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Saturday, October 10, 2015

The rituals of mourning

The young soldier, in full dress uniform, saluted the flag-draped coffin. A second soldier, slightly older, raised his bugle to his lips. The sad, stark notes of "Taps" wafted over the cemetery. The song over, the two members of the honor guard folded the flag with military precision into a neat triangle for presentation to the next of kin. When the young soldier handed the flag to my mother, I started to cry.

Earlier that morning we'd gathered at the funeral home. The funeral director usher us -my mother, sisters and daughters- into the chapel so that we could fulfill the legal requirement of identifying the body, and to give us a few moments to say goodbye. And there was my father, dressed in the J. Crew outfit my sister had chosen for him, a yarmulke on his head, the tallit the Rabbi gave us draped around his shoulders.

Then back to the family room. Hugs and tears as family and friends arrived. Another private moment before the service as each of the immediate family was given a black ribbon to wear, which the Rabbi then tore as a sign of mourning.

Then the service. Prayers from the Rabbi and the Cantor, warm memories and funny stories as we eulogized a husband, father and grandfather.

Just as we were leaving the funeral home, the Rabbi told me he couldn't come to the cemetery ... He'd had root canal that morning and needed to recuperate, but the Cantor would take care of everything.

The long ride to the cemetery. The military honor guard. More prayers from the Cantor (a short service, with one eye on the sun -- the Cantor had to return home before the Sabbath began). Each of us throwing a symbolic shovel of dirt into the grave -- the job would be completed by cemetery employees.

And then, the words of the Mourner's Kaddish. Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba. May G-d's Name grow exalted and sanctified. A prayer I recite in my father's memory, a prayer I will recite through the year of mourning, and each year on the anniversary of his death.

(I'll never have to look up his yartzeit, he died the day after Simchat Torah.)

So now we begin the shiva, the seven days of mourning. More visits from friends and family, more hugs and tears, more sharing of memories.

We love you, Daddy. We will miss you.


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