Nobody likes to talk about death. There are so many euphemisms for death just so that we don’t have to say it. Transitional: passed away, passed on, crossed over, went to the great beyond, no longer with us. Scientific: expired (like milk?), deceased. Fated: taken, number came up. Weird: kicked the bucket, bought the farm. Yesterday, my dad cashed in his chips.
It might be a little scary to think of Death coming as a Grim Reaper to gather your soul. So scary that maybe immortality is better (and so say many, many TV shows and movies, especially vampire ones).
In the Tarot deck, Death seems like it would be the scariest card. It’s Death! But it is actually the one with the most potential. Death means change. One thing passes on to make room for another. The loss is sad, but there needs to be room for something new to come into your life.
The truth is that while I like all the euphemisms – mostly because I like to play with language – I don’t think that death has to be feared. It will happen to all of us.
Here in Israel, there are also many euphemisms for death. Niftar comes from the root meaning “to be released.” Halach l’olamo means “went to his world,” which, all things considered, sounds very pleasant. There is talk of an olam ha’bah, “the next world.”
When my grandmother “went to her world” I was 8 years old and didn’t quite understand why she left her cane. Hysterical, I shrieked, “How is she going to walk around without it?!?!” Dad told me that where she was she didn’t need it anymore. She was young and healthy and having a picnic in the shade of a tree with Grampa Brown, who was also healthy and young. The tree was by a small stream. It was a sunny, warm, pleasant day and they were happy.
In order to get to this other world, you have to go through a door. That door is death. We don’t really know what is on the other side of the door. We are asked to have faith that when our souls leave the body they’ve inhabited on this earth, our pure souls, the sparks of light that we are, will go on to something else, something better, something our material minds cannot even begin to comprehend.
Of the things you say to a mourner, my favorite is yehi zichro baruch, sometimes said as zichrono livracha, which means “may his memory be a blessing.” To me it means that every time you remember the dearly departed, there is a blessing that comes with it. I like less baruch dayan ha’emet, which means “blessed is the true judge.” That more or less suggests that God works in mysterious ways and we praise God even in sorrow.
Dad wasn’t an Eric Clapton fan, but “Tears in Heaven” seems appropriate.
Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in Heaven.
Dad, your memory is a blessing to me and all who knew you. Holding on to those memories keeps you close to my heart. You’ve gone through the door and I hope whatever is over there is exactly as you described it. You have been released from this world and the pain of illness, and I’d like to imagine you are with your mom and dad having a great picnic. When the time comes (far in the future), please be there to greet me and show me around.