Remembering the Dead

Reposted from Targuman.

This past month I had the great privilege to participate in an “OLLI” course with our local funeral home director, rabbi, and Orthodox priest. I was surprised that there was less I knew about the Orthodox mourning traditions, than I did about Jewish ones. One tradition was “Soul Saturdays” which is one of those several Saturdays during the year where they commemorate the departed. Yesterday was one such Saturday and Fr. J sent me a link to this excellent little reflection on the importance of “panakhida,” a prayer service for the departed. I cannot say that I agree with everything Fr. Gabriel puts forward here; I just haven’t thought long enough about his question, “Why should spiritual growth be restricted to this life alone?” But he is absolutely right about so much.

IMG_37471…one clear note in all grief psychology says that you should remember publicly the names of those lost. So often people treat the grieving in exactly the wrong way, as if they should hide the name of the departed person, when in fact it’s just the opposite; you should ask people for remembrances, use the name often, remind them that you have not forgotten their parent or child or friend. Our ancient prayer forms were founded on good psychology long before anyone invented the concept.

We have not only found it important for us to talk about Mack, we have also been very surprised by how important it has been for those in the community who knew Mack, especially the children. I would also suggest that it has been important that we share Mack in a joyful and positive way. So when our young neighbor who played with Mack every day suggested that they raise money for the elementary school to buy and install a teepee shaped jungle gym, we thought it a spectacular idea. We regularly hear from teachers and parents at Mack’s school about how much fun the kids have climbing all over it. That is a joyful remembrance!

About Christian Brady

Father of Izzy and Mack, dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, and scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature.