A holy moment occurred at the Temple. Stephanie Garry, a former Temple President, and I invited members of the congregation to a session entitled, “Preparing for the end of life.” One older women in her 90’s showed up. Unbeknownst to her, her daughter and son-in-law also showed up. Neither had spoke to the other of their plans to attend. The elderly mother, in her 90’s, was worried about how to prepare her children, for her inevitable death. The children, in their 70’s, were worried about how to talk to their Mom about her eventual passing without making her feel uncomfortable. It was a special moment to witness the surprise as they met unexpectedly, and united in their great concern for each other. A few tears of love were shed when they realized they shared the same worry, how to prepare loved ones for the end of life.
There were several take always from our session that I want to share with you.
Don’t delay sharing your wishes. We can save our loved ones tremendous angst by planning ahead, and putting it into writing and giving it to them. Do you wish to be buried? Have you purchased a plot? Do you want to be buried near others? Do you want to donate organs? Do you want a tombstone or plaque? What would you like written?
There are many ancient Jewish wisdoms about mourning and grieving.
Mourning is in stages; shiva, the first week, shloshim, the first month, Yahrzeit the yearly remembrance of passing. Comforting mourners is one of Judaism’s most important mitzvot. Attending a Shiva minyan (service) can help people through the initial shock. But in truth, grieving can be a long process and checking in regularly on mourners can make a huge difference in helping someone.
Betty Rollins, a former NBC News correspondent, recently wrote in the NY Times about when she became a widow. Some people sent flowers, but her Jewish friends almost all sent food. She wrote, “Food is better.” Flowers die and you throw them away. This is the opposite of what we really want, which is to hold onto our best memories. Food is better because it helps us to live.
Here is my ask. When you, dear congregant, come to services at the Temple and see people saying Kaddish, please consider reaching out to them at the end of the service with words of caring. Maybe say something like “I see you are remembering someone. Is it ok to ask who? Can you tell me a little about your Mother, Father….(loved one)?” A few sincere words of caring can make a big difference when someone is grieving.
The value of community is not only for celebrating simchas like Bat Mitzvahs or weddings, but also comforting each other in times of sorrow.
Hazak, Hazak v’Nithazek, may we strengthen and care for each other.
Rabbi David Wilfond