People say to me, “I don’t understand how you do your job,” or,”What’s it like to be surrounded by death all the time? Isn’t it depressing?”
It’s not depressing, but it can be sad. Those of us behind the scenes, the Shomrimwho sit vigil with our loved ones, the members of the Chevrah Kadisha who reverently wash, purify and dress our loved ones..we feel the sadness.
We notice when families have one loss after another. We see the connections and overlap between families, and we see the ripple effect of death in the community. We often have personal connections to and memories of the deceased. It is a privilege for us to be able to serve in time of need. Death is very intimate. We see a slice of a family’s life at a very private and painful time.
And we feel immense sadness as we care for those who have no family and few friends. It is truly humbling and heartbreaking to attend a funeral where no one actually knows the deceased. Many of our staff also volunteer as pallbearers and minyanaires, to make sure that every individual is buried with respect and compassion, far above and beyond the call of duty.
On Rosh Hashana, or cleaning my house for Pesach, or lighting the Chanukah candles with my family, I remember the women I have cared for. My heart feels the heaviness of families facing their first Yom tov (holiday) without their mother, Baba, bubbe, auntie, sister.
When I light my Shabbat candles, my thoughts always include an acknowledgment of women no longer “benching licht“, their physical light in this realm literally extinguished. I like to believe that their “soul lights” continue to illuminate and guide their families … not far away … just beyond the veil of our understanding.
Rena Boroditsky is the Executive Director of the Chesed Shel Emes in Winnipeg, Canada. She is a graduate of the Gamliel Institute, and has received certification from the Spertus Institute in non-profit management. For twenty years, she has been a student and teacher about end of life matters at Kavod v’Nichum conferences and at Limmud events in the US & Canada, as well as instructor for The Gamliel Institute. She launched Death Cafe Wnnipeg. She has served as a board member of Kavod v’Nichum.
(C) 2014-2019 Kavod v’Nichum
This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.