"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Lessons from my Grandfather's Funeral

My grandfather passed away Friday evening, and the funeral was yesterday afternoon.  It was my first funeral, and it really affected me in a way I didn't expect.  I felt a whole lot of grief, for which I simply was not prepared.  Judaism teaches that we don't speak badly of the dead, and I really do want my grandfather to rest peacefully because goodness only knows he had a hard life and he's earned it, but I will say we really didn't have the easiest relationship and I wasn't particularly expecting to feel anything.

Throughout the ceremony, I broke down in silent, shoulder-shaking sobs multiple times.  No one else had any way of getting to me and helping me (my mother snuggled me in the car on the way back), nor would it have been appropriate if they did, but there was one person who really helped without being aware of it.

My grandfather had been a Marine, so there were two active duty Marines present to do the flag ceremony.  One was positioned close to me, with his back to me, and the other was positioned on the opposite side of the grave, facing me.  Most likely, they were only a few years older than I am.  (They didn't know that, because I look so young.)  Most of their job at funerals consists of standing still and expressionless.  However, every single time I looked up, the one opposite me made eye contact; every single time I broke down, I could see the corner of his mouth twitch in sympathy.  I don't know why, but somehow his sympathy really helped.

Before yesterday, I didn't know that Psalm 91 is read at Jewish funerals.  91 is my psalm (I named this blog after it), and then yesterday, all of a sudden it was my grandfather's psalm, and then all of a sudden we were connected in a way we never could have been when he was alive.  I wanted to do something for him, so when it came time to shovel dirt on top of the casket, I did so...twice, just for good measure.

I think it shows my strength of character that I was able to cry for the man who hurt me growing up, but the moment of which I am most proud is actually not about my feelings at all.  My father, a mourner under Jewish law, also served as the Rabbi conducting the service.  He was doing just fine until he started reading his eulogy, and then he started breaking down.  I had one very clear thought: "Whatever happens, he CANNOT break down."  I stopped my own breaking down so that I could slip over and comfort him.

In a way, though, all of this was good, or at least, something good came out of it.  Judaism teaches that the greatest good a person can do is to serve on a Hevra Kedisha, the committee that prepares a dead body for burial.  (Every synagogue has one.)  This is considered the greatest good because the dead person can never pay you back.  Needless to say, it's been my dream to serve on one for a long time, but it was always a "when I'm ready...and I'm not yet" kind of thing.

The grief I felt at my grandfather's funeral yesterday showed me something.  I will feel very strong feelings of grief and possibly more the first time I do Hevra Kedisha work, and that's OK.  I will push past them, and I will be a stronger person for it.  I'm ready now.  My mother wants me to get settled into school first; I think that's sensible.  My program either allows one grade below B or no grades below B the first semester, so for this semester, I'll just focus on school.  However, next semester, better believe I'm starting to serve on a Hevra Kedisha.

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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!