Oh my. It has been a really long time since I last posted. Apologies all around!
Life has been a little hectic of late. Both daughters went off to college. I moved into smaller digs. The High Holidays descended. And my father died.
The way we talk about death is odd. The hospice folks spent a lot of time telling us that my dad looked “comfortable” during his nine days in a hospice house. I’m not sure how comfortable it is to die slowly, although I imagine the massive amounts of morphine and other comfort-inducing drugs couldn’t have been bad.
Afterwards, everyone said “he passed away” rather than “he died.”
Knowing me, you won’t be surprised that I looked up the phrase in the dictionary. Here’s what WordWeb Online had to say:
Verb: pass away pãs u’wey
- Pass from physical life and lose all bodily attributes and functions necessary to sustain life.
“She passed away from cancer“;
– die, decease, perish, go, exit, expire, pass, kick the bucket, cash in one’s chips, buy the farm [N. Amer], conk, give-up the ghost, drop dead, pop off, choke, croak, snuff it, pop one’s clogs
- Go out of existence.
Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the list of synonyms. They’re so much more colorful — not to mention descriptive — than “passed away.” (I’ll admit to being clueless about “pop one’s clogs”).
We sat with my dad during that last week of his life. From my perspective, he didn’t pass away. He didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t do anything. He spent those days gradually slowing down, until he simply stopped.
Does that mean he stopped living? Of course. Does it mean he stopped being? No. Because for me and all the other people who cared about him, he’s still very real. He didn’t cease to exist because he ceased living.
The question that naturally arises with this line of reasoning is: Does he cease being when the rest of us cease living? In other words, if no one’s left to remember someone, is that when the person truly passes away, because he’s passed out of living memory?
The answer that Judaism gives us is no, we don’t pass away just because there’s no one left who remembers us specifically. We are a community that cherishes the idea of passing along our traditions and beliefs from generation to generation. We chant prayers that someone wrote centuries ago. We use candlesticks that someone brought from Europe generations ago. We may not remember her, but we pass along her legacy.
My dad was a wonderful person who touched the lives of many people. My brother and sister gave moving testimonials at his funeral (I refrained; I had my chance when my parents were honored by their synagogue a few years ago). There’s simply no way he can pass away. Die, yes. Cease to be? Not possible.
You can read his obituary here: http://baltimorerealestate.citybizlist.com/1/2011/9/15/Frederick-Glassberg-Former-Rouse-Exec-and-NAIOP-President-Dies-at-77.aspx
Rest in peace, Dad. I’m proud to be your daughter.
Being Jewish in Hawaii said:
I just happened upon your blog when I was googling Yamim Noraim. Thank you. My condolences for your loss. Until recently, I have been unable to write about my mother who died over a year ago. Your post is inspiring. Shaloha.
Ronni B. said:
Thank you, Jennifer. Welcome back.
How achingly beautiful is the process of mourning. It is almost the 30 day mark of your father’s death. You have completed another stage in the process. May you continue to do so with your unique grace and curiousity.
Rachel D. said:
Thank you for this beautiful writing, Jennifer.
Judith Lyons said:
Welcome back to your blog, Jennifer. Shanah tovah. What an intense few weeks you have had! I have to agree with you–I as never comfortable with this phrase “passed away”. As a mid-westerner raised on the west coast, I had never heard the phrase until coming to Florida! Your list of synonyms made me chuckle and the obituary brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful father you had–and his memory will be with you through your life and the lives of your siblings, daughters and nieces and nephews. Love you!
Geo Carl Kaplan said:
C’est si bon!
Maureen Binderman said:
Very thought-provoking! Thank you !!