Death is the great unifier! This is not to say I embrace or celebrate death nor should anybody for that matter. Death can come by way of violence, old age, disease, accidents or numerous other ways. No matter how it comes it leaves sadness, inconsolable grief, sorrow with the additional pain added on throughout the mourning period and beyond in its wake. Your sense of family along with your humanity not to mention your life are now front and center in your eyes.
Yet in its own morbid way death has a way of promoting healing amongst previously broken relationships in addition to miraculously bringing together people who normally have little or nothing in common except for the occasion of this person’s passing. Further from that people who would not under any circumstances have dealings with a particular person or group. Hard to believe that the truth is death can heal.
Recently (just last week as a matter of fact) a cousin of mine passed away. The news hit me like a shock wave as I was immediately saddened and overcome with a sense of loss. This cousin and I were not overly close as I had not seen or spoken to him since my mother’s funeral nearly three years ago. Prior to that I remember visiting him and his wife back in the 1990’s as we all mourned the passing of another relative. Until my mother passed on we had lost all contact and connection with each other.
Further troubling me was the fact that I was unable to attend the funeral despite the lack of closeness between my cousin and I as I felt it was the right thing to do not to mention something I felt strongly about doing for my family as a whole. Having been engulfed in yet another round of anxiety attacks fueled by new incidents of chest pain which thank G-d turned out to be nothing my cousin’s sudden and unexpected passing at his relatively young age made me more fearful in light of the above of my own mortality and my feeling of life hanging in the balance due to feeling a fatal heart attack was upon me.
The news of my cousin passing away reached me in a peculiar but almost predictable manner since this was a family member. My cousin’s wife called another cousin who then called another cousin who ultimately called my sister who e-mailed me a copy of the announcement of the passing along with the necessary funeral information. I don’t think my family is unique in its workings but in this case communication from one central person would have been the ideal way to handle things. My cousin was a bright and talented instructor who was open, honest, and direct with his students. This would have been his wishes for the protocol of how the announcement of his passing be handled.
I in turn queried my sister to see if there were other cousins who may not yet know that I should try to contact in some manner as in e-mail as phone numbers were not in either of our possession nor the exact whereabouts of another cousin whose sister lives here in New York but her brother resides out-of-state. This was the most current information available up until that point. Clearly my family like many families had become fragmented with nobody overly interested in trying to form new bonds.
My sister did not attend the funeral as she was not feeling well and was unsure if she was able to make the long drive from where she resides to the funeral site which was south-east of her home by a comfortable distance. I did not attend as I had to see my doctor to get to the root cause of my chest pains. Neither of us know how many of our relatives attended the funeral and who paid their in person respects (in Judaism we refer to this as paying a shiva call) in person.
Minus a car or other available transportation I did not make it to visit my cousin’s wife to offer whatever comfort I could, considering nearly three years later I still mourn the loss of my mother, nearly thirty years later I still mourn for my father and even longer than that mourn the passing of my older sister who died as her life was beginning to take on a new life for her. Death can make the passing of a loved one a lifetime of feeling as if it only happened yesterday.
Each religion treats the mourning process and remembering or memorializing of the deceased in a different manner. In my faith we light a memorial candle not only on the corresponding date of the passing on the Jewish Calendar but we also light memorial candles at the end of certain holidays making the loss seem as it only happened yesterday.
Death is something most of us fear but plan for nonetheless. Funeral expenses, burial expenses and expenses related to the care and maintenance of the gravesite. The business side of death is quite profitable and is able to withstand prosper even during the worst economic times due to its nature. People will die and those who serve in the funeral business know how to capitalize on your grief by trying to sell you the most expensive and fancy caskets and other arrangements that they can. In their guilt and grief people will pay any some of money they can as way of trying to put Novocaine on the pain.
My cousin like those family members above are gone but the sense of loss that their death brings to me is not something (as I illustrated above) I will or can let go of. Death of these family members have repeatedly caused me to re-evaluate my life as to where I have been on my journey and where I need to go or do need or to reckon with the fact too much damage has been done. It also commands me to find as many ways as possible to give honor to their memories although in my own estimation somehow it will never be enough.
Passing on the news should always be done with respect while being ever mindful of how the deceased would have wanted the family to be notified. It is with receipt of that call that perhaps we can snatch some life from death by al coming together as one so as to be able to mourn together while drawing strength from each other for each other for the memory of the deceased and their wishes.
Let me take a moment as I have reached the end of this article to give my heartfelt thanks to Dennis Pitocco who lent his creative talent to the framework of the title of this article knowing how much it meant to me that this article capture the feelings I felt about death and what I guess you could call the death process.