life in and around NYC is insane

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Rituals of Mourning

Last year we lost my mother’s sister. I wrote about it  here.

Jewish ritual requires that a headstone be erected at the grave, and that a ceremony called an “unveiling” take place to observe the occasion. Traditionally the headstone is erected shortly after the funeral, with the unveiling held before the first anniversary of the person’s death.

I haven’t written about the unveiling … because it hasn’t happened yet. For whatever reason, my mother just couldn’t bring herself to order the stone.

It was becoming, as my late grandmother would say, “a shonde for the neighbors”.

(Shonde means “shame” or “embarrassment”, but with a Yiddish inflection it’s more powerful….)

So finally I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m the one who made the phone calls. And on Sunday I drove my mother to (Lord help us) the Lower East Side to visit the showroom and place the order.

This type of transaction is all very new to me, I’ve been fortunate enough not to have had to purchase a grave marker for anyone before. The actual transaction is fairly easy, albeit a bit expensive. But the emotional impact….

Especially when you consider family history. Like many other immigrant Jewish families at the time, my mother’s family belonged to a burial society. So everyone in the family is in the same cemetery. In the same section. With monuments built by the same company. The salesman was able to show me the blueprint for the headstone he made for my grandmother, who died in 1996. And he was able to find out, from his records and a visit to the cemetery, what my grandfather’s name was … my grandfather died in 1943. (He needs my grandfather’s name, because Jewish tradition identifies a person as “first name” son (daughter) of “father’s name” and he needs the name for the headstone.)

So the stone is ordered, and we expect it to be completed in late October or early November.

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