Mourning marathon

By Geoffrey Paul
February 26, 2009

We need a new short prayer for funerals. The two I have been to most recently, although they took place in the open, involved neither burial nor, plainly, cremation. In fact, rather than calling them funerals it would be more appropriate to term them farewells to the departed. They were conducted at the back of an open hearse kitted out with a sophisticated public address system over which tributes to the departed were directed at the closed box within and to family, friends and surprised passers-by in the street. As both took place after dark, there was a rather surreal aspect to the obsequies. The timing was inevitable since the hearse was going to be heading, not for Bushey, but for the evening plane to Israel. There, next day, the deceased would be buried in the hallowed soil of the Holy Land.
But you cannot plan for every eventuality, as we discovered one evening this week. The rabbi having recited appropriate psalms and said a few appreciative words, we lined up behind the hearse in traditional Orthodox manner to walk some small part of the way in final tribute to the one who had gone before. The driver paced it rather more slowly than necessary for even the halt and near-lame amongst us. So the rabbi, striding ahead to draw abreast of the man at the wheel, suggested he might move along a bit faster. There was obviously some breakdown in communication. The mourners, having walked no more than twenty or thirty paces, were brought to a staggered stop as the hearse accelerated away and was out of sight before you could say Shalom chaver!


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