On Mourning

Today, 11/18/2013, I buried my grandpa and realized that the process of death has lost its enormity.  

In this age, there are businesses bulit around death.  Everything, from washing and praying over the body, to making the coffin or urn, to carrying the coffin, to digging the grave, to catering the lunch afterwards is taken care of.  It's easy.  Just put in money (a lot of money), and you don't have to worry about anything at that tragic time.  The irony is that at the same time as we were paying people to make the burial easier, the rabbi was telling us of the Jewish tradition of putting dirt in the grave using the shovel upside-down to symbolize how we are reluctant to part with our loved ones by making the process difficult.

Death should not be easy.  

In that experience, I felt like people did not have room to mourn.  There were stifled tears, but the process was so mechanized.  We went from place to place, 10 minutes at a time for each ritual, and then moved on.  The rituals lost their magnitude.

I was a pall bearer.  We moved the coffin 10 feet from the temple into the car, we drove 4 miles, and we moved the coffin 20 feet from the car to the grave.  Then, we placed it on straps and someone who didn't know my grandpa mechanically lowered the coffin into the grave, already dug out by someone who didn't know my grandpa.  Then, family members put a couple shovels full of dirt onto the coffin, leaving the rest of the process to someone who didn't know my grandpa.

As that was happening, I couldn't help but think that each of those things we paid for were supposed to be part of mourning.  Carrying a coffin four miles by hand in the company of everyone who was closest to my grandpa would have been hard.  Digging 6 feet into the dirt would have been hard.  Using ropes to lower the coffin would have been hard.  All of that would have required support from the community.  It would have taken a full day.  We would all have been sweaty and cursing the elements for making the process so difficult.  We would have said prayers.  We would have sang.  We would have cried.  And I suspect that I would have deeply remembered the process and felt a personal connection to it.

As JFK said of going to the moon, "we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard."  In that case, the point was to show the world that Americans, working together with great determination, can achieve incredible feats.  I think that the case with death is much the same.  It's important to do the hard stuff because it is hard and it shows the community what they can do together, even if that is nothing more than carrying a coffin, digging a hole, and planting a stone in memorial of a life.

His obituary, from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mcall/obituary.aspx?pid=168074471 (which, apparently, cost an inordinate amount):

Abraham Kuller, 98, of Allentown, passed away on November 15, 2013 in his home. He was the husband of Beatrice (Kahn) Kuller and they recently observed their 72nd wedding anniversary. Born in St. Paul, MN, he later graduated from New York University with a B.S. in Accounting. Abe and his brother, Max, owned Kuller Knitting Mills in Allentown for 40 years until retiring. He was an avid golfer and a member of Berkleigh Country Club and the Clover Club. He was an active member of Temple Beth El, Allentown, and served on its Board of Directors and School Board. He also made daily good will visits to patients for many years on behalf of Temple Beth El. Survivors: Wife, Beatrice; daughter and husband, Sue and Sy Traub; son and wife, Henry and Eileen Kuller; son and wife, Mark and Lori Barbanel Kuller; daughter-deceased, Dr. Ellen Nadja Kuller, survived by her husband, Michael King; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Services: 11 a.m., Monday, November 18, 2013, in Temple Beth El, 1305 Springhouse Road, Allentown. Interment will follow in Beth El Memorial Park, Allentown. Arrangements by Bachman, Kulik & Reinsmith Funeral Homes, Allentown. Contributions: Temple Beth El, or St. Lukes Hospital, 801 Ostrum St., Bethlehem, 18015. (Please no flowers).