June 15, 2008  
Ash Me, and I'll Tell You

I tripped as I stepped off the front step. I started staggering, regained my balance and walked straight to the mailbox. I began thinking how klutzy I’ve become lately; could I be aging? I remove the mail from the box. “Hmm, what’s this, mail from a crematorium, a burial society, and three different companies with offers for Medicare supplemental insurance. Hasn’t anyone notified these companies that sixty is the new fifty? Yeah, we go from the new 50 to the old 70. When did I become an alta kaka?

It seemed like only last week when I opened the mail and there were discounts for Gerber baby food, diapers, baby pictures and bronze baby shoes were inside the envelopes. How could I have failed to be aware of the passage of time; when did those ads change?

I’m glad we received the one on cremation because Arlene, my bashert, occasionally brings up the subject of preparing for the inevitable and whether to choose burial or cremation. Spiritually, and intellectually, I’m at peace with dying. What should be done with my remains, I question.

Arlene and I have both experienced losing family fur kids whom we loved, so cremation is not something new to us; all our beloved dogs and cats were cremated when they died. Their ashes sit in containers, with their photos attached, on a shelf in our family room. Meggie, our last dog to die, lived 17 years, and had to be euthanized. Arlene and I were both in tears. Thinking I was about to lose control, I jokingly asked the Vet if he’d euthanize and cremate my mother in-law also; who was outside waiting for us in the car. Maybe we could get two for the price of one. I told the vet no one would ever know. Our tears turned to laughter as Arlene said “Stop it”. I sometimes think of the "CHUCKLES BITES THE DUST" episode on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when Mary couldn’t stop laughing at the cause of his death while at the funeral.

Occasionally I’ll take the memory boxes with ashes off the shelf and place them near the dog food saying “Time to eat”, Arlene does not appreciate my sense of humor as she shakes her head “no”. The irony is that it brings me joy remembering them.

I loved my Dad, and remember thinking, while we were making funeral arrangements, how nice it would be to have him stuffed, and leave him sitting on the couch.

Thinking back now, I can imagine what my Mom’s response would have been if I had actually made the suggestion, “Look, the meshuggeneh is making jokes now”. She should only know I wouldn’t have been joking. My Dad was a very quiet man and very rarely spoke. It would seem only natural for him to be sitting on the couch in front of the TV, waiting for the news or on Sundays watching Meet the Press, I wish I could see him that way one more time.

The Funeral Home

Arlene and I had used the “Lay away” plan to arrange a prepayment schedule with a Jewish funeral home for my mother in-law, Ruth. We were informed that one corporation owned both the Jewish and non- Jewish funeral homes. Unlike days of old when the funeral home owner knew the family, and did everything on the premises, today the body is delivered to a central warehouse where the desired cleansing and preparation is handled, and then is delivered to the funeral home for the service. I wonder if they have signs that say “Jewish section”.

Ruth was to be flown to New York to lie next to her husband in the family plot. The funeral director and I then discussed the possibilities, and costs of a pre-arranged cremation for myself. The director began to suggest a casket when I interrupted him and asked if they had any large cardboard boxes, or maybe one that was a second or misprint for a bargain price. It would be burned up along with the body in a cremation anyway. He responded by saying that the family would be embarrassed to have me laid out in a cardboard box. I asked if they rent caskets by the hour. His response was affirmative, so I suggested he rent my family the best and most beautiful one available. I didn’t make my pre-arrangements; I needed more time to think and pray about it.

Past Jewish Traditions-- Ossuaries

I found an article in Wikipedia interesting, and thought I’d share it with you.

“During the time of the Second Temple, Jewish burial customs included primary burials in burial caves, followed by secondary burials in ossuaries placed in smaller niches of the burial caves. Some of the limestone ossuaries that have been discovered, particularly around the Jerusalem area, include intricate geometrical patterns and inscriptions identifying the deceased. Among the most well-known Jewish ossuaries of this period are: an ossuary inscribed 'Simon the Temple builder' in the collection of the Israel Museum, another inscribed 'Elisheba wife of Tarfon', one inscribed 'Yehohanan ben Hagkol' that contained an iron nail in a heel bone suggesting crucifixion. There were others as well, and ten ossuaries were recovered from the Talpiot Tomb in 1980, several of which are reported to have names from the New Testament. ”During the Second Temple period, Jewish sages debated whether the occasion of the gathering of a parent's bones for a secondary burial was a day of sorrow or rejoicing; it was resolved that it was a day of fasting in the morning and feasting in the afternoon. The custom of secondary burial in ossuaries did not persist among Jews past the Second Temple period nor appear to exist among Jews outside the land of Israel.”

I’m a Messianic Jew and am not permitted to be buried in a Jewish Cemetery. I have been told by some Jews that they wish I was dead, so you’d think the cemetery would welcome me with open arms! I’m a person of size and have been thinking about it this way. Why should I take up so much space in the ground - two people can lie where I would lay, and real estate is so expensive, maybe the alternative, cremation, is better.

The Bar Mitzvah

I attended a Bar Mitzvah at our Messianic Congregation and the Bar Mitzvah bukher led the service as well as reading from the Torah and Haftarah. I thought he was going to give the usual “Today I am a fountain pen” speech when he began sharing his outlook on life. His words were, “ I dedicate my Bar Mitzvah ceremony to all the Jewish boys that were murdered in the Holocaust who never had the chance to have a Bar Mitzvah” When he was twelve he had joined a few of us adults from the congregation on a trip to the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. This young man had been on the Yom HaShoah Day committee and it really touched his heart.

Is that your final answer?

At this point in time I’m favoring cremation. Jewish tradition suggests I be buried, but the Bible, neither the Tanakh (the 5 books of Moses) or the Brit Chadasha (the New Testament) addresses this matter, although the commentary writings of the Rabbis do address it. My reasoning is that many of my family were cremated/incinerated during the Holocaust, and as my final act on earth I too stand with them. This will be mentioned at my Memorial Service, “LEST WE FORGET."

I was in the pewter business for many years, and have crafted two dishes with a glass bowl for candy. They have a long hollow stem that ashes can be poured into and sealed. They will be given to my sons so that when their friends come to visit they can say ‘Have a piece of candy, it’s on my Dad”. Our sons can’t wait to do this, but I told them I don’t want to rush it; let’s hope my sons are on social security when they get that opportunity!

I asked my beautiful wife Arlene, “Is there any chance we’d ever get the coupons for baby food, pictures, bronze shoes and diapers again?” Her quick reply was it Depends

Mock Funeral

This July I will turn 65 and as of this writing I have decided to have a mock funeral. I’m renting a hall and will have a rental casket and am inviting all my family and friends to attend and eulogize me. Why not? At least I’ll hear everyone say nice things about me. I will lie quietly and take it all in. My life will be presented as a slide show; if there are questions I’ll be around to answer them. We’ll then have a grand catered party with joyful music. Upon leaving each couple will receive a book that I’m writing titled “My Favorite Jewish Jokes Sent to Me via Email” with a preface by Lenny Kaufman, a master at emailing Jewish jokes.

Shalom, eat Kosher and have a great 4th of July; we have much to celebrate.

Mel the fat guy


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