About My Dad’s Funeral

About My Dad’s Funeral

My dad’s burial has been on my mind. The whole experience is a very long and meandering story filled with frustration but ultimately ends in Grace, and I’ll summarize as best I can.

We decided on cremation originally. We met with a man named David from a funeral home in Las Vegas who was kind and caring and we couldn’t have asked for a better person to help us with such a task. Did we want a lock of his hair? A thumb print? A picture before cremation? Really? We asked questions and filled out all of the paperwork.

As we were leaving, David said, “You guys are like my family. We’re a big family and we care about each other and love each other.” He said that a lot of the families he meets with are angry, yell at each other and him in the meeting room, and ask him to lie about cause of death which is completely out of his hands. My heart goes out to those families.

A couple of days before the scheduled cremation my mom received a phone call from a Rabbi in Las Vegas asking if we would consider burial instead and he’d be willing to cover the cost. What? My dad certainly didn’t know any Rabbis in Vegas. I don’t think he knew any Jewish people there either. I called the Rabbi. Basically, someone in my father’s family in Israel asked everyone he knew for help to bury my dad instead of cremation. They were very concerned that he wouldn’t be buried. So, someone in Israel knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who had a daughter whose child attended the Rabbi’s daycare at his congregation – in Las Vegas! The Rabbi laughed and called it a “Jewish connection.”

To appease the family we halted the cremation. This decision wasn’t made lightly. We were now going to need a new death certificate and a new permit for burial. The Rabbi and I went back and forth about details over the next couple of weeks. He required a plot in the Jewish section of a cemetery, which was a lot of work for my sister, and a Jewish casket. He was only available for the service on certain days. And on and on we went.

I was frustrated that this was taking so long. I couldn’t sleep. I felt intense panic in the middle of the night thinking of my dad’s body in some cold storage locker. I know his soul wasn’t there but there were so many details up in the air and it felt like we were all in limbo. Not to mention the thousands of dollars I wound up paying for a burial we didn’t really want while trying to coordinate all of this from afar. I finally said to the Rabbi, “My dad has been dead for three weeks. What’s the soonest we can do this, please? Please?”

Looking back though, this experience mirrored how my dad lived. Lots of drama, nothing was easy or straightforward, chaos and anxiety for everyone.

It all finally came together about four weeks after my dad died. When I met the Rabbi in person at the cemetery. He said to me:

“Elana, I was with your father this morning [at the funeral home]. Two other men and I bathed him, dressed him in the traditional shrouds, and prayed over him for about an hour. I gave him a pillow so he could be comfortable. I spread some dirt from Israel in the coffin with him. I treated him as if he was my own father.”

Tears sprang to my eyes. When was the last time someone was this kind to my dad? This was a man who never met my father and never met any of my family. He and two other men, who also didn’t know us, spent time doing something that must not have been pleasant given how long my dad had been gone and we didn’t embalm. The Rabbi also told me that he found 10 other men to carry the coffin and pray the kaddish for my dad during the burial.

We walked to the plot where the cemetery staff had set up a lovely blue tent and blue chairs and tissues on each. This was more than I expected. My brother’s friends showed up (thanks guys!) and when we all sat down, there were exactly the number of chairs needed – not one extra nor one needed. 

The Rabbi and his men carried my dad from the van to his final resting place, stopping every few steps to pray in Hebrew. He performed a brief service, more praying. I remember looking at all of these men who had taken off of work that morning to be there for a man they didn’t know. It was very moving.

We cried, we each shoveled dirt in the grave (including the 10 men), we said our goodbyes.

Before the grave was filled the Rabbi threw in dozens of books over the coffin. Tons of books, four to five boxes of Hebrew texts. “So that he has knowledge with him always.” I’ve never heard of this, and it was quite a sight to see all of those books in the ground. It was appropriate though since my pop loved to read and studied the Talmud when he was younger.

Overall it was a day of blessings and I finally felt at peace when it was over. My dad was finally settled and several people had come out to care for him in a really loving way. I was able to sleep well that night for the first time in weeks.

I did ask the Rabbi once how he felt about doing all of this for a man that actually thought Rabbis were con men and thought religion was silly. The Rabbi said, “People can lose their way, but we got him back in the end.” Not sure what to say about that.

I still have mixed feelings about what we did. I think my dad would have hated being buried in traditional clothing, and I didn’t know the Rabbi was going to do that. I think he would have thought all the praying was a waste of time. I think he would have asked me why I let his family pressure us into a traditional burial when that’s not how he lived his life. I know he would have hated how much money I spent on the whole thing. “Why you do this, Elana??” But I do think he would have liked being buried in Las Vegas since he loved that city so much and kept trying to get us to move there. And I know he would have loved all of us being together for him.

(Note: Please talk to your family about your preferences for your funeral/service. Write it down and make plans. It will really help those who have to handle all the details. We have personally decided on Better Place Forests.)

Star Wars and After Dinner Stories

Star Wars and After Dinner Stories

When I was little we had family meals every evening. From my young child perspective, the kitchen felt warm, the wall paper was yellow with flowers, the wooden kitchen table was large, and there was a lot of food. I have the sense of generous dishes of rice, chicken, kebab, potatoes, Israeli salad, vegetables, pita, homemade hummus. (I do know how fortunate I am to have had this.)

