The rabbi who had been working with Charley’s family was forced to leave when Charley — suffering from untreatable cancer — chose to schedule “death with dignity” for the following Tuesday.
That rabbi’s rabbinical union dictated that they not officiate.
“I got you,” I tell Norman when he, Charley, and I are on a zoom call on a Thursday, “Let me be your rabbi this week.”
I meet them the next day at their downtown condo across the street from Powell’s Bookstore.
Thank (the) God (of my understanding), my union champions full individual religious autonomy.
I sit, laptop in lap, in a wooden chair in the funeral home chapel.
In front of me is the podium from which I will address the mourners.
Behind me Charley, as per modern Jewish custom, is in a minimalist pine casket.
Neither Norman, Charley’s beloved, nor any member of the family, nor any friend, is here as of yet.
I get to funerals super early so the mourners will have one less thing to worry about when they arrive.
“Keep a list of the stupidest things you hear,” I advise some family members in preparation for the funeral. “Because people are going to say dumb things in their attempts to console you.”
“So when you hear something just horrible, instead of being offended by it, take it with a grain of salt. When you hear ‘Bubbe—a Yiddish word for grandma—is with Jesus now,’ instead of being hurt, you can hear it as a potential contest winner.”
Some people really should just say nothing. It’d be better. But, those same people usually are really bad at sitting in silence.
Funerals are not so bad when you don’t really know the family.
They are actually life affirming.
I always savor life a little more after. And, if I’m able, I like to learn about the deceased’s favorite food and I try to eat it in the next few days.
A delicious holy silence fills the chapel.
The funeral will start on time at 12.
Starting on time is very important. Helps the mourners have structure. (Weddings start late.)
It’s 11:55. Silent.
Past the podium, I see Norman and his daughter hold on to each other.
It’s 11:56. Silent.
I assume stand-up performers and theater actors assess the crowd before they go on.
It’s a good crowd. About 30 active 70 year olds.
Plus about 12 people—also part of the reverent quiet—watching at home from the zoom link I set up on my phone on a tripod.
11:57: whispers start. I don’t know why. Seems to always happen. In the last two to three minutes before the funeral starts. Whispers between neighbors.
12:00. I stand, step forward, and speak into the microphone to address all who are there: “Dearly beloved.”
In hearing thousands of eulogies, I’ve noticed often that the things that will be missed are the same things that annoyed us about the person when they were alive.
As improv hosts do, I ask the group in the chapel to “Think of and then name, in one word, a characteristic of Charley’s that you will miss in this world.”
Again like a fourth-wall-breaking improv host, I echo words I hear.
I encourage them to affirm words they, too, will miss with “amen.”
I ask attendees to live those qualities as Charley is no longer in the world to do so.
Silence again fills the room as I take my seat and the funeral director comes to the front of the room to make logistical announcements.