Life Goes On

After a too short period I went back to work.  It was time. I thought I was ready. I kinda was.

It is true that for the living life goes on. I had much support from my wife, son and lots of friends who continued to send cards and notes and to call. All of it thoughtful, sincere, beautiful and much appreciated.

Then there are the people I know but am not friends with.  A few demonstrated heartfelt feelings. One woman who I converse with regularly send a very nice card and gave me a hug when I got back and you could tell she cared. The other extreme were the few people for whom saying, “I am sorry for your loss” was purely a contrived politeness they felt they needed to convey. One did not even look me in the eye as he quickly moved passed me and went sorryforyourloss.

Most fell in the middle. Wanted to say something to a coworker who they are not good friends with. This was OK except that I was not as ready to tell the story of my Mom’s illness and death 20 times on Monday. Boy, people like details. Then they like to tell you about how someone they knew dies. It amazes me how insensitive people can be or at least unsensitive (not that that is a word). Since we just finished the period where I and other Jews are to attone for their sins let it be said that I fall into this category more often than I should.

Beyond all the Mom stuff this was a fairly regular week–if a day of fasting can be considered regular. Work was intense and long. I complained about the lack of underskilled help, spent hours under severe pressure, came home and collapsed. The week ended well as I learned that I had won a new client that I have been chasing for awhile and I attended Senior Night at D’s last home soccer game. The seniors and their parents were introduced in front of the fans.  D played a great game. I am very proud of what he has accomplished as a student athlete.

On to the first weekend and the second week of the rest of my life.

The Process Of Death

In the modern world too few processes are uncomplicated. For the living, not even dying comes easy.

I refer to all the things that need to be done for the dying/dead by the living.  The details seem endless and the prep should begin early, perhaps shortly after birth.

First get a grip on the finances. Make sure you know where the paperwork and accounts are and that someone trusted can sign besides the one that no longer can.

Know what is in the will and do not try to make last minute changes–especially if the lawyer plans to go for an extended vacation just when he is needed.

Hope that burial plots have been bought because this is close to impossible to do at the last minute.

Find a funeral home to work with. Is there a prepaid burial set up? Can you find the paperwork? If not how do you choose? Nothing like trying to price compare when you are grieving even though the difference can be many thousands of dollars. We found Irwin through a cousin. He came to us, made everything easy and was price competitive. My family found him to be “genuine”. I liked him well enough and everything went smoothly but I still saw a bit of the salesman come out when we met with him. Realistically I may be hypersensitive at the moment. Oh by the way, unless you absolutely cannot afford it, hire the limo to take the family around for the day of the funeral. You need it and deserve it.

Find a place for the service and appropriate clergy. We belong to a wonderful congregation. We were able to use our temple for free and our rabbi and cantor made the services there, at the grave site and later that night at our home beautiful and meaningful. All this even though they had just prepared for the Rosh Hashannah holiday the two days before. I wrote about the JRC before and cannot say enough about the place now.

Figure out the unwritten, unspoken “rules” of the official mourning process. First is who do you call to let know? Family, extended family, friends and co-workers want the opportunity to pay their respects and help in any way they can. If you are lucky the first set of people you call will volunteer to call others. But there are no rules. As you are grieving this is not the time to have to worry about someone being hurt if they did not find out. It should be all about you.

For me the most surreal aspect was telling my business associates.  I keep my work life and home life fairly separate. I am not close to anyone at the company I work for but I have opened up to a few of my clients. In the type of consulting I do, I am involved with very senior executives about very sensitive matters. What is the etiquette for telling clients? I had an out or town meeting the week we thought Mom might die, a phone conference two days after and a meeting with a potential client the day of the funeral. It is not that people are not understanding, they are. But it was a question of what words to use. Do you give detail? Do you give warning that your mother might die soon so contingency plans can be made? In the end I did what was easiest for me and I hope for no long run repercussions.

Someone needs to give a eulogy. The problem is that the people who know the dead person best are the ones most drowning in sorrow. Telling about the life of a loved one who just died without sobbing while in front of all the people who remind you of that person is not easy. OK, not easy is a gross understatement. In our case our rabbi, who did not know Mom, came to our house to meet with the family and get background. In his words, he was the back-up. It helped to know that one was in place. The other members of my family were too emotional to speak. And that’s OK, it is really all about what each of the Grieving need and it is more than OK just to mourn. I was able to speak for them and managed to say a few words without completely breaking down at that moment. I saved my complete breakdowns for before and after.

Jews do what is known as a Shiva. I am told by some friends that it is like a wake but with a focus on food rather than drink. It is supposed to be for seven days but many do it for 2-3. In our area this means the family picks a house at which to gather as friends and relatives come to pay their condolences. But there are processes to work out. Who takes care of providing food, plates, drinks, utensils, etc.? In our tradition, the grieving family is not supposed to deal or worry about that stuff. If you are lucky like we are, friends volunteer and magically all of these things happen. Even then, most people will ask if there is anything they can do. Unfortunately, even though they mean well, and I have done the same thing, there is a reality. The Grieving do not want to impose or ask for something beyond your means or time. These amorphous offers are not particularly helpful but again there is no handbook– that I know of. According to Rick’s Book of Manners, one should say, “I will bring _____”, is that OK or would you prefer that I _____?” (BTW, Rick’s Book of Manners is the shortest book of its kind. I am pretty easy going about most stuff and I HATE little rules on how to or not behave. Originally it was going to have just one line—Be a mench!— but I realized that a bit more direction is needed.)

There will be estate issues to resolve, thank you notes to write and getting on with life without someone you love. That last one is the most difficult process of all.