the mourners' Kaddish aloud at the appropriate time. The Irishman came up and told me to slow down as my Hebrew was more fluent than my siblings and I was getting ahead. I tried not to feel pleased about that. No I didn't actually. I felt smug about it.

Then we followed the coffin to the grave. They kept stopping which we thought was to allow everyone to keep up but later we learned they stopped to say psalms. The casket was on a trolley draped with a velvet curtain and pulled by professional burial people. They just said the psalms quietly and by heart. We were standing right behind the trolley and we didn't hear any psalms. It reminded me of the stations of the cross - maybe there's a connection, I bet that's what Jesus was doing.

The burial grounds are on the outskirts of London in Green Belt country. It's beautiful. I thought to myself - I want to be buried here and not in the hot, foreign, scrub of the Middle East. I thought of the poet Rupert Brooke's grave on the Greek Island of Skyros and his poem yearning for tea in Granchester. That'll be me I thought. Others may have been saying psalms at that point but I was reciting in my heart - If I should die think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field, That is forever England.

At the graveside the coffin is lowered into the hole and then the mourners each file past and throw or shovel some earth onto it. In that way you are buried by your family and friends. They had a small box of dry stuff for the ladies who didn't shovel and didn't want to get their hands dirty. And now I've just realized something as I'm writing this.

On the way back into the prayer hall there are basins and everyone is invited to wash their hands. Traditionally it's to wash off any evil spirits (or even just spirits) who gather around death and graveyards. I was walking with my mother who steered us past the washing stations as she said she didn't believe in that. Now I realize that you need to wash your hands if you've been shoveling mud to fill a grave or even throwing in a handful with your bare hands. I love it when I see a practical reason for old superstitions.

After the final round of prayers the four of us chief mourners walked out of the prayer hall down the central isle and waited outside to speak to our family and friends. As it happened, my mother's friend decided that Mum didn't need to stand outside in the cold and that anyone who wanted to speak to her could come back to the house. As they were driving us back to my sister's where we would be sitting shiva for the week, we had to go with them. We ended up standing outside my sister's house in the cold as we didn't have the key and she was still being 'comforted by the mourners' at the burial grounds.


14 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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  2. Such a moving description. Please god I have years before I have to experience this, but I appreciate the chance to prepare myself anyway. Wishing you long life, and may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. xxx

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  3. I found this post a very emotional read, and I especially 'get' what you say about the support of friends at this time. At my Dad's funeral, I stumbled through a short ovation and the only way I could keep going was by looking at my friends who had travelled up to support me. Since then I try to go to funerals whenever I can as I know how important it can be. Thinking of you xxxx

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    1. Yes, I have had to reevaluate the importance for going to a funeral. I didn't realize before how much it helps. Thanks for your good wishes.

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  4. So very sad to hear about your dad and apologies for only getting to catch up with you now. It's been a good few years since my dad passed away but I can imagine how this was for you. It's funny, you really do notice whose there..... and it matters. It really does.

    Thinking of you xxx

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    1. Thanks Jazzy, and you suddeny miss those who don't make it and wonder where they are. As it was the holiday period in our case, many people were away.

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  5. I'm so sorry for your loss Rachel but it sounds as if you Dad had a great send off and superb that some old friends of yours came to support you too. Mich x

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  6. it is amazing the people that come together for a funeral, it's a wonderful reflection on the individual I think.

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    1. Yes, I don't think there was one person who didn't like my dad.

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