The author with her family.

Funeral for a Friend

The meaning of life…have you pondered it lately? Nothing forces the issue more than the death of a friend in her prime. Scanning the rows and backs of heads closest to the casket has a way of making you commit to reprioritizing everything.

Contemplating being sealed into the Book of Life year after year can result in similar reflection and introspection that can feel like a sigh of relief as Tekiah Gadolah is sounded. “Phew. We made it another year. Let’s eat!” But look around because someone you know or know of, may not be around next year. Life can change in the blink of an eye and even though we know this intellectually, we prefer to live in denial most of the time.

As humans, we are at our most vulnerable and alive when we bury someone else. Paralyzed with grief and pity, we cannot find “the right” words to comfort anyone including ourselves because we know the jarring truth: triumph and tragedy are simply luck of the draw.

When it comes to being human, we are ill-equipped, unprepared, and resistant to change; whether it’s the changing times, gender roles, or lifestyle change – we live and breath status quo.

If not for the uniqueness of the Jewish High Holidays and being surrounded by a community reciting prayers of who shall live and who shall die with so many examples of how it may come to pass, would we bother to consider our impermanence at all?

I recently gathered with a small group of friends that I hadn’t seen all summer. Since May, the tally is one mother, one father, two mothers-in-law, and a step-mother who now have cancer. Though stunning, such abominable news comes with the notion that there is a natural order of things, an oldest to youngest, if you will. First in line are the grandparents, then parents, then everyone else and finally us — once we are grandparents of course, then the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, The Book of Life isn’t that predictable or we’d take it more for granted than we already do.

Who by fire, who by firearms in a theater, who by cancer, who by cell phone while driving…

A big part of getting older is growing up to realize that life isn’t fair and anything bad can happen to any one of us at any time. Since we can’t possibly know how the story will end, all we can be expected to do is live in this moment of now and take charge of the fundamental bits and pieces that require our personal engagement and input. Being proactive is the closest we get to control.

This journey began with the death of a friend, her funeral, and the Shiva that followed. United by our love and compassion, we lumbered around dazed, blind-sided and slack-jawed that she really was gone and her children lost their mother. She was the first to lose the battle but there will be a second and a third. As we inch our way up in line it shifts from “them” to “us” and BAM! The resignation that we aren’t as young as we think we are.

As I lay in bed that night spiraling into a deep dark panic, I woke up my husband to reveal those private fears and doubts we cram into the recesses of our minds. Thus sparking the conversation no one wants to have and yet to not have it, is a mistake.

When it comes to being human, we are ill-equipped, unprepared, and resistant to change; whether it’s the changing times, gender roles, or lifestyle change – we live and breath status quo. We know our world can change overnight, let alone months or a decade, but are too preoccupied, naïve, or exhausted at the end of the day to make a plan. A lot of us wouldn’t bother drafting or revising a last Will and Testament if not for a cataclysmic event prompting us to do so…or, say travelling abroad without our children for the very first time (which apparently was the last time we revised ours!).

Two weeks after her funeral, my husband and I met with a lawyer to update our sixteen-year old wills by adjusting them accordingly and adding our two more children into the mix. Sure the process was surreal but forced us to evaluate our life as it is today, not how it once was. Remember, things change. Are the legal and financial guardians still living? Maybe they have divorced, moved away, or gone completely off their rockers! It makes sense to be of sound mind and body when it comes to decisions impacting an entire family.

I shudder to imagine my impatient, yet practical, and completely unsentimental spouse, tossing and recycling most of my belongings right into a dumpster. Though we excel at what we are good at individually, we are relatively clueless when it comes to handling the business and duties of our partner. The reality that the day will come when one of us is left behind to cope and go it alone is devastating. Add to that the learning curve of becoming solely responsible for one hundred percent of both the yin and yang of daily life, and the thought alone is overwhelming.

Death is traumatic enough without having to sift and sort through a mess your loved ones leave behind for you to clean up or figure out. It’s a bit arrogant to assume there will always be a tomorrow.

Let the Jewish High Holidays serve as a reminder each and every year, that there is always an opening for change and introspection and it never hurts to have a plan; one for how to live and one for how we wish to leave the world. By being responsible, productive and proactive when it comes to our health, our finances, and personal and professional relationships, we are as prepared as we can possibly be in the “unlikely event of…”

So “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?!”

And, if not now, when?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Suzanne Fenton

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