Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Passing

When my father called to tell me of my Zaidy's passing, I was in the middle of scrubbing the toilet.

My Buby had fallen asleep by his bed, worn out from sleepless nights of worry. When she woke up, his chest wasn't moving anymore. She couldn't rouse him. A nurse confirmed it: Zaidy was gone.

Not five minutes later, my uncle and his wife arrived for a drop-in visit. I suppose they had one of the great shocks of their lives when they walked in and found my Buby, distraught, saying "He's gone! He's gone!"

My uncle called my father, who called me. "We're going to the hospital," he told me "to wait with Buby for the funeral director to come and pick up Zaidy's body. They're not sure how long it will take. Do you want to come?"

"I don't know," I said.

I sat on the couch with Ken and absorbed the news. And then, of course, I went. How could I not go?

I had never seen a dead body before. I was very nervous, going up to the room. And it was certainly a shock to see his body, unmistakably lifeless, for the first time. His eyes were open a little. Looking into eyes with no soul behind them, now that's a singular experience. Intense. It was all incredibly intense.

In all, seven living family members gathered around the bed. We put on pale yellow cotton surgical gowns and latex gloves because Zaidy had a C. Difficile infection when he passed away. In the dim room, with all of us looming against the walls in these shapeless gowns, we looked like a family of ghosts. The living haunting the dead.

It's a Jewish tradition not to leave the deceased alone until after the burial. There are men whose job it is to stay with the bodies in the funeral home and pray over them unceasingly until it's time for the interment. Until the professionals arrived to take over, it was up to us to sit watch over Zaidy's body.

For two hours we held the vigil together. At times the conversation veered to other topics, and at other times the room became silent and emotional. We stayed until the official men arrived with a gurney. Then we said our difficult, tearful last goodbyes, de-gowned, and walked out of Zaidy's hospital room for the last time.

We went for dinner together at a local restaurant called Steve's. Someone hadn't closed the top of an "a" on the daily specials board, so I ordered "Meat Louf". At one point as we were eating, I looked up through the plate-glass window at the front of the restaurant, and saw a beautiful rainbow stretched across the sky. It was truly a blessing.

I thought I would get up and go to work the next day, Monday. I wasn't consciously devastated by Zaidy's passing because at the age of 96, death is an inevitability, not a tragedy. I'm glad he won't be suffering anymore. But I guess there's more to this experience than the dictates of logic. Grief pushed me down and sat on my chest. I couldn't face work. My body craved sleep. I called in sad and stayed home.

Today was Zaidy's burial. The weather was supremely gorgeous. His plot is in a lovely cemetary, green and well-kept with mature trees providing some shade.

The rabbi spoke well, but watching the casket being lowered into the earth was what really twisted my heart. I watched it go down, down, down, disappearing out of sight into that deep hole. I had an urge to say "Stop! That's far enough!" Six feet is a long, long way. But eventually the box was settled at the bottom.

The next part was the hardest for me, today. It's Jewish custom to provide shovels at the graveside, and to let each mourner take part in covering the casket with the first layer of earth. The rabbi explained what it all meant. I wasn't listening 100% but as I understand it it's a way that we can let go of Zaidy and give him permission to rest.

It's one thing to stand by the graveside and watch, quite another to grab the shovel with my own two hands and drop shovelfuls of dirt onto my grandfather's casket. The impact that had goes beyond any words. I was pretty shakey when I went up for my turn, but after I was done I felt more peace.

I think that when most people use the phrase "I buried so-and-so" they mean it figuratively. But I can say "Today I buried my grandfather", and I mean it literally.

I thought I would be going back to work tomorrow, but... not so much. I need one more day. Actually I'd love to take a couple of weeks off, but I'm too responsible to do that. So I'm going to give myself one more day to unwind, and hope that my brain unscrambles itself enough to be useful. I'll rest my body, which is wearing my grief like a lead suit. The world can wait for one more day.


Anonymous said...

I wish you and your family a great blessing during this time of need. I hope you can be strong for each other and help each other get through this trying time.

God Bless.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

You and your family are in my thoughts.

NicoleB said...

I know what it feels like :(!

Claire said...

Thinking of you, sweetheart.


Karen said...

So sorry for you loss. I the Christian religions we do not watch the body be lowered and we do not symbolically aid in the burial. I had always thought it would be extra-painful to see the process, but I am glad that it brought you peace.

SoMi's Nilsa said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather. You are a good granddaughter for supporting your family the way you do. You deserve another day off for yourself.

Anonymous said...

My family and I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to you and yours. May the love and peace of Christ and God our Heavenly Father be with you in this heartache time. We will remember you in our prayers.

Jameil said...

the world can absolutely wait. i feel much more at peace when i see the casket disappear into the ground.

LL Cool Joe said...

The wonderful thing is that Zaidy is now with the Lord. His soul left him as soon as he died. He now is enjoying eternal life. :)

My thoughts are with you at this time.

Anonymous said...

The world can wait, indeed. Allow yourself to grieve hon. Your grandfather would understand.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and I believe that Christ will comfort you in your sorrow. *hug*

Sparkling Red said...

Unsigned: Thank you. The written work cannot express how much these kind thoughts mean to me.

Ron: Thank you! I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Nicole: *hugs gratefully received*

Claire: Thank you for your kind thoughts. :-)

Karen: It is painful, but I guess it's supposed to be like ripping off a band-aid. It hurts more, but perhaps for a shorter time? I don't really know. I have no basis for comparison. At least it's a lot harder to be stuck in the denial stage of grief when you've actually shovelled dirt into the grave yourself.

Nilsa: Thank you. It's amazing how exhausting the experience has been. I guess it's the shock, even though technically it wasn't a sudden passing.

Darcknyt: Thank you for your kind thoughts and heartfelt prayers. I feel supported and surrounded by caring.

Jameil: There's something in the finality of it that makes death a little easier to accept, I think.

Joe: That's what I feel too. In the Jewish tradition the soul stays with the body for some time after the passing, but that's not my belief. I really felt he was gone, and what was left was just a like an old jacket he took off and left behind.

Darcsfalcon: Thank you, sincerely. I really feel the power of love coming through your words. It's lovely to receive such caring.

Scarlet said...

I'm so sorry. I hope you take all the time you need to mourn the loss of your grandfather. He was obviously very special to you and an awesome man all the way around.

PS - I like the part about the rainbow outside of the restaurant. :) Very cool!!

Aurora said...

It *is* such a strange experience to be with a dead relative. I do feel it's important though. It reminds you of their presence and their absence.

Thinking of you!