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As you most probably already know, I took a quick trip to Phoenix to join my family at the funeral of my father in law, Leroy Paller. The officiating Rabbi was quite solicitous as well as professional — and he was quite ready to have me co-officiate along with him. And I quickly realized that I needed to be among the mourners as a member of the family, not as a pastor. Some rabbis may differ, but I don’t think you can mindfully be both a comforting rabbinic guide as well as a grieving son in law. So I quickly communicated my desire to have my colleague be in charge.
Leroy passed away on Thursday and Sharona flew out that day. Zohar and Maya followed suit on Friday. Over Shabbat, I was focused on the joyous occasions within our kehilla — Jan’s Bat Mitzvah and Marla and Ben’s wedding. While there were plenty of things rolling around in my mind; How are Sharona and the kids holding up in the midst of a powerful emotional and spiritual milestone? How am I doing as I begin processing the life and the loss of my father in law? How can I contribute at my best for all the family, guests and participants in the weekend festivities?
Here’s the best shorthand I know in terms of the Torah that guided me through the weekend: Be Here Now. Those words come from a Jewish guy who had his Hindu awakening several decades ago. The idea can be found in the wisdom of several faith traditions. It’s about mindfully attending the moment you’re in. My Polish bubbe would opine that your tuchas can’t dance at two weddings at the same time. So, for example, when it was time to enjoy wonderful davening and the Torah shared at the Bat Mitzvah, that was the focus worthy of 100% of my energy (or as close as possible to that level of focus. ) And just before it was time to pack a quick suitcase, I remembered Facebook — a complicated place for me. I’ve railed against the superficiality as well as the vitriolic sludge that plagues Facebook. And I’ve enjoyed the way people can connect in loving ways across great distances. I posted a short notice about Leroy’s passing. There has been a tremen-dous outpouring of condolence from people from so many places. And because I could quickly share these ex-pressions with Sharona, Maya and Zohar, they took a measure of solace, courtesy of Facebook. And something else: I noticed how much my children matured between my dad’s passing and this most recent loss. In this little blurb I chose to focus on their names — almost leaving out mentioning them as my kids. I remembered how they comforted me a few years ago and I saw how they stepped up to be there for their grandma, Faye.
Okay, the wrap-up. As a rabbi, I’m reminded of just what a terrific little shul I’m privileged to serve. As a mourner, I’m reminded of just how healing ritual is, and just vital a caring pastoral presence is for a family in the midst of an emotionally challenging moment. It’s been an exhausting and exhilarating and complicated few days. And it’s good to be home.