Saturday, February 21, 2009

continued discerning

While I'm not Jewish, nor were my deceased relatives, there are aspects of Jewish law and custom around death and remembrance that seem very natural and appealing. It's a bit much to borrow wholesale from another religious tradition, but in planning the memorial for my father and his parents I won't avoid borrowing some elements from those customs.

What leads me to this is a chain of events unrelated to my family. It's another example of how fortunate I am to be acquainted with so many wonderful artists in our community. A good friend and mentor, Georgette Sosin, has recently completed a series of paintings that deal with grief and the mourner's Kadish (prayer) -- her paintings depict the rising up of prayer, or spirit -- they contain elements of earth as well as air and fire -- and she uses stones atop the stacked canvases to represent the Jewish custom of placing stones at a grave site as remembrance. She told me a little about the custom, and I left a link in the last post that leads to a good Wikipedia site including info on the subject. Georgette's work always has a strong effect on me.

Another artist who is Jewish, Sandra Brick, recently exhibited a piece in one of my church shows. It was called Yahrzeit Vessel (click link to find image); a hand-made box containing stones retrieved in Israel, at the Holocaust Museum, which were gathered in the box as remembrance of family members killed in concentration camps during WWII. Those family members would not have been given the customary respect due them in burial, and might even have been cremated, which is against Jewish law. They have no grave sites, other than the locations of the camps themselves.

The day I typed up the informational tag to explain the work was a date that fell in the week of the anniversary of my father's death, this past December. I couldn't complete the work at the time, I kept breaking down in tears, because I did not know the location of my father's grave site. It was such a difficult evening -- I was at work, I had to keep leaving the office to cry, and when a good friend offered to help I was so upset -- so angry with myself, with the situation, and so sad -- that I could make no gesture of acceptance for him. I waved him off, which was probably a little hurtful. I just had no idea what to do or say. Finally I gave up on the work and went home.

But, of course, that episode left me with some thoughts, some inspiration.

I don't care for plastic flowers at all, particularly at grave sites. Apparently, neither does my stepmother. She asked if I could think of something else to mark the flat stones, something nice. And certainly I've seen some creative additions at the occasional grave site. But the notion of leaving stones appeals to me a lot. Permanence.

I'll give it more thought.

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