Article Discussion: Mourning My Presbyterian Mother as a Jew-by-Choice

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April 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm #847

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Click here to read the article: Mourning My Presbyterian Mother as a Jew-by-Choice

August 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm #3666

Hebrew Catholic

It is always worth remembering that to a great extent, the rituals surrounding and following death are for those who are left behind, the living. Even prayers for eternal salvation of the deceased are at least in part a way that the living express a love and concern that continues after every human sense of contact is gone, and the way they console themselves by putting their very personal loss into a larger context.  In that sense, it is natural that where families include members of different faiths, some rituals are performed that are not those of the person who died.  

It is also worth remembering that the stress of losing a loved one, especially after the additional stress of a long illness, can bring out family dynamics that really have nothing to do with their explicit content.  Many families struggle over how to mourn and which rituals to employ, and as much as they may use religious differences to put the struggle into words, it is usually more about their individual styles of grief and their personal relationships with the deceased and with each other.  It is best not to saddle any religion with the baggage of such interactions at a time of family stress, no matter how “religious” the issues may seem at the time.

For example, I am sure that the essay-writer felt quite sincere in her repeatedly-expressed resentment at her siblings’ imposition of Catholic rites on an Episcopalian woman, but it is almost certainly the case that those Catholic rituals had far more in common with her mother’s own beliefs and the practices of her mother’s religious community than the writer’s Jewish rituals, which felt authentic and appropriate to her, not like something she was imposing on “this Episcopal woman”.  I like to think that over time, as she and her siblings have processed their grief, that the tensions of that stressful period have eased, so that they could each see something appropriate in the others’ ways of dealing with the loss.

By the way, how on earth did the word “Presbyterian” get into the title?  Unless I missed something (always a possibility), no one in the story was ever Presbyterian.

September 9, 2009 at 2:58 am #3736

a77white

My mother was a Carmelite Nun from the age of 17 to 22 in Morristown N.J. She grew up in Garfield N.J. She was born in 1921 and the following ~ is what happened the day after she died. This is from my ~”book”~ ~”DIVINE 9/11 INTERVENTION”~.
“My mother died on 10/29/06. The next night I was in the kitchen, when my wife yelled up at me from the den, “Where’s this smell coming from?”. I replied, “What smell? What does it smell like?”. She said “Perfume, there’s the very strong smell of perfume down here. Where’s it coming from?” Then she began yelling, “Hurry, come down here before it’s gone.” I stopped what I was doing, walk to where she was sitting and took a whiff of the air. Sure enough, there was a very, very strong smell of perfume. And it smelled just like the perfume my mother wore when I was a child. It brought back childhood feelings, emotions and a couple of vague memories. A second or two later, I sniffed the air again, and it was completely gone. Strong smells do not vanish instantly.
A week later, I found, “XXX-999-444 ?” had been left on my caller ID three hours after she died. Never in my life have I seen a “999” prefix. “999” and “444” are very significant to this story. I called it; it had been disconnected with no information available.
In the nursing home she often talked about ~“going home”~. The street address of the only home she ever owned was ~1029~.” The following is a poem from the same page. “Once in a dream I saw the flowers
That bud and bloom in paradise;
More fair are they than waking eyes
Have seen in this world of ours.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)”

September 19, 2009 at 5:03 pm #3775

Andrea

When my grandmother died, I made the sign of the cross at her graveside at the cemetery. I’m a lapsed Catholic; she was Presbyterian and no one except my brother and mother at the funeral were Catholic. Neither was the service.

Some of what you do at a funeral is related to your own religious beliefs. But since the mother was Episcopalian, which is extremely similar to Catholicism in practice, and her father and siblings are Catholic, it was appropriate that the funeral and all practices were Catholic. The writer really couldn’t expect anything else. She was burying a Christian woman.

October 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm #5156

Unregistered

Your family sound horrible. Imagine you not having the right to practice your faith.

October 28, 2010 at 6:01 pm #5176

j.cantor

Dear Paula:
The past 8 months have had to have been very difficult for you. My deepest condolences; sincerely. We are reminded in our daily baruchut (prayers) that to comfort the bereaved is “an obligation without measure, that’s rewards (by  comforting) is also without measure”.  Perhaps (I pray) the time has allowed your family to become more close. Sadly as each member of your family is on their own spiritual journey, it seems that your choice(s), were either ignored or not considered. I kept reading about other clerics being involved… Do you belong to a temple and if not do you know a Jewish cleric? This may have been a more “balanced” dialogue, (as particularly) at a terrible time that you describe, you need an advocate. If the Cantor/Rabbi was ignored, well, there are a “super-majority” of Christians in your family. Nevertheless, perhaps this is something, now that time has past you can discuss with whomsoever your Jewish spritiual advisor is. You are welcome to contact me…here in NJ. I will give you whatever inisght I may have. IFF may have a Jewish cleric near you.
Shalom,
Rabbi Josh Cantor
Temple Shalom
Franklin, NJ
rabbi.josh@yahoo.com

February 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm #6578

Unregistered

Rabbi, As a Jew I would not want a Cathiolic participating at my funeral or any life event. Why would this be encouraged? Thanks!

February 26, 2012 at 4:08 am #6611

Jewish mama

I am Jewish and about to attend the funeral of my Presbyterian father-in-law. There will be a private family viewing (open casket ) prior to the service. Of course, I want to do what is most respectful to my husband’s family. However, my children and I have never participated in an open casket viewing. I know my kids will be looking to me for direction.  Is there any prohibition for Jews about viewing the body?  I know it is not a part of Jewish funerals but do not know if there are specific prohibitions.

Mostly, I want to be there for the comfort of my husband and his family, and do the right thing. I know it is a mitzvah to comfort the bereaved, and I will go along with whatever will be most helpful. I also do not want to add to the children’s distress over the loss of their grandfather by making an issue out of it.  However, I would prefer not to see my father in law in the open casket, and wonder if it would be ok for us to be present in the room but not approach the casket. Would this be considered disrespectful?

Thanks for any advice..

February 26, 2012 at 2:30 pm #6612

Ed Case

This is a response from Rabbi Lev Baesh:

As a rabbi, I have found that in grief, families often have to make choices that are outside of their religious framework and comfort zones.  While we do not know the ultimate impact of being present with an open casket, or choosing not to, we do know that family unity around death is important.  Also, exposing a child to this ritual will prepare them for the future when they may have to do the same for the loss of a close friend or co-worker.  I think one of the most helpful things you can do is let the child know that you are available to talk about the experience before and afterwards, including months down the road.  The impact may not be recognizable immediately. Respect is the key word here.  Don’t compromise your values, and you do have permission from your religion and your gut to stand back in the room.  Nothing requires you to actually look into the casket.  Finally, Jewish law does not speak about being present with an open casket.  It only speaks about burial ritual of Jews.  The idea is to have a closed casket for the person who died, so that they maintain privacy and decorum and so that embalming is not necessary (according to US law, a body must be embalmed if viewed more than 24 hours after death).  This does set up a system where mourners don’t have to view a body after death, but the rule is about the body in burial not the role of the mourners. Ultimately, as Jews, we are commanded to respect the needs of mourners and support them in their grief and in these times that means going to funerals with open caskets.

February 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm #6613

Jewish mama

Thank you, Rabbi, for this very thoughtful advice. We will definitely be there for the family- and I will take my cues from my mother in law as to her wishes, and I will honor them, whatever they are. I will also speak to my children.

We have attended other funerals, but have not been involved in the viewing of an open casket. At this time, we will be present as family. I am grateful to know there is not a particular prohibition.

My father in law was extremely supportive of our choices to be a Jewish family. He participated in all our celebrations enthusiastically. My mother in law was more reticent about the idea, but she does participate regardless and fully loves our family- and honestly, I understand this as I would feel the same. In this case, the best thing to do is not cause her any pain at the funeral- and this is the message I will relay to my children- to honor their grandparents within the framework of the tradition we raised them in, and also to honor their feelings about viewing the casket.

Many thanks again.

April 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm #6723

Unregistered

the writer seems very tormented about her actions and her choice. if her mom was a christian, than the actual decision of burial and rites is her fathers and not of the childrens. pray to g-d for strength in making decisions. remember moses, honour thy father and mother,

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