Everyone else in the hotel has their plans for the day and we have ours. People look at you a little funny and with a tinge of pity when they see you dressed in funerary garb.

The limo arrives at the house. We check to see if it has lathes for car seats. We head to the synagogue. Eventually others arrive. The funeral begins.

My wife and her siblings all spoke beautifully. They found the right words and stories for the occasion. I know that each of them found meaning in sorting through a lifetime of stuff, each a little surprised at how the stories wove together. Funerals are like people, similar in many respects but no two the same. I sat with my daughter. All around her there were tears and some laughter too. What she calls “sweet and sour” tears. Watching my wife lead the El Maale prayer in honor of her father I think about the strength in each of us and the need to honor those we love however difficult it may be.

Riding to the cemetery. My father in law is to be buried in a newly dedicated section. There aren’t any stones there yet and only a few markers. It’s oddly spacious for such a place. A longtime family rabbi, Sharyn Henry, facilitates the interment. My daughter throws flowers into the grave rather than dirt. We shovel dirt. I feel compelled to shovel more than the usual amount. For some reason I keep the Kaddish card. We are deeply touched that so many joined us at the cemetery and returned with us for a meal at the Shul.

While the rest of the family heads back to the house to sit and be together, I take the kids for a swim back at the hotel. It’s the single most exciting gift I can give them and it feels good to be in the pool. After swimming we stop at a book store so I can buy a few books for our trip to Alaska (which begins tomorrow). I also buy a few books to give as gifts to my brother and sister in law and mother in law.

Dinner is a testament to the sacred power of friendship. We’re joined by two couples who are friends of the family and of my father and mother in law in particular. Friendship is so powerful and touching because it’s completely voluntary. Somehow people connect across the vast multitudes of time and space to forge a bond that eventually becomes a bond of love. There’s really no other way to say it.

Shiva is an important part of the healing process. Tonight I realized that part of shiva is acknowledging that death transforms relationships. There were people at Shiva tonight that we may never see again and also people that my wife and I have never met before. There was time dedicated to sharing stories about my father in law but it didn’t really get going. I wonder what happens to all the stories, all the experiences, all the moments of meaning.

Tomorrow we leave Pittsburgh for a previously scheduled trip to Alaska. It will be hard to leave but we are eager to fulfill the vision we set in motion when we made these plans. My father in law always wanted to visit Alaska and I believe he was not only envious but also so excited for us to go. We will certainly think of him often when we are there.


Death (Day 3)