Early in my relationship with my husband, I found it odd how
much time Joe spent going to wakes and funerals. There were
neighbors he hadn't seen in decades, great-aunts of friends, and
even casual acquaintances with whom he had maybe a handful of
If there was someone to be mourned, Joe was your go-to guy.
Once our children were old enough to attend such events, I
understood the thinking. It was a way to show respect for the dead,
offer a funny story or touching tale to the living, and raise one
up in honor of those who go before us.
Most Irish wakes also involve a cooler or two in the parking
lot. I don't think I'm breaking any secret code here. It's
practically Irish Catholic doctrine, right up there with "Thou
Shalt Always Go to Saturday Afternoon Mass During Football
After more than 10 years with Joe, I had wakes and funerals
down. Or so I thought.
Last week, I got a text from one of my best friends. Her
grandmother had passed away, and she was wondering if I wanted to
attend (my friend lives in Milwaukee, but the funeral was local). I
But then it occurred to me. My friend is Jewish. While I have
several close Jewish friends, I had never actually attended a
Jewish burial. I wasn't sure what kind of rituals, decorum, and
traditions I needed to know in order to prep the kids. With little
time to research matters, I opted to wing it.
The service itself was beautiful and the rabbi introduced a host
of family members to talk fondly about Grandma. She led a
remarkable life, buried three husbands, and traveled the world well
into her 70s. I was struck by the Jewish belief that when you die,
the first question God asks is:
"Did you taste every fruit that I put on earth?"
Joe and I both were moved by this concept. To live fully, to
experience and taste all of life's great offerings, it was such an
empowering message. I turned to Joe at that exact moment, smiling.
He took one look and responded:
"We're not converting. We live in BEVERLY for chrissakes."
The mourners then moved to the cemetery where everyone took
turns with a shovel and helped bury Grandma. At first, my kids were
reluctant, but once they saw other children partake, they jumped
right in. My friend wandered over and whispered:
"Yup, there is definitely no messing around with 'refusing to
accept death' when you actually help bury the body, eh?"
I could not agree more. I appreciated the symbolism, the
finality, and the community aspect of the practice. Once again, my
husband took note and commented:
"Still not converting."
Since that day, my sons have talked frequently about the
service, the burial, and "eating lots of fruit." They processed the
rabbi's message quite literally. They also asked questions about
Judaism as a whole, and I tried my best to answer them. Yet when I
got to Hanukkah, their eyes lit up at the thought of eight days'
worth of presents.
"STILL NOT CONVERTING," Joe shouted from the other room.
Marianne is mother of three sons and the wife of a southside Irish fireman. She has learned that sometimes you're just too dumb to know what makes you happy. She blogs regularly at We Band of Mothers (webandofmothers.com) and curses with even greater frequency. Her material is written for the imperfect, the imprudent, and the impatient mothers who know that all this stuff is really very funny if you just give it a minute.
See more of Marianne's stories here.
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