The email also asked if volunteers were available "to perform the mitzvah shmira." I've been Jewish, more or less, all my life but I didn't know what shmira was, so I consulted Rabbi Google, who introduced me to Elizabeth Savage at Tablet who'd written about her shmira experience earlier this year:
"Shmira, which literally means guarding, is one of the prescribed Jewish rituals surrounding death. The group in charge of these customs is called the Chevra Kedisha (literally “holy group/community”), which attends to the preparation and protection of the body between death and burial—a time when it’s believed the soul hovers in a sort of liminal space. Someone must clean and dress the body, and someone must sit shmira at all times."The Chevra Kedisha website offers a little more:
As I said, Crysta was a good friend, and we still had some things to tell each other and this seemed like a good opportunity. So I emailed back we were available except Wednesday evening. I guess I hadn't thought it through completely. The email with the Shmira schedule had us down for Wednesday morning from 4:30am to 6:30am. It took a few minutes for me to realize it was already Tuesday night and that meant we were expected in less than 10 hours. I told J she didn't really have to come with me at that hour, but she insisted.The Concept of ShmiraMany of the traditions and laws that pertain to the care and preparation of the Jewish dead are founded on two basic principles:1. The body as the container of the soul is to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
2. Although at death the soul departs the body, it still remains present near the body and is fully aware of all that transpires in its vicinity.
Thus the Shmira serves two purposes:
1. To guard the body from becoming prey for rodents and insects.
2. To give respect to the remains and consolation to the soul by not leaving the body
Actually, I do like it when I manage to get up and out really early in the morning when no one else is out and about. We knocked on the back door at the funeral home and the people before us let us in and even offered to leave some chocolate for us. I'd already learned that I wouldn't be literally sitting with the body, but rather in the same building. But there was no one else there but us and whatever bodies were there with Crysta.
So I read and I could hear Crysta asking questions or correcting me, always with an impish smile in her voice. And as I thought about our special relationship, I was reminded of Lydia Selkregg's funeral when one person after another stood up and talked about their special relationship with Lydia. What, I thought at the time, everyone had a special relationship!? It took a while to realize that didn't diminish the relationship I had had with her. I know that's also the case with Crysta. It's good to know that you can love lots and lots of people without diminishing any of those relationships. I remember wondering when J was pregnant with our second child: I love my son so much; how can there be enough love for yet another child. And after M was born, I learned that love is infinite.
Thanks, Crysta for being in my life. Your departure would be much more difficult if you hadn't lived life so well that seeds of your goodness are planted in so many people's hearts.
"When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes."