Sunday, May 22, 2011

Stones or Flowers: A Visit to my Husband's Grave

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage to Iowa to visit my late husband's grave and to spend time with his family. The cemetery sits on the outskirts of the small town where Ralph grew up, across the highway from a field. The graves there are adorned with flowers, some fresh, others artificial. I don't place flowers on his grave.

It is a Jewish custom to leave a small rock on a gravestone each time you visit. It is a sign of respect and caring for the dead to place a pebble there. If you walk through a Jewish cemetery, you will see a row of pebbles on top of each gravestone. Although Ralph was not Jewish (which is why we won't be buried next to one another)I maintain this custom. Flowers wilt; rocks last, just as love and memories will last.

Perhaps Jewish graves look drab, but Jewish burial customs and funeral rites are austere. No music, no flowers, no special funeral clothes--just a shroud. The casket is made completely of wood. Not just a plain pine box--many Jewish coffins are beautiful, but no metal is used. Jews are buried as soon as possible after death, with no embalming, and the wooden casket ensures that the body will return to the earth from which it came. The service ends with the Mourner's Kaddish, a prayer that speaks, not of death, but of the majesty of God.

Ralph had a Christian funeral, as he should have, but my tiny pebbles that march across his grave are a sign that love between an interfaith couple can flourish and last.


Retired Knitter said... [Reply to comment]

I was so touched by your posting of visiting your husband's grave site. What a fitting tribute to him - to mark the grave with such worthwhile symbols.

I am christian but I am always interested in the way other religions handle the big events of life and death. It builds understanding between people.

Thank you for sharing such a personal episode.

Leah said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for sharing that very personal experience. I am Jewish, so I'm partial to the Jewish customs as well. And I must stay there's something comforting about the simplicity of the Jewish burial rituals. It's not a fancy time. It's reflection. I like that the simplicity allows for that reflection.

Bella said... [Reply to comment]

Thelma, what a beautiful and moving post! I am quite familiar with the Jewish burial practices and so it was with great interest that I read your post. I love your words that "while flowers wilt and die, a small pebble or rock lasts like a memory." A truly beautiful tradition.

Boo said... [Reply to comment]

I placed stones on Jewish graves in Savannah (the huge cemetary in The Garden of Good and Evil - I think it's called). I'm not Jewish but my husband's mother was.

If only more married inter-faith, there'd be more peace in the world.

Happy birthday today.

Scarlett arrived safely :-)

Kelly Garriott Waite said... [Reply to comment]

So beautifully written. Thank you for posting this.


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