Sunday, May 10, 2020

RSVP Funeral

My mother-in-law died last week, but not from COVID-19. These days, that phrase needs to be added when talking about the death of an elderly person, especially one in frail health. Coronavirus has impacted all of our lives, especially the elderly, but this was not the case here.

As my family discovered last week, the pandemic also affects the ways we mourn.

When the paramedics from Mada arrived in my mother-in-law’s home, they wore protective masks and gloves. We stood to the side, wearing our own masks and gloves.

When we arranged the funeral with Hevrat Kadisha we informed them that there was no coronavirus involved in this death. They took precautions as well.

According to the latest Ministry of Health regulations, the funeral would be limited to twenty people standing outside, keeping the proper distance from one another. Close friends would surely understand that due to the situation, the funeral would be limited to the immediate family. We would need to limit the family to twenty participants.

We also wanted to have ten men present for a minyan. The rabbi who we had asked to officiate would be among the twenty, but what about the men from Hevrat Kadisha? Did they count, or was their presence not part of the restriction?

There was another limitation to consider. Part of our family is Cohanim. As they are not ‘next of kin’ they are prohibited from entering a cemetery. These family members would stand behind a small fence. Were we to consider them when counting to twenty? Could we count them as part of the minyan?

In the hours before the funeral we had to ask each of our loved ones questions that would never be asked in normal times. “Will you be coming to the funeral?” “Will your spouse be coming?” “Please let us know if you are planning to attend!” We finalized a list of 20 attendees.

The funeral itself was surreal. Family members standing apart from each other. Sisters not allowed to hug. Everyone wearing masks. Filling in a grave wearing protective gloves. Broadcasting the ceremony live to a sister in New Zealand who is not allowed to come for the Shiva. A short eulogy recorded in advance by a brother-in-law.

How can one mourn this way? How can you share your grief without touching? How can you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem when you must keep your distance?

My mother-in-law died last week. May her memory be a blessing.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

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