We drove to Vancouver BC today for the funeral of Rik's "aunt." The two families were so close when they all lived in Montreal. The kids called all the parents aunt and uncle and they refer to one another to this day as cousins.
Auntie E was devoted to her family. She found tremendous opportunity for self-expression in caring for her husband, children and grandchildren. She died suddenly last week while visiting her daughter's family and due to the impending Yom Kippur holiday, the funeral was delayed until today. Normally Jews bury our dead within 24 or 48 hours, a custom which doubtless harkens back to our ancient desert days.
Rik's cousin, the rabbi who married us, gave a moving eulogy about his mother. His voice cracked with emotion as he reminisced about the close connections between the two families. The burial immediately followed the funeral service, and as is the custom, everyone present helped. We throw shovels full of dirt into the grave, using the back of the shovel at first to show our reluctance. It's the last act we can do for another human being, which they can never repay. The thump of dirt on the coffin is the most final sound you can imagine and truly brings home a sense of loss.
We then formed two columns and the mourners walked between them to the cemetery's exit as we offered the traditional words: May God comfort you among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Last we washed our hands, symbolically purifying ourselves.
After the funeral and burial we returned to Uncle S's home for the meal of consolation. We Jews also believe that it's important to show immediately that life does continue for the mourners. We ate round foods: hard-boiled eggs, lentils and chickpeas, which symbolize the circle of life. As we talked with one another about Auntie E, I noted that G had torn the kriah on his tie. I learned the Montreal custom is for men to tear their neckties and for women to tear a scarf which they wear around their necks.
Rik and I stayed as long as we could, then drove home to Seattle. On the drive he told me more stories about their growing up together. The whole day was a chance for me to become even closer to Rik and his family.
Zichrona l'vracha - may her memory be for a blessing to all who knew her.
(If you want more information about Jewish mourning customs, I find that this site is particularly informative.)