The Wheel of Time – December 17, 2012 – 2013
I am just home from a sad two days in Boston, attending the funeral of my Husband’s aunt, Honey. Honey died on the 17th of December after a very short bout with lymphoma. She is survived by, Dan, her husband of 61 years. And two very adult children, one with spouse. And a niece. And two nephews, and their spouses. All of us, except the family in Israel, gathered to give her a suitable send off. I’m sad and inspired.
I met Honey and Dan more than 35 years ago, when I was dating the guy who would become my Husband. He lived in Boston, as did they, and he took me to meet them on one of my long weekends with him. I met them even before I met his parents. They are the people I thought would be around forever. Honey and Dan, Dan and Honey – never one without the other, a “couple” or a couplet, each the completion of the other.
When Honey took sick, just a few months ago, they decided to deal with it on their terms and not tell anyone outside the closest family. Dan is my mother-in-law’s brother, as different from her as night is day, except for keeping this kind of secret and trying to deal with momentous change without help. So we only learned of her illness a very few weeks ago, and really only had details when she came home from the hospital to hospice. Her last few days were at home, surrounded by her husband and children. She died on the one year anniversary of the death of Anna, my mother-in-law, her sister-in-law.
Honey passed in the night, on the full moon. Such a sweet woman. Maybe she was taken by my husband’s mother. Maybe Anna was lonely and needed company in whatever space she now inhabits. Maybe Anna came and snatched Honey from us. But my magical thinking dreams the Moon took Honey, needing her sweet, loving, humorous pragmatism to balance its dreamy wispiness. And maybe Honey needed the Moon more than she needed all the rest of us – full faced, full light, silver illumination for those left behind. I know I’ll see her in every full moon here on out. . .
The family are Jewish, although our levels of devoutness are broad indeed. One Nephew and Wife live in Israel. Daughter and the other Nephew are married to “goys,” used lovingly when applied to us. Son and Nephew in Israel are devout. They live the traditions and try be Jewish in thought and action. So we had a Jewish funeral for Honey to honor her Son, to whom the prayers and the forms really matter. The rabbi was very young and a great purveyor of religious practice. If more men (and women) of God were like him, there would be more lay people partaking of religion, and religion would be a benefit to people rather than a detriment.
The comfort in the chapel is the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.” It’s sung in Hebrew, recited in English. Surprised myself, that I remembered all the English words from Christian Doctrine classes taken more than 50 years ago. . .
And we trekked out the cemetery with a spectacular police escort. I could get used to driving on the Interstate with 3 police cars blocking the traffic on all three lanes so that we could pass unimpeded and uninterrupted. We were about half way back in the line of the procession and at one point, an uppity driver tried to butt in. Our police vehicle actually crowded him off the road, opened his windows and yelled at the guy: “GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!!!” Honey’s journey is more important than anyone else’s. Great way to travel. . .
At the cemetery, a few short prayers and then an explanation from the rabbi. Those who were willing could give Honey a final selfless gift – “tucking her in” he called it. He said he thought it was better for a person to be covered in the earth by those who loved her and were loved by her, than by the strangers who are the gravediggers. And the 30 or so folks gave the gift of burial to Honey, pouring one or many shovels of fine earth onto and around the coffin filling up the hole in the ground. The first pours are made with the shovel upside down to symbolize how upside the deceased’s life is in the early days after death.
I found the practice moving, emotional, wonderful, final. The American “way of death” never reaches the finality of death. Whatever our spiritual beliefs, once a person has passed on from this plane, they will never return to us, the survivors, nor will we ever again experience the deceased in the manner in which we are accustomed. But dressing someone up, making them look asleep, leaving the coffin above the ground until the mourners have departed, mitigates the finality of death. There is no mitigation in the practice of participating in the burial of a passed relative or friend. It’s very hard, and it’s very freeing. If I weren’t a proponent of personal cremation, I would ask my spouse and friends to bury me in this manner.
Back at the Dan and Honey’s home, we sat. And told stories. And tried to figure out what on earth to do with all the food sent by son’s friends and co-workers. Tried to taste life without Honey in it. Friends and neighbors came and sat for a while, or stood for a while, or listened to Dan tell stories for a while. There were many red eyes. (Although a few were from the extreme harissa-type sauce for the hummus. . .) Son’s temple sent members so there would be enough people to say prayers. They prayed. I meditated. I followed my breath. I visualized my husband’s aunt, remembered the moments spent with her and times thinking about her. Honey! The energy of the room bloomed with her presence. I hope a comfort to all, not just me.
Afterwards, Daughter asked me: “To what god do you pray?” “To the same Creator as you.”
We are all one, all seeking the same thing, all climbing the same mountain (as my grandfather used to say), all praying to the same God. I pray that “that who is greater than me, and greater than all, hold Honey safe in the hollow of her hands, until we can all be together again, and make our combined way across the Rainbow Bridge into the new adventures of that which is Beyond. Amen.
In memory of Honey. 12/17/13
In memory of Anna. 12/17/12