Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I've been thinking about death a lot lately. Over the past week, I have been joining a shiva minyan in an effort to ensure that the mourners can have their quorum every day for the mincha services, and that inevitably leads me to thinking about life and, of course, death.

Thankfully, I have not gone through the immediate mourning experience yet; I have lost relatives and loved ones, but none for whom I have a halachic obligation to mourn for. I hope not to have that experience for a long time, either.

Observing the mourners this week, I was once again struck by the impact that death and loss can have on someone - one of the mourners is a generally mirthful fellow, a twinkle in his eye and a good line for everyone. Seeing him deflated, hardly acknowledging the many visitors and rarely making eye contact or speaking to anyone just brought the lesson home.

Over the years, I've approached death in different ways, all of them various forms of defense mechanisms. At one point, death was an abstraction; no one I knew (in the sense of those whom I had interacted on a regular basis) had died at that point, and death seemed to be something that happens to "other people", people beyond my own private little world. At other points, I denied death's inevitability by engaging in risky, dangerous behavior. As I grew spiritually, I grappled with the implications of death in an existential sense, vacillating between eager anticipation and sheer terror of that moment that can come at any time.

Husband/parenthood has yet again changed my perspective on death, in ways that I am still becoming aware of, with every passing day. My life is certainly filled with more urgency...

One of the ways that I used to distract myself from becoming too morbid was to focus on the peripheral elements surrounding death. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I used to imagine my own funeral (which I later discovered in several seforim is a means to stir one's heart to repentance), and the eulogies that people would say about me. However, I have noticed recently that when I use this diversion, I find myself not envisioning my own funeral, but rather those of people close to me: my parents, my in-laws, etc. I don't know if it's a sign of maturity or realism - or a macabre brand of hopefulness on my part - but by attempting to encapsulize a life in a few brief minutes of spoken word, I find a meaningful way of coming to a better understanding of those people. Struggling to extract some lessons from lives lived, in the context of conveying those ideas to others helps me realize how important those people are to me in my life right now.

Why wait until they're gone to let them know how important they are to me?

Why wait until they're gone to really learn from their wisdom, knowledge and experience?

1 comment:

Neil Harris said...

Very thoughful post. Rav Frand often refers to what he calls "matzevah mussar" or thinking about what you'd want put on your gravemarker.

As a form avel, I can tell you that being able to help make a minyan during shiva (even if you don't know the people) is appreciated.