I am the oldest of five and back then there was me and three of my sisters. My brother didn’t join our family until several years later. The food was always good – thanks, mom. I remember my mom saying that she learned to cook from my dad and his mother so we grew up on Middle Eastern food – yum.

After dinner, instead of helping my mom clean up (why did you let us get away with that, mom??) we sat around the dinner table and my father made up stories for us. I don’t remember the content of them now, but my favorites were his Star Wars stories. After dinner he took the Luke, Leia, and Han on adventures that had nothing to do with the movies and we absolutely loved every minute of it. There was intense suspense and he did all the voices. The good guys always won. We sat glued, on his lap and on the seats next to him, listening to every word and I imagined his story playing out in my head.

Some nights he didn’t really have any stories to tell or was probably really tired after a hard day’s work, but we begged and begged him until he gave in. He laughed and laughed and asked my mom, “You see this? Why they love it so much?” He had this way of laughing and talking at the same time in a high pitched voice that made others around him laugh too.

He always ended his stories with “And may the Force be with you!” We screamed and clapped with joy.

Dad, we loved it so much because we loved Star Wars and loved you. You paying attention to us in that way and doing something just for us. Something you created just for us. It felt special. It was a time when you weren’t angry and I wasn’t afraid of you. It was you at your best and most loving.

What It Was Like When My Dad Died

What It Was Like When My Dad Died

I don’t remember in what order things happened but here are a few things that stand out for me the weekend that he died in no particular order.

My sisters and I received word from my brother on a Friday afternoon. It was shocking, unexpected, hard to wrap my head around. I went home immediately, told my husband and daughter, and we cried for a little while. We left for Vegas that evening to help my mom and brother. I remember being in automatic mode. Pack, get gas, drive. I called some friends during the drive to let them know about my dad. “How are you doing, E?” Not sure, in shock, don’t know how to feel, hasn’t set in yet really. Have you ever had that feeling that something huge just happened and you don’t know how to feel about it? My eyes felt fixed open wide and my consciousness was hovering just above my body.

There was one night that my mom, brother, and I told stories about my dad and we laughed and laughed so hard that we were crying. My dad did some outlandish things, and this led to many funny stories over the years. My brother, Eli, and sister, Tamara, are really good at sharing these. Like the time my dad walked into Best Buy and asked to buy a Netflix. He was funny, even when he wasn’t trying to be.

That weekend we looked at old family photos, many of my mom and dad as a young couple. This was fun and sad at the same time. Is there a word for that? Something that feels good to do but also feels sad?

When I went into his home to see what kind of cleaning out we’d have to do, it was eery and felt lonely. The place smelled and his bathroom door was closed. He died in that room in an unintentional and messy way. Damn, it was sad. We were going to have to deal with that mess somehow. We wound up hiring a biohazard company to clean up the bathroom. That entire day sucked for so many reasons and when the biohazard guy came out of the bathroom to talk to my mom about how much it was going to cost, I cried. I wasn’t able to bring myself to look in the bathroom before it was cleaned but I did after. He still had his pants hanging on a hook on the back of the bathroom door.

He lived in a condo owned by someone else. We needed to move his things out asap for the owner, who by the way wasn’t the greatest throughout this process. Given all of our work schedules and that we didn’t live in the area, we only had that weekend to do most of the work.

We knew very little about what he wanted for his body after his death. He was not religious, probably atheist, and didn’t have time for ceremony and ritual. Add that to the ever-growing list of difficult and timely decisions for us to make.

He didn’t leave a valid will, and we’d have to wade through the long and arduous probate process for his meager estate.

My brother cooked us dinner. After a long day of finding new homes for my dad’s belongings, that dinner was one of the most caring and delicious meals I’ve ever had. Not only did it taste good but I know my brother did it as a way of taking care of us all. Thanks, bro. It was much needed.

My family was so caring and gentle with each other. We all pitched in to clean out my dad’s place and although we needed to do it quickly for various reasons, it felt rushed. In 2-3 days most of his stuff was given away and most of his condo was empty. I had this feeling that he had been erased. That his whole life – everything he treasured – had been so easily gotten rid of. My dad really loved his things and after he was gone, those things didn’t really mean anything. What a lesson that was for me.

It was a tough few days.

Healing From My Dad’s Death

Healing From My Dad’s Death

This is the month my dad died last year – November. I can feel myself not really wanting to look at this fact and wanting to push it away as though it’s no big deal. But to lose one’s father seems like a big deal. And losing my father was confusing for me. He was a very large energetic force in my life and suddenly it was gone. He was sometimes abusive when I was younger and could be loving, funny, and generous.

It’s strange that it’s been one year since his death. It’s strange that I even wrote that sentence just now. It’s strange that we’re having to decide what to put on his grave marker right now. (How does one decide those things? Summing up a life in a few short words that will last forever? What would he want? What do we want?) It’s strange that my siblings and I now have conversations about “going to visit dad” at the cemetery. It’s strange that I don’t miss him that much.

I’m inspired today, (writing this on November 1), to acknowledge this month in some way that feels it will be healing for me and my internal relationship with my dad. When he died last year, things felt like a tornado with so much to do so quickly. So I’ve committed to spending time thinking and writing about my dad this month as a way to heal what I might not want to feel or see, positive or negative. I’m ready.