Earlier this year, I attended my first Jewish funeral. Today, we attended the unveiling of the headstone. I'd never even heard of this tradition, but apparently it's a common practice in Jewish tradition.
Visiting the cemetery, the first thing I noticed was all the rocks on the headstones. When you visit a grave, it is customary to leave a rock on the stone as a sign of your visit, so every headstone in the cemetery had piles of little stones heaped on top of them. I also noticed that there were no flowers on any of the graves. I know in Christian cemeteries, we're all about the flowers. I don't know if there is no Jewish tradition for flowers at the grave, or perhaps just this particular cemetery. The headstones had elaborate inscriptions with names in both Hebrew and English. Many stones also contained a description of the person and their accomplishments. At the exit of the cemetery, there was a water fountain that people were visiting on their way out. I think they were washing their hands?, but I wasn't able to find out what this is all about.
When we arrived at the grave, a cloth covered the headstone. The family stood behind the stone while the rabbi said some prayers, again both in Hebrew and in English. Then the family removed the cloth, and walked around to the front of the stone. The deceased was my friend's mother. How hard to watch her and her family today. Their love for their mom was powerful. The inscription on the stone was read aloud. It described her as a great mom, sister, friend, and "Superbubbie". The rabbi spoke a bit about my friend's mom, and then the family read a prayer in Hebrew.
This concluded the formal part of the ceremony. We were all invited to lay a rock on the grave as a sign of our visit. Lots of hugs and tears and catching up flowed through the crowd. The family had laid small toys around the grave to symbolize this Superbubbie's connection to her grandchildren. It was beautiful and moving.
I still don't know how we deal with grief. My own experience was so overwhelming, and I know my family was my life-line. I know that in the long run, this family will be okay, but I also know how difficult days like today can be. They are all in my prayers tonight.
Attending the funeral and today's ceremony really brought something home for me as well: I need to believe in an afterlife. I need to know that I'm going somewhere greater after this world. Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with any aspect of the Jewish faith. I'm actually a strong believer in interfaith worship and study. But the afterlife...
What if there really is no afterlife? What if we get to the other side and there's nothing there? Well, if that's the case, I guess I'll deal with it then. But today, in this world, I need to believe that there is an afterlife. I need - not want, but need - to believe that this world is not the be all and end all. I need to believe that when my soul leaves this place, I will join Steve and Nana and all those gone before me. I need to know that God is waiting for me on the other side. Perhaps, like the critics say, the afterlife is something we make up to comfort ourselves. Perhaps. But isn't life easier with that belief? Isn't death and grieving easier when we know that our loved ones are not simply resting, but they are living! Living in an eternal party with no pain, no tears, no death. Living eternally with God and music and love. How awesome is that?
I will never criticize someone else's spiritual beliefs. I guess this experience just helped to re-confirm my own.