A Letter to the Taharah Team
[Ed. Note: This letter was written by a parent and congregant, and received by the rabbi of a congregation, who then passed it along to a member of the Taharah team there. That Taharah team person is active with Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, and felt that it might be appropriate to share with others. Permission was sought to use the letter here, in the Expired And Inspired blog, withholding names and identifying information. This is part of why we, members of various Chevrah Kadisha teams do what we do. — JB]
I am not sure how to send this to the community, but I wanted to somehow share this:
A year ago when my daughter passed away, I made a promise to myself that when I finally had my wits about me, I would find a way to publically thank the synagogue community for their help through Rivkah's illness and death. Many people reached out to us during the unspeakably difficult two years that Rivkah went through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and other treatments. But what meant the most to me was how the synagogue community helped our family right after Rivkah died.
I had known that Jewish tradition involved a washing of the body of the deceased. However, it never occurred to me that I would be utterly unprepared to do this myself, or prepare for this ritual in any way. The day that Rivkah died was the worst day of my life. There are simply no words to describe what it is like to watch as the body of your once warm, joyful daughter — now cold and still — is carried out of your home to the cemetery where she will be laid into the earth the next day. All I could think of was how Rivkah had once said that she wanted a lightweight casket so that if she were really still alive, she could sit up and get out. Looking at her body and knowing that she would be carried out of her comfortable bed and out of the bedroom that she herself had painted teal not long ago, and taken to a cold cemetery, I knew that I was capable of nothing other than despair. Although I had once nursed my daughter as a baby, and made her grilled cheese as a teenager, and even held her in my arms as she died, I knew that on this final night I could not care for her body myself. My grief was too deep.
At that moment, the community did what I could not. Four women from the synagogue whose names I never knew reached out and performed a mitzvah for our family that I will never be able to repay. As a physician, I know that dealing with death and dead bodies – particularly that of a teenagers – is taboo and scary. Four mothers who will never publicly be thanked or recognized overcame their fear, learned the Jewish rituals of Taharah, and performed the ritual cleansing and sanctification of Rivkah before we buried her. They were the last ones to see her body and to say goodbye. It was utterly the lowest point in my life and I was carried forward by people who are still anonymous. Somehow it is reassuring to know that when you really can go no further, your community will reach out and carry you and those that you love.
I never knew, or will know, who those four people are. However, each time that I look at everyone in the synagogue, I imagine that each individual I see is the person who performed the Taharah and gave that final gift to my daughter. Our deepest gratitude and love are with this community always.
Name and information withheld
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