And a Noble Journey it was.
Weddings, New Babies, Christenings, 1st Communions, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, Confirmations, More Weddings, More Babies, More Christenings – and Funerals.
Today was one of those days we all dread. To many, Funerals bring dark images. They are shrouded in mystery. Is this all there is? What’s on the other side?
But Funerals also celebrate Life. In many ways, they are Life’s Final Exclamation point! Today, a noble man’s journey came to an end. Our family laid our cousin David to Rest. It was not an easy day.
I was a relatively young man when my cousin Patty married David Padnes nearly 40 years ago. It was a small affair. A mixed religion marriage back in a time when such marriages were rare and difficult in the churches and synagogues.
My mother’s parents were a mixed ethnic couple. My grandmother, Mary Rush, was an Irish Catholic girl. My grandfather, John Walbroel, was a German Catholic. Back in those days, such a marriage was scandalous. The German side of the family disowned young John. Naturally, Mary raised her children as good Irish Catholics.
Patty and David raised their children in both Catholic and Jewish traditions. They celebrated Passover and Easter in the Spring. The house always had a Menorah and Christmas Tree in December. The boys had their coming of Age Bar Mitzvahs, and Kim enjoyed her Bat Mitzvah.
When I met David, he was already an engineer. But soon after Patty and David married, he decided to go back to school. He wanted to become a Lawyer. He succeeded, and began a 30 year career with Lucent Technology as a Patent Attorney.
David’s unique background enabled him to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He really was a Jack of All Trades. He mastered many of them.
His interests were varied. As a young man, he visited many of the western National Parks. He developed a life long passion for photography. He was also an avid skier. These were two things we shared in common. We were both particularly fond of Copper Mountain, Colorado.
David was a real car enthusiast too. My cousin Ray may have had a kick butt ‘Vette in the 60s, but David had that bad-ass Z-Car when it was still called Datsun.
I don’t handle funerals of loved ones particularly well. It goes back to when my godfather and first mentor, my Uncle Bobby, died at the way too young age of 56. It was one of the saddest days of my life. Since then, I try not to go to the burial service at cemeteries.
This was a very different experience. Though I have Jewish friends and other Jewish family members, I had never attended a Jewish funeral before today. The service at the Bloomfield-Cooper Jewish Chapel in Ocean, New Jersey was more celebratory than mournful. The Eulogies were emotional, yet elegantly touching. But it was the service ritual at the cemetery that impacted me the most.
As the cantor, a young woman, read and sang the traditional Jewish prayers, I watched as David’s family and friends sang and recited along with her. What happened next was deeply moving.
Each of the mourners was invited to help complete David’s journey. The cantor instructed how it was the Jewish tradition to cover the grave. There in the mound of freshly dug dirt were two shovels. First Patty placed 3 shovels full of dirt onto the casket. She placed the shovel back into the mound of dirt. One after another, the mourners took their turn to help bury David.
It was quite an unnerving moment for the uninitiated like me. But as each person took the shovel, I began to see the meaning of it all. Respect for David was profound. For a moment, the shovels lay still.
Then, Stuart, David’s neighbor and best friend, along with another of David’s friends, stepped forward again and took the shovels. They worked the mound, filling the grave until David’s casket was completely covered. They returned the shovels to the ground. They prayed a quiet prayer, wiped the tears from their eyes, and said goodbye to their friend.