There is a pattern to grief, and Jewish tradition is noted...

Coping/Mortal Matters

October 05, 1992|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,Universal Press Syndicate

There is a pattern to grief, and Jewish tradition is noted for providing a religious structure for the natural rhythms of grief. Shiva, Hebrew for seven, is the intense period of mourning observed during the week after a burial. Shiva is followed by shloshim, meaning 30, a period extending for the month following the death. Except for someone mourning a mother or father, shloshim concludes the formal bereavement period. The mourning that follows the death of a parent extends for a year.

But Jewish custom includes another, less formal, occasion for remembering the dead and for tying up the loose ends of grief. For many Jewish families, the unveiling of a gravestone provides a time for one last gathering to remember and pay tribute to a loved one. For those who were unable to attend the funeral, this occasion can serve the same purpose as a memorial service.

Zelda Schuman of Baltimore describes the custom:

"There is a fabric cover, usually cheesecloth, that the stonemason has wrapped around the stone. After a few words about the deceased and the recitation of the memorial prayer, a member of the family steps forward and removes the cover so that all may read the inscription. Thus the term 'unveiling.'

"There is no time limit for setting the stone. In Israel, it is most frequently done at the end of the 30 days of serious mourning. In this country, the unveiling is held within the year -- usually in the warmer months. I have attended many unveilings through the years," Mrs. Schuman writes. "Since there is no strict order to the service, each family does what they, or the officiating clergyman, wish."

Mrs. Schuman describes an unveiling held for her late father.

"We had planned the service to be short. My sister's husband, who has a rabbinical degree, spoke about the exceptional qualities of my father. My husband, who is a cantor by avocation, sang the memorial prayer. With that, the service was over. My sister and I then stepped forward and removed the cloth so we could all read the inscription."

The graveside ceremony was followed by a lunch at a nearby meeting hall. The meal was an occasion for reminiscing, with family and friends telling stories about the deceased and the effect his life had on theirs. Mrs. Schuman adds: "As you know, each person mourns differently, and so it was with my sister and me. My father was buried within 30 hours after he died; as soon as possible, according to Jewish law. My sister was unable to make arrangements in time to come from overseas for that. The unveiling served as a substitution for the funeral she could not attend. As the caregiver for my father, I felt that this small ceremony was a fitting ending for a fine gentleman. All those in attendance were deeply moved by the simplicity and the sincerity of the occasion."

Ceremonies surrounding death can be a valuable way of marking the boundaries of grief.

That is not the same as an end to grief, because in some form or another grief for a lost loved one stays with us forever. But a chance to bring family and friends together again after the reality of the death has set in can put a rich perspective on a life and its legacy.

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