I went to the funeral of a remarkable man recently: Professor Shlomo Eckstein, who was cherished by the multitudes. I was one mourner among hundreds of people who came to pay their last respects. The eulogies were delivered by family and friends, who somehow, magically even, rose to the occasion like professional orators.
What struck me more than anything at this funeral, however, among the long list of many stories told, was the granddaughter who talked about spending time with her grandfather in his last hours. As she sat with him, she sang two songs that religious Jews sing on Friday nights. One is called “Shalom Aleichem” (“Peace on You”) and the other is called “Eishet Chayil” (“A Woman of Valor”). She knew that her grandfather loved these songs and she sang them over and over to him, sure that even in the fog of his coma, he heard her and was soothed as he passed from this life.
Death is inevitable. It’s hard not to face up to that when you’re at a funeral. But to hear about how beloved this man was actually got me thinking about the meaning of life.
Most cultures offer rituals to bury the dead and mourn their passing. In my culture, after the funeral, the family sits for seven days (known as the shiva) and receives all those who want to commiserate and share the loss with the bereaved. Depending on the circumstances, the mood of the shiva will be quite different. Sometimes there’s an air of great pain and sadness in the home; other times, people who might not have seen each other in decades have a chance to sit together and reminisce, with smiles and good spirits.
In the case of a ninety-year-old man such as this, the gathering is hardly enveloped in tragedy. His loss is felt—final goodbyes are never easy—but the fullness of his life is celebrated, as well.
All of us have a time allotment on the planet. How and when you’re going to go is almost exclusively a mystery. How you leave will also likely be somewhat related to how you spend the time you have.
I heard something once, though I don’t know where: that the two most important days in a person’s life are the day he is born and the day he understands why. I hold that notion close to my heart and mind daily.
Listening to the family’s praise of the professor, I began to wish to be a better person, someone who could inspire others in such a fashion as he had. How I wish to instill those I work with at the rehab with this same yearning: to be a better person, to complete your mission in this lifetime, to do it right and inspire others.
As a grandmother myself, I could not help but hope that when my time comes, my family eulogizes and mourns me in such a way. I want them to hold me precious in their memories of our time together.