‘Thank God My Mother Is Already Dead,’ Mourning in the Time of Coronavirus

Thank G-d my mother is already dead. I catch myself saying that a lot these days.

Nine years ago, her cancer diagnosis and inevitable death were the most harrowing experiences I could have ever imagined. And for as long as I could, I didn’t. Until days before she died, I found the words to ask her: “Mom, how do you live without your mother?”

I didn’t want to talk about the end of her life. I didn’t want to spend time going through generations of family photos, Judaica and memorabilia, despite her begging me to.

But once the only treatment left was no treatment at all, we did everything possible to ensure that our mother lived a really good death.  

Now, in this time of COVID-19, I look back at that dark period with deep gratitude.

We made her home hospice into a multi-week going-away party: think quarantine meets open house. We laughed a lot—about how my waking up with her multiple times a night was boot camp for parenting an infant; about how unfair it was that she’d die before Downton Abbey’s 2014 season premiere; about guilting me for stress-eating in her home hospice. We livestreamed Yom Kippur. We held her hands, caressed her keppee (forehead) and listened closely to her very last breaths. I’d promised her, “We won’t let go till Dad [who she knew would be waiting with outstretched arms on the other side], says, ‘Gotcha.’”   

Within hours we were planning the funeral, which due to contiguous Jewish holidays, was delayed five days. The funeral director offered a livestream option. Livestream her funeral? “Take it,” he said. “You never know who might not make it in person.”

Her body lay in cold storage until close friends and synagogue members performed the ritual tahara (purifying a dead body for burial). One of them promised: “I’ll look into her face, tenderly put potsherds on her eyelids, and tuck her into her shroud.”

Arm-in-arm, shoulder-to-shoulder, friends and family filled the Plaza Jewish Community Chapel so tightly you could hear people breathing. They exchanged hugs and kisses, bits of stories and Kleenex. I remember turning to take in the crowd when my oldest brother whispered: “Look! Mom’s funeral is packed!” There were heartfelt eulogies, a klezmer violin solo, and our cousin, who we call “the Lesbian Reconstructionist Rabbi to the Rescue,” raucously singing Mom’s favorite—“I’m Spending Chanukah in Santa Monica”—before chanting the ancient El Maleh Rachamim (Prayer for the Soul of the Departed).

We buried her in a crowded Jewish cemetery on the border of Long Island and Queens. My brothers and I made good on our long-ago pact to fully cover our parents’ coffins with soil ourselves, shovel by shovel. Afterwards our family and friends formed a human archway for us to walk through, physically embodying the community that would hold us up while we grieved, symbolically transitioning us to shiva. We left our mom next to our dad and their mechutanim (in-laws). She was anything but alone.

Source link

Leave a comment

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!