“If it was a funeral, you’d go.”
I don’t doubt my grandma’s wisdom anymore. I know she was right; every single time we questioned whether it was feasible to attend a birthday party, Bat Mitzvah or wedding, she would insist it was worth the effort. We always shore up our sense of obligation to pay our respects to the dead and support the grieving mourners, so why not share in the joyous occasions?
Lately, I’ve attended more than a few funerals and visited more than a few shiva homes. One friend told me that, while she was mourning her mother’s death, her home was jam-packed with visitors from across all denominations of Atlanta Jewry, prompting another visitor to remark, “If we can come together under these circumstances, why can’t we come together other times?”
The Jewish community is often fractured; we argue across religious and political divides, placing physical and emotional distance between us. Except, it would seem, when death unites us. Maybe it’s because we recognize that the death of our parents is inevitable, that sitting with grief is something we will all do.
Simply being present for friends who are mourning, letting them know that they are not alone, is now a priority for me. Particularly as I reach an age when the Facebook posts of my friends are equal parts birth and death announcements.
It bears mentioning that I learned of every one of these recent deaths from Facebook, from threads filled with comments of condolences. It was natural to add my words to the page, and I could have easily considered my obligation fulfilled after hitting “enter.” But I thought to myself, “what would Grandma do?”
I baked. I went. I prayed. I listened to stories about the deceased. Driving home, I imagined a time when my friends would be there for me—on Facebook and in person—and my sorrow abated.