Death is never an easy subject, but it is an important one. With the passing of past President George H.W. Bush this week, we have been mourning his death, yet truly celebrating his life.
We look at the preparations, which are immense and must follow certain guidelines, while also recognizing and respecting the family — a family that has been in the national view for decades. As a nation, we take comfort in the process and put aside any politics.
All of this makes me look to Judaism and the ways we mourn. I never mean to be flippant, yet I have said that we do death and mourning in our religion well. The process from the moment of death through the mourning follows ritual designed to get us through a difficult time.
As a member of our congregation’s chevra kadisha, I participate in the first steps of preparation and know how everything will move in an orchestrated ritual. Of course, there are ways each family handles the details, but the comfort comes from knowing there is a path that we can follow.
One of the “best” parts of how we mourn (if we can call is “best”) is the recognition that mourning takes time, yet we must also move on. The tradition of shiva ending after seven days with a walk around the block demonstrates that push we often need to get back to our lives. Then, we have additional markers at 30 days and then the year of saying Kaddish, followed by a yearly remembrance along with holiday times to stand with community. We are a people of memory but also of hope, and that is what keeps us going.
This is not a usual topic for this column, as I often try to write for young families (although I know all ages read my thoughts). Death is not an easy topic, and yet we cannot and should not hide this part of life from our children. I have books galore that parents often borrow (and often children’s books help even adults grieve), but I recommend talking to our children (of all ages) about death so it isn’t so frightening.
If we wait until a death of a close friend or family member happens and then try to explain, we often are not able to talk. We are mourning as a nation, and there is much even to watch on television. We could hide it from our kids or use the opportunity. (it is also a good time for those of us “older people” to talk with our children and grandchildren about our wishes.)
To the Bush family, may his memory be a blessing.