Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I picked up the shovel and drove its blade, upside-down, into the mound of red earth. I swung the blade, with its small payload of Georgia clay, over the grave. The sound of the dirt thudding on the casket lid was the sound of finality.

One of the small kindnesses we can do for those who have passed on to the World to Come is to tuck them in for their Forever Sleep. It is the last favor we can do for a beloved parent...a friend...or God forbid, a child. It is the penultimate act at a Jewish funeral, followed only by the washing of hands.

Only three months ago I had stood beside Marc at his grandson’s brith milah, the ritual circumcision that marks the entry of a male baby into the Covenant. His house was full of family and friends celebrating a happy occasion, and Marc, as usual, had a smile on his face.

Marc always had a smile on his face. Not the smile of the Happy Idiot, but the smile of a person who makes a comfortable living, has a loving home, has married off his children, and who is now beginning to reap a bumper crop of grandchildren. It’s a smile of appreciation and thankfulness from a man blessed with abilities, good luck, and a serene spirit.

There were times I could have envied Marc, were I capable of feeling envy. He was a regular attendee at our annual Men’s Club regional retreats, and in recent years he was accompanied by his son Scott, his son-in-law Ben, and Ben’s brothers Mark and Josh. The Manly Intergenerational Bonding that would take place on those retreat weekends was something that I, a daddy of daughters, could only enjoy from afar.

Marc and Scott

Marc (r) with son Scott, 2005.

This weekend we received the shocking news that Marc had died unexpectedly.

Saturday morning, he had decided to take a nap (a favorite Shabbat tradition) while his wife Mindy went out to run a few errands. When she tried calling him from her cell phone, no answer. She came home to find him still in bed, so she left him alone for a while...but after a few hours, when she tried to rouse him, she was horrified to realize that he was no longer merely napping. A massive heart attack had carried him off in his sleep.

I’ve heard all sorts of rabbinic and philosophical explanations as to why it is that God sees fit to call someone home before his or her time...as if we know what an untimely death is. Fact is, until the advent of modern medicine, people were done in by all kinds of diseases and accidents at all ages. But these days, with some justification, we feel cheated if a lifespan is cut short before, say, age 80.

She Who Must Be Obeyed lost her sister Polly at age 16. I lost my mother at age 60. Marc only made it to 52. In all of these cases, we, the survivors, feel an especially keen sense of loss because we know so many people who keep walking the planet into their 80’s and 90’s. And when we try to invoke our fragmentary, limited understanding of a Higher Power in order to explain it all, we may or may not be satisfied with what we hear...for at the end of the day, we know that we’re all going to end up in the same place. It’s just a question of timing.

A respected rabbi once told us that to die in one’s sleep was God’s kiss, reserved for people who merited a special place in the World to Come. For Marc, that kiss meant an infinitely prolonged Sabbath Rest. It was a kiss that came all too soon, for reasons we will never know, for reasons we are not given to understand. And we, the living, can do nothing but shed our tears, rend our clothing, and then get on with the business of life, having been reminded that the Unexpected Visitor awaits every one of us.

Barukh Dayan Emet. Blessèd is the True Judge.

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