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Two Funerals
Mom with a View

Two Funerals

Personal lessons from two upsetting, sobering experiences.

by

I heard two women eulogized last week. One was a 39-year-old mother of three who succumbed to the illness she had been battling. The other was a 66-year-old grandmother of 14, married for 47 years to her childhood sweetheart. She was killed very suddenly in a car accident when their car inexplicably stalled on a busy freeway. It goes without saying that both were upsetting, both were sobering experiences, both were wake-up calls right before Rosh Hashanah, and both exemplified King Solomon’s teaching that “It’s better to go to a house of mourning than a house of rejoicing.”

But beyond the actual tragedy of their deaths and the re-emphasis on the need to use every minute productively, I learning something very important about their lives and took away some deep personal lessons.

All too often people delivering eulogies make one of two mistakes. Either they idolize the recently passed away person to the point where the praises seem at worst dishonest and at best insincere and meaningless. My husband was once at a funeral where such a eulogy was given. Afterwards, the man’s son approached my husband. “My father wasn’t like that at all,” he said. “He was actually a terrible human being, cruel and nasty.” (There’s a reason that it’s considered impermissible to overly praise someone in public; it provokes a desire to criticize, to set the record straight).

The other mistake is to be, perhaps, a bit too honest and open, to focus on the wrong qualities. We attended a funeral where our friend’s mother was lauded as a woman who “really enjoyed her cards and her alcohol.”

The eulogies last week were not like this. Both seemed to capture the essence of the person, whether it was their kindness, their selflessness, their focus on family, their ready smile, the fact that they never said a bad word about anyone… From my acquaintance with these two special women, these words of praise rang true.

And I couldn’t help thinking the obvious (clichéd though it may be). “What will people say about me?” Lest the answer is “look how self-centered she was; even someone else’s funeral was about her!” – let me clarify. I wasn’t wondering what the exact words of the eulogy would be (please God after 120 years) but rather I was reflecting on my life. Who am I? What footprint have I left on this world so far? On the people I love? What would I ideally like them to say and how do I make myself into a person they can say those things about? What would I not like them to say and how do I prevent that?

I hope it’s not too late. Life can change in an instant. But I do want to focus my life in such a way that it reflects my positive goals, that I will be the person I’d like to be (or at least close) – not for the sake of eulogy, but because the eulogy will be a description of who I’ve become and how I’ve lived.

There are no words to adequately describe these two tragedies – or how they have shaken our community. We can’t even imagine how their husbands will cope. I can still hear the plaintive cries of one of the widowers, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?”

But I hope that, at the very least, we will all – as a community and as individuals – have grown from this sad and painful experience. I hope that we will all have used the opportunity to introspect, to re-evaluate and to change. And I hope that, through this growth, we will all in our own small ways imbue these deaths with additional meaning and provide some small consolation to the bereft mourners.

Published: August 24, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Ellen, September 2, 2013 1:18 PM

more than his learning

As a baalas tshuvah, I've felt troubled by men's hespadim being all about their learning and shul attendance. My dad was a warm and caring father, always giving a helping hand to a neighbor, and his sense of humor remained intact even as his mind was going. He drove to shul every Shabbos and was a fiercely proud Jew, giving me a strong Jewish identity that later grew into increased mitzvah observance. A person is much more than a learned blatt gemorah. I wish we'd credit others with these things in their lifetimes as well as afterwards.

(1) muzik, August 30, 2013 3:28 AM

So true what you say!

You captured the essence of what I experienced when at one of the funerals you mention. Some people are lauded after their death - but these women were so exceptional (I knew one better than the other), that I recall thinking all the years I knew her - wow - what a person. She makes every minute count. Truly unique. And now that she has sadly left this world, I cannot help but think how she leaves a legacy for everyone to make the most of our days here. To try our best, to do good in our lives - whatever that may be for each one of us.

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