Rest In Awesome

26 Nov

Death has infiltrated my life as of late.

Judaism is old.  And we like to think the traditions are the way they are because they’ve been beta tested for a zillion years.

Jewish rites basically say that you bury the dead as soon as possible (usually about 3 days), and that for a few days after that you have a very extended wake called a shiva.  A week of open house, people coming in and out to bring and eat food, offer hugs and condolences.  Hear you cry, cry on you, say they’re sad, ask you why you don’t look sad.

And at the end of that week the public airing of your grief isn’t over.  For the next year you go to synagogue and say the prayer for the dead.  A prayer for grievers.  Each week for the next year you stand up in public amidst your community and chant a beautiful monotonous prayer wishing your absent loved one on their way.  And every year for the rest of your life on that anniversary you light a candle and say the prayer again.

It’s designed to make you grieve.  Constantly and against your will.  When you’re too pragmatic to do it on your own.

To make you sit your ants-in-your-pants butt down and accept the hugs and the sorrow and the tears of relative strangers and say over and over and over again “he died and I’m sad.”  Over and over again “he’s dead and I have feelings.”  Over and over and over again.  So many more times than you thought you could ever say.  So many more times than you thought possible before you said it the first time.

But there is a reason this is what the beta testing produced.

Because when you say it to 100+ people and they react in 100+ ways, then you learn a lot of things.  You learn the range of human responses.  You learn that there really is no normal way to react or grieve.  And you learn that each person you tell it to teaches you something new about the experience and your love and your feelings.

Because if each friendship is a new universe, then every death for every person is a supernova.

And even though Esther has died we will continue to do projects with her because it will be when we work to decrease world-suck and when we show our love for others that Esther will be with us most.

So Hank, as you know, before I wrote books, I worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital, and when I was there my supervisor always used to tell me, “John, don’t just do something. Stand there.”

We all want to do something to mitigate the pain of loss or to turn grief into something positive to find a silver lining in the cloud.  But I believe there is real value in just standing there.  Being still, being sad, bearing witness to Esther’s life and allowing ourselves to be transformed by it. [x]

I’ve always hated the Jewish death rituals.  They seemed so drawn out.  So unnecessary.

I changed my mind.

Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but a sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars [x]

One Response to “Rest In Awesome”

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  1. Project For Awesome 2012 « Female Gazing - December 16, 2012

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