How to mark the passing of a loved one?
An arena in which people are often happy to fall back on tradition….prayers, rituals…to tell us the right thing to do.
But sometimes that isn’t suitable.
My father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor who died just now at 97, left explicit instructions, written in green felt marker on a yellow piece of paper: NO RELIGIOUS SERVICE. Against tradition, he wanted to be cremated. Despite a life framed by Jewish identity, he didn’t want any part of it. He did, not, though….leave us a green marker note telling us what we were supposed TO DO.
So we had to feel our way. The rabbi did readings from Primo Levi, “which I don’t think would upset him too much.” And he read the kaddish because as his son said, “I’ve always done what I wanted anyway.”
Across the street, where Tom Downer died last summer, there has been a similar feeling of the way. For months and months his wife Nancy was utterly bereft, their flag out front flew at half-mast. For Mother’s Day, in a kind of coming out, Nancy rode for the first time on the back of a Harley Davidson, laughing all the way.
Just now their son Matt Downer, a fine wood worker from Colorado came for a visit, bringing a gorgeous bench he has made that will sit in the front garden, looking at the ocean. “We were supposed to distribute Dad’s ashes, but I don’t think everyone is ready.” They had a little impromptu ceremony, installed the bench, and put the flag back to its normal position.
A lovely gesture. I have several pieces of Matt’s myself and had more than one unkind thought about how difficult it might be for someone, perhaps a neighbor, to make off with the bench.
He thought of that, too, apparently, and secured it nicely.
Leave it to loving family to think of everything.