I have recently had many conversations and learning topics where death and dying in Judaism were discussed, and each time it comes up it becomes abundantly clear that I think about these things very differently from most of my peers.
One year, my only specifically requested Chanukah gift was “The Jewish Way in Death and Dying” and I
read devoured it over a few Shabbatot. And it had an esteemed place on my bookshelf for many years. In fact, even with our very limited space in coming to Israel, it was one of the books I initially wanted to bring. (Alongside all my mikvah books… I don’t even know what to say about that.)
The combination of growing up in a family where the “family business” is the local Jewish funeral home, mortuary, and cemetery and my first “grown-up job” being as a hospice social worker give me a very unique attutude and perspective.
I see death as inevtiable. Something to acknowledge is real and tangible and natural. Something not to pray to prevent, but to pray it happens in its due course and that everyone should live long and healthy and productive lives. I think death is an important part of the life cycle and teaches us all important lessons about how to live our lives in the moment.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it is sad when our loved ones pass. Of course it is! I just also believe that it is important to support one another realistically when death is immenint so that we aren’t surprised. It seems counter-productive to the grieving process to delude oneself into thinking it won’t happen to them. It should happen to you. The normative life course is that children should bury their parents.
I’ve realized in processing this that perhaps this is a part of my life path I hadn’t really factored in when deciding next steps. I know and am comfortable with death and dying. I want to learn halacha (Jewish law) intensively for years to come. I want to work in the Jewish world. I want to combine my experiences in ways which are unique to me. And while I want to focus on one other topic in particular (if you have been paying attention for the past three years, it won’t surprise you), it seems that this subtle piece of my soul may need to find a place in the plan too.
My family has often said that I am my grandfather’s granddaughter, perhaps this is just one more way in which that is true.
(This post was supposed to publish in early February but didn’t for some reason. Sorry for the delay!)