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When Someone Dies

I just came home from the funeral of a parent of former students of mine – a friend, and a member of my community.  As I arrived at the synagogue at 1:30 pm on a Friday afternoon, I found a full parking lot and the sanctuary to capacity. We all dropped what we had planned to be there to remember Barbara and support her family. 

Young adults should not have to bury a parent so early in life, and a mother should not have to bury her daughter.

On the way, I had called my brother in LA and left him a message, “Hey Bill, we should get together, go to a game, catch up.  How about we spend some time together soon?”  We are both busy, doing similar work in the world, and forever missing each other’s calls.  That’s not okay with me.

I am walking up the sidewalk towards the synagogue, and I comment to another parent in our community, “What if the Rabbi sent out an email on Sunday saying, ““Hey, we are having a huge spontaneous gathering at the synagogue at 1:30 PM in the middle of the day on Friday.  We all never know how long we will be here, alive and well, so let’s clear our schedule, cancel our appointments and meet for a spiritual hour or two, share our stories and love for each other, hug each other, and take a walk in a serene open park together.  The gathering will be followed on Saturday with a potluck at which we will celebrate life together.”  What would the turnout be? Maybe ten people?   Most folks would think this was just weird and wonder if the Rabbi was okay.”

But Barbara, despite her courageous and determined fight to beat her cancer, died suddenly – a surprise, accidental death. 

In response, several hundred of us changed our plans, cancelled our appointments and cleared the way for Barbara’s memorial, funeral and burial.  We sat together, in community, in sacred space, cried, reminisced, and even laughed.  I reconnected with a Rabbi and colleague I had not seen for over 30 years.  Then we followed the hearse to the cemetery, took a stroll across the serene open, memorial park.  We walked past the graves of hundreds of people of all ages who were loved, missed and honored by family and friends who stopped for a day (or two) to reminisce, love, embrace, cry and laugh together, and then go on.  They are missed.

“We should meet at happier occasions!” was the cliché uttered often and with resignation. Is it possible to put aside our lists, appointments, shoulds, struggles, conflicts and preoccupations, and create this love in every moment?

I chose to walk the long path across the cemetery lawn towards my car.  As I walked the clouds sang, the wind whispered and sang a nigun (a Jewish song without words).  I felt fortunate to be among the living, to have put a traditional shovel of dirt in the grave, washed my hands in the Jewish tradition and rejoined the living.  We are all survivors.

My brother called back.  We shared a broken conversation between his Bluetooth and mine, broken up words, but not broken up feelings.  We shared what is new, a bit of what is old, baseball talk, and summer plans to go to a game.  I love my brother.

Love this moment; it is all we really have.

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