As mentioned here, my across-the-street neighbor died last week and we went to the funeral yesterday (Sunday). It was a Jewish service which I’d never been to before so it was all new to me. He was in a plain wooden box which was odd since I had thought a concrete vault was required — I guess they make religious exceptions. There wasn’t much a a formal service, it was just a rabbi — who was actually a former neighbor as well — who eulogized him (“the greatness of Norton”. .I liked that) and he said a couple of prayers. He was very good about explaining some of the things he was doing and saying for the benefit of the Gentiles in the audience, we appreciated that. One thing I didn’t quite understand was something like a “rending of the garment” thing. He explained that but I didn’t know what they actually did.
After the inside ceremony, we followed the casket outside and it was lowered into the grave — light enough to be done by the pallbearers and not a complicated apparatus like is needed with a full casket and vault lid. Then any of us could shovel some dirt in, which I thought was quite a nice thing to do. Only a few people did, me being one of them. I, of course, had to, since I figured ol’ Norton would get a kick out of his archaeologist neighbor covering him up instead of digging him up. Unfortunately, I misunderstood the instruction to make the first shovelfull off the back of the shovel for some reason; I’d thought he meant just the very first one thrown in. I was kind of thinking they’d want us to completely fill it in, but we just did about half the dirt. Still, I kind of like that idea.
To get all geeky for a moment, I also noticed that the sediment was fairly typical glacial till although not as rocky as I would have expected; I wonder if they removed some of the rocks so it would be easier to shovel(?). Very sandy and quite similar to the material at Calvary, the Catholic cemetery I am doing my survey work at. Not unusual since they both appear to be on drumlins. I was talking to a cemetery guy (an old Jewish guy who was passing out yarmulkes) afterwards and he was telling me of the kind of sediment they encounter when digging, especially the “hardpan” layer which is present at various depths at Calvary as well. The ArchaeoWife was pleased that I did not stoop to examine the dirt pile when I stepped up to do some shoveling.
Anyway, it was colder than a rat’s @ss out there. Frankly, I probably would have filled the whole damn grave in just to keep warm. So we all froze but it was all for Norton so a small sacrifice.
I am realizing more and more the real purpose of the word “closure” for these sorts of events. I was decidedly NOT looking forward to my own father’s funeral Mass — I was worried it would be all solemn, morose, and weepy or something — but when it actually came about, it was almost joyous in a way. I know it sounds kind of trite, but I think you really are celebrating the deceased’s life, even through the sadness and solemnity of the service. Kind of a quiet celebration, not in the party-down sense. It seems to give people the acknowledgment (another term I’ve traditionally not liked) that the deceased’s life meant something. Maybe it gives us — and I am aware that these are primarily for us, not them — a way to give expression to the fact that, even though we have to carry on without them and be happy afterwards to some extent, we’re letting them know formally that we’re not just forgetting and carrying on. After dad’s funeral, I just felt better. Maybe we need look no further than a need to feel better for the origin of burial ritual.