As teenagers, way back in the 1970s, my siblings and I would irreverently joke that our mother’s hobby was going to Goldstein’s funeral parlour – a past time that became more frequent with each passing decade. Curiously, our mother never scolded us for our insensitivity. In fact, I do not recall her reacting at all. In her wisdom, I think she knew that our hearts would grow like hers and someday we too would be dabbling in funerals.
Decades later, I heard my own teenagers teasing. They bantered on about how their mom loves going to shiva houses. Like my own mother, I did not reprimand their dark humour. And like my own mother, as the years go by, I find myself reciting Psalm 23 way more often than I would like.
Death is a part of life that begets pain and sadness. Rituals like funerals and shiva honour the deceased and help ease the sorrow of loved ones. Friends, family and community members, attend so they can provide support and comfort when grief is new and raw. We gather to remember and reminisce with voices joined in prayer. The rule of minyan ensures that the bereaved are not alone. In a house of mourning there is human touch and empathy. There are hugs, handshakes, and wiping of tears. Sadly, these caring actions are no longer permitted, another pandemic heist.
Last week, I attended my first zoom funeral. Our family matriarch passed away from COVID19. Always impeccably dressed, she never missed a family event and always brought the perfect gift. Whether it was a birthday, bar mitzvah, wedding and yes, funerals and shivas, our Aunt Eleanor was there. Now at her funeral, we could not be physically present for her. My cousin cried at this injustice as she described her anticipation of being alone at the cemetery. I assured her, as best that I could she would not be alone. We would all be there.
One by one the day of the funeral, our video squares appeared. Cousins from near and far, friends and family zoomed in. We could hear the wind howling at the grave site but could not feel it on our faces. Tears fell and voices cracked but no one could share a tissue or hold a hand. I saw my mother’s sad eyes at her kitchen table, two squares down. My sister and brother were in their own video squares with their families. How I wish we could have linked arms together. Zoom technology is not there yet.
With our mics muted we listened to the eulogies. As is so often the case, I learned something about the deceased that I wish I knew when she was alive. Now, I can’t ask her about it. I grieve. At the conclusion of the service our mics were unmuted and together we recited the mourners kaddish. It was loud and heart felt. I hope my cousins at the cemetery heard us all. They were not alone.
Thanks to technology, this funeral was packed. My children and their generation of cousins, from scattered quarantine locations, were all present in zoom squares. Ironically, perhaps there were more attendees because they were able to attend with the ease of a screen. In a post quarantine world, this may be a benefit gleaned from crazy times. Knowing that, it is important to be cognisant that a virtual funeral does not fully suffice. Internet connections are invaluable, especially now. But, sympathy, empathy and even much needed humour are exchanged far better face to face. To truly practice the “hobby” of attending funerals and shiva, it is best to be there in person. I hope we can return to that.
(Photo by Christopher Rose via Flickr)