Thanks to all those who commented on my pre-funeral anxieties and other issues.  Things went quite smoothly in PA,  because the funeral was held in the social hall, where we also ate after the burial. So no religious problems.  I saw another funeral being held in the holy sanctuary but was told that they usually hold funerals in the social room, and the event in the sanctuary followed a sudden death.  So Belle is off to that Great Kosher(-Style) Deli in the sky, where every meal is brunch and everybody plays bridge all day long..  

There was no praying, no sermonizing, no talk of God.  The rabbi lamely but gamely compared Belle to Sarah ("Mother of the Jewish people"), Abraham's wife; that was about as religious as it got.  Other than the Hebrew hymn the rabbi sang (nice voice!), it was hardly Jewish at all --- just like the deceased herself.

Finally, the Dirty Compromise: Out of some personal superstition, Belle didn't want dirt shoveled over her by the attendees per Jewish tradition (though certainly it was OK for the cemetery staff to do it later).  Or maybe she thought it would make it too hard for her to dig out.  I never knew how her mind worked, if at all.  But there was nevertheless a silver urn of dirt and some trowels, for those who wanted to follow Jewish custom.

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Comment by Alan Perlman on October 25, 2014 at 8:51pm

Michael...Despite the clergy's effort to maintain uniformity, it seems that there are as many different funerals as there are dead people. Sound like you made it through OK.  This is a problem all atheists face, inevitably, as the Reaper makes his rounds.  We each have to find a way to cope, given the context.  

Belle's shiva was lite, as was everything about her Judaism: just three hours at her granddaughter's, 20 miles away in a Phila. suburb.

Again, my thanks to all who followed this little narrative.  This is by no means the last such challenge, only the first of many.  Uncle Mike (86), Belle's brother, is probably next.  As in my comment to Michael, facing death -- others', then our own -- without God is a skill every atheist must practice.  I wanted to see how my atheist/humanist mentor, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, faced his, but he was killed in a car crash.  Nobody gets out alive!

Comment by Michael Pianko on October 25, 2014 at 7:34pm

On my dad's side I had two living grandparents, until march, when my grandmother died, leaving my grandfather still alive. He is 93. At my grandmother funeral was at what seemed to be a non-orthodox Jewish funeral home. My grandmother's body was cremated (tradition forbids cremation and says the body has to be ritually washed and prepared in just the right way). At the funeral home the urn or little box with my grandmother's ashes had a star of david on the side. The box was next to a lit candle and flowers on a table with a white tablecloth. Me and my brother and three cousins sat in a row in the first row, and my immediate family was behind... us immediate family had to go into this room first, and then as everybody else came in they all paraded past us in the first row and mechanically shook our hands and said "I'm so sorry for your loss"... the woman reformed rabbi made a speech and then my dad made a speech and my aunt spoke... then there was a little reformed service during which time I was given a prayer book and i took it and immediately laid it on the armrests and stared at the floor, then an older woman employee wisked the immediate family into another room while everybody else left, then the immediate family drove to the gravesite where a tent was over the grave, chairs were set up under the tent, a professionally pre-dug hole was in place with machines pumping out water from the hole, the rabbi made another speech and more liturgies were recited, then on cue, my grandfather was given a prayerbook and recited the Jewish liturgies they expected him to say and they gave him some sand from israel to pour into the grave on top of the box with the ashes, then we all had to put a shovelful of regular dirt into the grave, then (I think my grandfather should have taken the ashes home with him) a plaque was installed over the grave - no grave stone, just the plaque on the ground.

Then at my aunt's house they did a few shiva sessions where approximately 50 people came and I tried to read a book but they forbade me from reading a book during the davening. They gave me a prayer book but I took it and set it right on the table and stared out the window. I made the mistake of bringing some figs and bananas to satisfy my fruit diet because I swore off cooked, processed foods - my aunt got her food from a treyf deli, so don't tell me I broke her kashruth rules. My Uncle made me swear that I would not bring any food to his house again and then the next day for the next shiva session he asked me if I had any food and I lied and said no. They also complained at me for leaving a diaper in their bathroom's garbage container until I pointed out that my brother was the one with a son who was one year and four months old, and then they immediately complained at me for "using too much toilet paper."

Comment by Pat on October 25, 2014 at 6:44pm

Alan, I'm glad things went well for you. Ceremonies like this are, quite obviously, for the living. I'm glad you were able to mourn your mother without the baggage of having to bow down to magic. 

Comment by Michael Penn on October 25, 2014 at 6:40pm

I'm glad it worked out so well, Alan. The trama part is over now and you need the service in order to go on with your own life. A service of some sort is important for closure.

An old friend of mine started leaning towards atheism and we talked often. His wife had died suddenly and got the burial and cemetery treatment. My friend started telling his kids that he did not want that. When he died they had a wake or service to remember him by. He was cremated and had his ashes and urn forced down a hole his kids dug that put him right on top of his wife's coffin. This was done without cemetery approval.

I started hearing "is this legal, can he do that?" No extra money for the cemetery. Who cares and who will know? He had it done anyway.



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