Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Shiva, Sheloshim, and Vera

Trigger/Content Warning (TW/CW): this blog post contains mentions of death and funerals. Reader discretion is advised.

It is a fickle as fuck thing to love what death can touch. It is ironic as hell that we love nouns that, in the end, disappear from this world and never come back. Death and the transition to another place is always unknown; sure, people have ideas and hypotheses, but when it comes to the actual death (even if multiple deaths occur at the same time), the things we love are left alone, buried or cremated or tossed away.

A singular death is one thing; you get to mourn exclusively an individual whose soul has left their body. When multiple deaths happen over a period of time, it will take a toll on you; especially if you are not accustomed to seeing nouns die.

Before June 2011, I only known of three people close enough to me who had died; my dad's biological father, my mom's oldest half-sister, and my dad's only known sibling, his half-brother. When I found out one of my teammates at my last job had died from end stage lung cancer in June 2011, it was a complete shock to my system. However, I was not able to fully recover from that death a few weeks later, in July 2011, when my puppy dog of 9 years had stenosis of the spine, and could no longer walk due to the excruciating pain she was in.

I had kicked my mother out of the examination room due to her emotional state so I could comfort said puppy dog and prepare her for her transition. The veterinarian and his assistant were very soothing as they explained what was happening. Soon after it was all done, I felt a soft warm body become extremely stiff and quickly cold. Hell, my arms did not know what to make of this feeling. After it was all said and done, I greeted my mother in the waiting area and told her that it was finished.

The deaths didn't stop there for me. A few more weeks later, in August 2011, my mom's next oldest half-sister passed away (my mother was the baby of 5 children; three from her mother's first marriage, and two from her mother's second and final marriage). It felt like someone was taking a proverbial mallet to my head and bashing it whenever someone I knew well had passed away. A few more weeks later, in September 2011, Dingbat had a heart attack, and for sure I thought he was going to die. Somehow, I was able to successfully convince him to go to the hospital and get treated. He survived the heart attack (which makes the realization of what he did to me all the more painful). I finally got some relief from nouns dying from October to December 2011, until January 2012, when my mom's brother, the only full-sibling she had, died.

Let me tell you, I was spent; all of my spoons were gone. My spoon debt was worse than my financial debt at that time. All these deaths happening, one after the other, took me that much longer to recover.

Fast forward to January 2016; the here and now. A rash of reports, one a few days after another, of beloved celebrities and famous individuals were dying; a majority of them succumbing to some form of cancer. It was almost as if someone took that time period of 2011-2012 and crammed it into a few number of DAYS. The PTSD was kicking in hardcore at this point. It was around this time, just one day after my birthday, that I found out someone I knew and respected very well, a congregant from the Chevrei Tikvah Chavurah, was in critical condition at a hospital due to end stage liver cancer.

About 36 hours after I got the word of his condition, he was gone.

It is even more fickle as fuck to love what death has touched.

This gentleman's funeral was held yesterday at a Jewish funeral home.  It is not too different from, say, a Christian funeral home; the facility had a couple of chapels, several books to record guests' names and addresses, and a place for the immediate family to receive guests.  However, when it comes to preparation of the body into the casket there is a huge difference.

In a Christian funeral service, this beautifully glossy wooden and metal casket is half opened to view the upper portion of the deceased, usually heavily embalmed and heavily made up in liquid foundation to closely match the deceased's natural skin tone. The body is usually surrounded by a cushioned satin lining around the interior of the casket and a small pillow underneath the deceased's head. I can safely say that there's none of that in a Jewish funeral service.  First off, the casket is made entirely of non lacquered solid wood. In the funeral home and during the service, the casket is closed; it is considered "unclean" to touch a dead body. The deceased is not embalmed, and therefore needs to be buried pretty quickly, like as soon as humanly possible, which is very similar to how the Islamic community buries their dead.  I couldn't tell you what was inside the casket, other than the deceased, probably wrapped in some shroud, with the interior closely matching the exterior of the casket.

Meanwhile, in this Jewish funeral service, it was a very short service. The deceased's rabbi(s) allowed just a few individuals to eulogize their lost loved one.  Prior to the eulogies, some Psalms passages were read, both in Hebrew and in English (which is totally normal to me, considering my Orthodox Christian background of hearing services in either Ukrainian or Greek and English). After the eulogies, everyone rose for a small prayer for the deceased, and then the casket was whisked away to the hearse for transport to their grave site.

I don't believe the service was short because of time or community culture, but rather this gentleman, who was a great community leader and a well respected dentist for several correctional institutions (or prisons) throughout the state of Ohio, had lived an extremely private life.  So the folks could only share what they knew of this man at face value.

The other interesting outlook of this funeral service is that it happened on the first of seven days in a time frame Jews call "shiva" (which literally translates to "seven"). It is an extreme period of mourning and grieving, so much that the community comes out to the home of the family or loved ones of the deceased and offer themselves as condolences.  Offering themselves means that folks from the community will come to the home, and will bring food, or offer to clean the home, or just sit there with the mourners, most of the time in silence until the mourners speak. After the shiva period is over, a secondary mourning period occurs, although less intense as shiva, called "shloshim" (which literally translates to "thirty"). During shloshim, mourners will resume their basic activities (work, cleaning, etc.) but will also mostly abstain from anything considered "fun" (like getting a hair cut, going to a concert, participating in a religious happy meal, etc.).

More information about shiva, shloshim, and other memorial periods can be found by clicking here. More information about funeral and cemetery services are typically performed can be found by clicking here.

Take the funeral from yesterday, and a verbal wrestling match over the fate of my right ovary with the doctor who helped me back in August to prepare for the first surgery, and yeah; yesterday was not a good day towards the end. However, at least where I am currently in my life, I am better able to deal with heavy situations hitting me at once than I was before. I still have my moments, yes.  At the end of the day, I get right back up by utilizing the proper tools at my need.

Rest well, Dr. Robert "Bob" Asch (1952-2016). May your memory forever be a blessing.

It is a sad, sad thing, to love what death will inevitably touch.

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