Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shiva (and not the Goddess)

For those of you following my family saga...

My aunt died last Monday. The funeral was Wednesday. There were about 500 people at her funeral, and I have never heard two more beautiful eulogies than given by my cousins, her daughter and son. In general, I loathe Eishet Chayil, but when the rabbi of her congregation read it aloud, I found resonance in each phrase, as it really echoed the choices she made in her life to count people, community and mitzvot above all else.

And then there was shiva. The teeming hordes. The bagels and lox. The teeming hordes. The "oh, I haven't seen you since your grandfather's funeral." The "I'm sorry"s over and over. And yet it seemed like a huge party, every day, from 11 in the morning until way into the evening after maariv, with food and drink and socializing. It was so hard, and yet so easy. My cousins and uncle had what they needed, constant distractions, structured reminiscences, and chances to say kaddish together. The house was filled with children--the four grandchildren and all of their friends, and my son and the extended cousins, and the whole place was filled with life.

I kept trying to stop myself from thinking how much my aunt would have enjoyed it. She would have loved to catch up with all of her cousins and my father's family, and pinch all of the babies' cheeks, and she would have loved how my cousin's house looked and how beautiful all the platters were. She would have marveled at the sheer numbers and wondered why they were all there--was it for her?? Unreal. My older cousin, a product of a Hebrew school and USY and a Schechter parent, lead davening for almost every mincha and maariv, and her mother would have been so proud. I wish she could have been there. Maybe she was.

Thank God I've never had to sit shiva myself. But now I know how structure is so absolutely necessary here, and how each person who came through that house fulfilled the mitzvah of distracting my family and somehow lessening their pain while enhancing the texture of their memories. Shiva is a miserable thing, no matter who dies. Whoever came up with it was a genius.


mother in israel said...

May her memory be for a blessing.

mamalady said...

When I was sitting shiva for my mother and her grandchildren were running around the house, the thought of how much she would have loved to have been there was a constant refrain.

There are a lot of crazy things about our religion that often leave me wondering "what were the rabbis thinking." But having experienced it, I marvel at the genious that developed our rituals around death. I don't know how people survive the experience without them.