While speaking with a friend a few moments ago, she told me of the passing of a lovely woman in our Jerusalem community. My response was “This is a terrible time to die.” She responded…”So when is a good time ?”
If we take time to reflect on the uncomfortable subject of death and dying, we can remember funerals with hundreds attending… tributes to lives well spent… the shiva mourning period where close friends and family come to share one’s loss with their moral support. We remember holding the hands of those in mourning, of hugs and stories shared to illuminate a lifetime of memories. These are distant memories… faded with the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A few years ago, when we returned from Israel to London, a member of our U.K. synagogue’s father, after a long illness, passed away Erev Pesach. The wife and adult children had been at his hospital bedside for weeks and had no opportunity to make the usual preparations for the days of Passover. The morning of the First Sedar, they went to the grounds for the burial. That evening they came to the synagogue to join in the community sedar meal. They were told that they were not to sit shiva (the seven days of mourning) as it fell on a holiday. They sat solemnly, mother and daughter, in their home with almost no visitors and almost no food. The Kosher stores were closed. The community was busy with their own families and two days of sedar meals to prepare. My husband and I went to pay our respects. They were alone… lonely…mourning… and neglected. It was then that I realized how important it is for loved ones to sit shiva for the seven days in order to transition through their mourning process. One often takes religious traditions for granted. When they are removed … their absence is felt immediately.
In many ways, living through the Novel Corona Virus shut down and restrictions is similar to what we witnessed in London. Families are limited as to how many may attend a funeral. Holding a shiva is really impossible with social distancing and the fear of spreading the virus. A very old and good friend of mine passed away during the first weeks of the world-wide lock down. She was in Beverly Hills and I was in Jerusalem. I was informed that her funeral would be aired on Zoom. I was among 25 people who turned on the Zoom connection to watch ten men, possibly only two of whom knew my friend, says the prayers, speak in tribute to her life’s work and commitment, and lay her to rest in the earth. Had it been normal days… without Covid, she would have had a proper funeral and her community would have attended to pay their respects, in large numbers. It was a very sad ending to a dynamic life. She had no children or husband, so there was no one to sit shiva for her. It was a sad day on many levels.
Another good friend just told me that his mother had been unwell for a year, and that six days after contracting the Corona virus, she passed away. Her body was flown to Israel for burial, but her family in America could not attend. She was met by close family and friends at the EretzHaChayim cemetery for burial. How difficult it must have been for the family unable to fly to Israel for their mother’s funeral. Then to be followed by Corona rules limiting visitors from paying their respects… beyond imagination.
Now Israel has begun her second wave of the Corona virus. It was recently announced that it is now possible for immediate family to fly into the country for the funeral of a loved one. They may be able to attend, but there will be essentially no shiva during the following days. Some families have tried to hold a shiva on Zoom so that people could call in their condolences and be supportive. No doubt it is superior to having a total void of support… but it is certainly not the same experience. Unfortunately Israel has changed Corona directions multiple times and its directives are often rescinded days after implementation.
The numbers of people dying around the world at the moment will take one’s breath away. Lives cut short by a vicious virus in addition to the normal passing with age or other illnesses. This is such a difficult time for those who experience loss. Please know that if you are someone who has had this devastating experience during the Covid Pandemic, that we in your communities feel your pain and wish that we could do more to make your days ahead less painful. We wish you and your loved ones….”A long and healthy life.”
This is indeed, a terrible time to die.