The Holiness of Tending the Dead

I found this moving, and oddly comforting.

We placed a linen cloth over her face, and tied the bonnet on, and then she was a bundled white human-shaped figure: no features, no distinguishing marks, only legs and arms, a torso and a head, a small still white figure. A little awkwardly we lifted her and placed her atop the white sheet we had laid over the plain pine box, and wrapped the sheet over her, and then, suddenly, out of the blue, I was shaking with silent tears. I leaned on the edge of the coffin of a woman I had never known, and understood what we had done for her, and wept and wept.

–Rachel Barenblat

Do read the entire, tender story of her first experience with taharah at her blog, Velveteen Rabbi.

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2 Comments on “The Holiness of Tending the Dead”

  1. Pat Says:

    Sorry, I can’t get there from here. I want to be sympathetic but . . . . Can’t buy this.

    My cousin passed away Wednesday afternoon. I had been visiting him often, and he actually died only one hour after I departed from my last visit. So death is fresh in my mind, and recent.

    But I totally am unable to relate to the paragraph. Not to criticize you, be assured. But it doesn’t feel like death the way I have beheld it.


    Pat (and “Terrorist”)

    Pat and “Terrorist”

  2. Kathryn Says:

    Hi, Pat. Yes, death is very recently fresh in my mind as well. I’m sure the posts of late indicate that.

    I was drawn to the post on Velveteen Rabbi because she explores her reaction to dealing closely with a dead body, with the ritual of preparing it according to her religious customs. While I don’t share her beliefs, I was moved by her response. I was with my father-in-law the week that he died. I was by his side almost every hour, and watched the changes he went through. I witnessed his last breath and the rapid retreat of warmth and color from his flesh. I felt grief, terror, and awe.

    I imagine others will share her response, while just as many have a different experience. I’d be interested in hearing more about death as you have beheld it, if you ever wish to share.