Saturday, May 9, 2015

Four Watches and a Funeral

Part I:  I Haz the Sadz

A colleague of mine passed away last week.  We all knew it was coming; he'd stopped working a year ago due to progressive heart failure, and we'd been getting updates of his decline.  Still, it was an awfully sad day.  If you don't feel like reading about death today, skip this part and go on to Part II below, which I have included just for you.

My colleague was Jewish, and, even though I'm not an observant Jew, everyone came to me with their questions about Jewish mourning customs.  We actually closed down the office on Friday so that everyone could attend the memorial service and burial.  (One Jewish rule is that you've got to be in the ground by sunset on the day after your death.  The only exception is for the sabbath.)

I have been to exactly two Jewish funerals, and one of them was when I was a kid.  I had an idea of what I thought I should be telling people, but I wasn't confident.  Fortunately, I was able to find online resources so that I could speak with at least a little authority.  Here are the things people wanted to know:

1) What should I wear to the funeral?
You should dress according to the level of religious observance of the family.  This family wasn't particularly observant, so I told people they could wear whatever they might wear to a Christian funeral.  If the family had been orthodox, all the women would have had to wear long sleeves and either pants or a long skirt down to the ankle.  Men are provided with a yarmulke (skull cap) at the funeral chapel.  Women are not required to cover their heads.

2)  Can I send flowers?
It is customary not to send flowers in the Jewish tradition, as that is considered "too happy".  You're supposed to be unremittingly grim for at least the 7-day traditional mourning period, or shiva.  At the shiva house, mirrors are covered, and the principle mourners are supposed to wear one garment with a visible tear in it, to represent rending one's garments in grief.  Technically you're not supposed to bathe for the whole week, but in practice I've never met anyone willing to be dishevelled and smelly in the presence of the endless parade of supportive visitors to the shiva house.

In lieu of sending flowers, it is customary to make a memorial donation to a fund or charity as specified in the death announcement.

3)  What should I expect at the cemetery?
There are prayers at the graveside, of course, and then after the casket is lowered in, it is customary to offer first the family, then friends and colleagues the opportunity to help shovel the earth back into the grave.  People line up for a turn with the shovel.  You start by using the back of the shovel, which carries very little earth, to symbolize your reluctance to bury the deceased.  Then you do another scoop with the shovel the right way up.  You replace the shovel into the pile of earth rather than handing it directly to the person behind you, again to signify reluctance.

This participatory shovelling does tend to unnerve those who are not expecting it.

Judaism allows no opportunities for denial.  When someone is gone you'd better deal with it right away.  There's nothing like the thump of earth falling on the casket to hammer the point home.


Part II: More Cheerful Things!

When Ken at I were at Cartier a couple of weeks ago, we were given their 2015 watch catalogue to take home with us.  This sounds unimpressive, until I mention that it is a 96-page hardcover book.  What else would one expect for watches with six-figure price tags?

If I were a wealthy gentleman with the money to buy one of these babies, I'd have to go with a Mystery Watch.

It's a mystery in that the hands appear to be free-floating in the transparent case.

How do they move?  My best guess is that the minute hand is controlled by a magnet that rotates beyond the perimeter of the clear area; and a teeny gear causes the minute hand to push the hour hand forward at the correct pace.  These babies first came on the market in 1912, so it couldn't be anything much more high-tech than that.  Still, it's pretty impressive (and mysterious)!

There is one thing that Cartier hasn't taken into account in their designs, and that is the tendency of Asian cultures in general and Japanese culture in particular to respond to products based on their resemblance to human faces.  (Or so I've been told.)

I cannot imagine a grumpier watch.

This model is smiling, but only because it's anticipating the pleasure of murdering you in your sleep.

I tricked you into bringing me into your house and placing me on your bedside table.  Little do you suspect that your last minutes are now ticking away!  Mwah ha ha haaaaaa!

And the final item of interest: a pocket watch "entirely skeletonized [they mean carved] from a single solid block of gold".

It's so expensive that they don't even post the price on their website.  Maybe they're afraid that they'll give someone a heart attack.

I enjoyed reading the catalogue with the kind of incredulous voyeurism that I assume we all feel when confronted with the lifestyles of the 0.1%  But if I'm wrong and any of you are planning to buy yourselves a quality Cartier timepiece, please fly me to your city and bring me with you for the experience.  It'd be fun!


DarcKnyt said...

I'm sorry for the loss, Spark. It was kind of you to share the traditions you learned with others. I've always been afraid asking about other traditions of a grieving family or friend would be offensive, so I generally avoid them.

But, with the advent of the Internet, things are easier.

And you know, I think I agree with the assessments of the watches. Very intimidating, even without the six-figure price tags! :)

Shabbat Shalom.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Sorry for your loss. And you only need to get me one or two of those watches for Christmas, note how I left you some time to save up? I'm good like that.

Ginny said...

Sorry about your co-worker. I actually don't know much about Jewish funeral traditions. This was very informative.

I love the look of watches but I never wear them. My boss has some really nice rolex watches.

Jenski said...

So sorry for your loss. The grumpy watch is in mourning with you.

PhilipH said...

A lot of interesting details, especially the burial rituals. I guess all religions have their own particular, and oft times peculiar 'rules'.
As for the watches: who needs 'em any more for telling the time? And to pay such a price! As an investment perhaps but not just time-keeping and telling.

LL Cool Joe said...

I'm glad to say my Dad wants to be cremated so they'll be no shoving dirt on his coffin, which would just about finish me off.

I have a skeleton watch. It came from China and cost me 10 quid. :D

Lynn said...

It's hard to lose a friend and coworker - I am still mourning my cubicle partner Marcus, who passed away a few years ago. So sorry for your loss.

My uncle passed away a few weeks ago - a Christian burial. I am the only woman who didn't wear all black or black and white (opting for a blue jacket he would have liked, I think.)

tracy said...

So very sorry about your friend I have been fascinated by Judahism sine I was in grade school and read "All of a Kind" series. I loved those books, I learned so much about Jewish life from them I wish your dear friend peace.

Vanessa T said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your co-worker. Death is always so hard, even when you're expecting it. I think we always have in the back of our minds that "this time" will be different, somehow. Our minds just recoil at death. I guess funeral traditions are supposed to help those left behind come to grips with it in some way.

Those watches sure were creepy looking! Definitely on the sinister side, lol.