let us grieve
My dad called last night. When I asked about his weekend, he spoke of going to the funeral of the grandpa of family friends of mine growing up. Sammy was honey-sweet ~ warm-heart, raspy voice, always with a kind word, and with loving flirtations toward his equally warm tho often anxious wife. My dad mentioned that the rabbi who led the funeral is someone he thinks I know. Indeed, it was someone I know so well, who I worked for for two years, and who, as difficult as I sometimes found him, actively helped me get jobs which were formative in my development as clergy during my time in DC. The man he mentioned is someone I have gratitude for, who I learned so much from, and who triggered me plenty. Before I could tell my dad I knew exactly who he meant, he said, I really didn't like what that guy did.
My dad isn't one to critique a funeral, he tends to look for the good in a thing rather than what's lacking. But he was clearly upset about what had happened. The rabbi, he said, brought too much levity in. He didn't let us feel sad. He wanted us to be happy, when this wasn't actually the moment for that. After the service was over, he even sung dreidl dreidl dreidl on guitar. It was not what anyone needed. Let us grieve please.
This rant from my dad surprised me. And reminded me of a session earlier in the day I'd had with a woman who was preparing to officiate her second funeral of the week, and was working to dial the liturgy in, so she would better be able to feel confident in simultaneously serving the liturgical asks of a traditional Jewish funeral and the heart needs of the mourners. I felt into the ritual class I taught at seminary this week, when we landed on the topic of how to end well, and spoke of the importance of directly doing the thing, of facing, embracing, or being in on full presence with whatever is completing rather than avoiding, euphemizing or extending.
Baba is a master of this, and devoted such attention to countering death phobic culture. It matters to him to show up for the deep beauty in the truth of the thing, particularly when the thing at hand is death. I remember the boggle in my mind the first time I heard the Sufi frame of death as "wedding the Beloved." I understood it immediately but watched my linear self confuse at how fully to believe the metaphor. In the wee hours after Baba died, I remember typing so many texts written just that way: Baba has wedded the Beloved, come now.
Things were moving too fast that night to pay much attention to language, I was saying what was true in the way that Baba wanted it said. But after almost two years of using this phrase to describe the urs / death anniversary / wedding anniversary with the Beloved of one who is beloved to me, after almost two years of reaching for contact for him and him showing me he is nearer even than before, I am aware the wedding the Beloved doesn't feel like a euphemism for dying to me. Dying feels like a euphemism for wedding the Beloved.
I think of Barbara Carrellas, who writes of bringing sex toys into hospice wards to weave pleasure into the lives of dear dying friends. I remember the delight that Yosefa, my student who became my teacher as I midwifed her death, expressed when I told her what Carrellas did. We spoke of how that was both pleasure activism, a claiming of eros in a moment that is generally hyperfocused on what is wrong in the body, and also an encouragement to practice toward the possibility of bliss at the moment of death. Orgasm as petit mort and death as a possibility of grand orgasm. Yosefa adored this and in many moments of raging or bawling at what was, chose to land in the possibility of greatest pleasure. It was entirely how she approached her impending moment of death, and she ultimately rocked that to a degree that utterly changed what I, and all who tended her closely, understood about dying.
Back to my dad, who I don't like to talk about in the same breath I am speaking of sex or death. But here we are, here was he, visibly upset that his chance to grieve fully, that his opportunity to show up to honor the life of one of his elders, was interrupted by someone's need to bring light where dark belongs.
I start singing in my head the song Cave of the Heart, a hymn we wrote for Baba this past Shavuot. Come into the Cave of My Heart, She welcomes you. I think about the many ways that mourners in the liminal of deep grief may need to be called back by their community into existence on this earthly plane, and to the joy that is possible here. But more than that, I feel the thick moist, mossy stone deep of the cave, beckoning you, beckoning me, to reckon with whatever may scare us about the Mystery, and to embrace Her just the same. To open to the possibility that the Cave, and the portal beyond, may be scented with all of the fragrances that please us most, may be the lushest of caresses, may be a procession guided by the most exquisite harmonies as we glide to the altar of a Beloved more receiving, more revering, more available to love us up than we have ever imagined.
I've sung this song so many times in so many ways. This morning I hear it new, as if it can be a serenade from the Beloved to the ones Zhe calls home, in pleasure. Come into the Cave of My Heart. The Cave of My Heart, She welcomes you.