I feel death very deeply no matter who or what has died. I literally shutter when passing a dead animal on the street. I get chills, and my breath leaves me for a moment. I am also extremely sensitive to mummies at museums. I can feel my hair stand on end, and I get goosebumps. Many times I feel invasive emotions that don't seem to be mine.
Cemeteries are the same way. I feel hypersensitive but it is at least more comforting. After Rob's grandma died, the woman who practically raised him and for whom Alia has her middle name, I would visit her grave every weekend with Chandler and Dillon (both of whom were small) to brush it clean, water the grass around it, and lay a picked flower on the stone.
Every Veteran's Day, we as a family go to Jefferson Barracks. We locate all of our family members and those of our friends'. Then with the children, we search and find as many Jewish headstones as we can, and place a rock on the stone. We hope their families will see them when they visit, and know that someone remembered their loved one.
Along with these sensitivities, I have a strong sense of what feels right with regard to those who are no longer with us. I don't want to go into detail here because I don't want anyone to think that I would judge how they conduct their mourning process. Let me just say I feel deeply for their dignity, even in death.
Sometimes I wonder - what am I being sensitive about? The body? Is the soul lingering around and that is what I am absorbing? Is it a combination? Maybe it is the spirit...does it stay with the body or does it linger? Are spirit and soul different entities? What is this that is causing inner and outer manifestations? I am aware of the belief that the soul, though completely now detached from the body due to death, remains close by until the burial.
All of these recent deaths, from traditions outside of Judaism, bring me to compare and contract with Jewish tradition...and from there, my mind goes to Chevra Kadisha. The people who perform this service must be knowledgeable about the laws of purification. They purify and watch over the body of the deceased from death until burial. This involved a kind of service that can never by returned nor can one receive thanks from the person for whom it is being performed. It is a beautiful notion to look out for the dignity of another, even in their death. It is a loving act.
There are three mitzvot associated with Chevra Kadisha.
1. Rehitzah: physical washing of the body
2. Taharah: spiritual purification by pouring 9 kavim of water over body after washing.
3. Halbashah: dress the body in takhrichim.
Ritual and prayers surround the entire process. And yet...I don't even know if there is a Chevra Kadisha in St. Louis...in the Conservative movement here...if it is provided by the Jewish funeral homes. This is something I can see me doing in my empty-nester days.
"O House of Jacob, come and let us go out in the light of the Eternal One. God has spoken and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto its setting. They enter into peace they rest on their beds, each one that walks in his uprightness, for dust you are and unto dust shall you return" (Isaiah 2:5, Psalm 50:1, Isaiah 57:2, Genesis 3:19).