Jewish way of death, and food

So for the last several months I’ve been worried about my mother’s function. Going on 90 yo, feeble, very limited eyesight, with some dementia, living ~4 hours away in New York, she was falling periodically, forgetting her meds, even blowing off doctor’s appointments. After a serious talk with her best friend about our mutual concern, I started calling her daily. Admittedly, a lot of the conversation was my noodging her about taking her meds (e.g. hypertension pill), and pushing her to admit someone other than myself to her apt., say to help clean (a very private, independent person).

Talked to her last Friday, as did a couple of her friends. Saturday afternoon her building’s superintendent, concerned that she (being a devout Orthodox Jew) had not come downstairs to go to synagogue, went up, entered her apt and found her dead in her bed. He called me (I’m not a believer) and I called the ambulance corp. But that’s about all we could get moving. Well, except for calls to the friends we had invited to our joint birthday party planned for Saturday evening. Whoops. (One couple missed the message canceling, and showed up; so it goes.)

A bit after sundown Saturday, we were able to get a call through to her rabbi, arrange for her body’s removal, and on his say-so, arrange for a funeral and burial on Sunday. My sweetheart and I packed, got a morning train into the city, and sped through the process.

You know what? As miserable as this was, and as I still am, I don’t have to worry about my mother’s safety any more. Dead is safe. During the period of worry, I had a couple of episodes of disorientation, which is what goes on when I’m stressed bad, say by weather changes plus arthritis pain plus something else challenging–or by exercise plus fear for my mother. The docs told me to go a bit easier when swimming and to up my nortriptaline from 40 mG to 75 mG each evening.

Back to the funereal doings. I was concerned about how my religious relatives would respond to us–me, the non-believer, and my wife, the non-Jew. As it turned out, they were fine, warm, even, except for one tartar of an aunt. The rabbi turned out to be a nice guy, who spoke very acceptingly when I interrupted his explanation of the rituals I would need to follow over the next week to explain that I’d found someone else to say kaddish, as I cannot voice any prayer with sincerity. (He seemed to forget this demurral on a couple of occasions further along, but that may just have been operation of his habit of dealing with mourners.)

At some point along here, I developed a headache, probably encouraged although probably not brought on by the hat I wore out of respect for the religious family and friends. Just a headache. Leaving Maryland, I’d taken along two cream cheese sandwiches on whole grain. One took me as far as the funeral parlor.

At the cemetery I got a bit frenetic digging, as we covered the coffin. Emotion can make me stupid. fortunately, no harm. We fulfilled all the rituals that were important to the community, and that’s the main reason we were there. From death to burial was well under 24 hours. That’s the way the Orthodox do it when they can. (Well, I can’t speak for the Greek or Russian Orthodox, just the Jewish.)

Once the limo had brought us and some of my mother’s friends back, my sweetheart and I headed downtown to find a hotel and some dinner. That turned out to be a mix of the fortunate and the tough. We found a moderate-priced (for manhattan) decent hotel room near Times Square and parked our bags, and then walked over to an ice rink. Overlooking it was a restaurant. The rink was a great distraction, and the food was needed. Unfortunately, this was the less-fortunate type of restaurant experience. I asked our server, “What’s in this sauce?” “I’m afraid I don’t know, and I can’t think of anyone who’s here now who would.” I ended up ordering a steak sandwich whose meat almost certainly had been marinaded in some trigger or triggers. Luckily, my wife only had room for half her salad, which was lightly dressed with a white balsamic vinegar-and-oil. Even so, by the time we’d walked the three blocks back to the hotel and hit our room, my head was spinning.

Monday, before we headed home, I went at it a lot more more carefully: dressingless green salad, a container of cottage cheese, . . . .

So this past week I’ve stuck to the house, a loose interpretation of the practice of “sitting shiva.” “Shivah” is hebrew for “seven,” referring to the days of acute mourning. We let friends and relatives know I was here, and specified some evenings as the times for visiting. The tradition is that visitors bring food, because mourners are not expected to do things such as cooking that would distract from dealing with grief. My fear was that well-meaning friends would bring foods that were full of triggers, and I’d have to either take risks with the MAV or with embarrassing friends,maybe even hurting feelings.

Fortunately, this has not been very much the case. My sweetie has provided some finger foods for people to enjoy while visiting, including one or two types of cracker that are safe for me to eat. And she can eat and drink whatever comes. Some very good friends shipped a package of dainties, not one of which I dared eat–but they weren’t here to see that. Other friends either knew enough not to bring food or didn’t seem to pay attention to who ate what.

So it’s worked pretty well. And I cry when I need to, and I send thank you cards to the people who came to the funeral,and I look through pictures of my mother. And with Friday night, now, officially Shiva ends, for those who care about these things. For me, I don’t know just when I’ll feel like getting back to handling business, but I’ve had a chance to heal a bit over the course of the week. My sweetheart as well, because she and my mother had grown to love each other. Fortunately, she is entitled to three days of bereavement leave.

One element I’m particularly grateful for is that mostly I experienced headaches and a little nausea by way of MAV; just the one room-spinning response to an unfortunate restaurant dish. When it’s bad, it can cause me seizure-type activity–from mild brain fog up to a memory gap. This has not happened. Well, my wife and I are both not at our sharpest, but it doesn’t take MAV to cause that when someone you love dies.

David - I’m so sorry for your loss. You held up really well with all that went on including emotional stress and food triggers! Take really good care of yourself during this time. Your story was so touching… you are a good son!

David, so sorry to hear about your mother. It’s true that dead is safe, but that doens’t make it any easier to deal with the complex emotions of grief, loss, and maybe even some relief - even without the MAV stuff on top

Be good to yourself,

I’m so sorry to hear your sad news. My thoughts are with you and your wife.

Take care


David Im so sorry to hear about your loss. My mother is almost 94 and its very hard. I worry a lot even though she has someone living with her - her mind is not what it used to be and she has spinal stenosis and is getting so she hates taking meds also - her roommate/caretaker practically has to force her to take stuff.

again im sorry for your loss. it’s gotta be hard - i’m dreading that day myself



I was so moved by your post. It felt a process of grieving in the writing and in the reading. I’m very sorry for your loss, it’s never easy.



So sorry to hear about your loss. So glad you managed to get through all the arrangements OK, so difficult when you are grieving and suffer from MAV.

My mum is 86 and lives on her own 20 miles away so I fully understand all of what you were saying about the “reminding to take the pills” etc. It all gets harder as they need more and more help. My mum has been in hospital a few times over the last two years and we are constantly driving up to the hospital or to mums as she is now housebound and reliant on us for most things.
I also understand the fact that you feel you no longer have to worry about her, as it is very stressful when they are so dependent and you push yourself probably too hard and make yourself ill worrying and doing for them.

Now though, you can relax knowing you did everything you could when she needed you and for the funeral. I am sure she would have been proud of you.

My thoughts are with you at this very sad time.


David, what a moving post you wrote. Losing a family member is hard and I am sorry you are going through this now. Even when its expected it is hard to deal with, so many emotions going on, sadness, yet relief right at the top of the list. May the kindness of others bring your comfort during this time.

Dear David,

So sorry to hear this news. I remember my father saying to me after Mom died, “I wouldn’t want her back the way she was.” Dementia and frailty rob our Moms of so much - I understand how you feel a sense of relief. It’s not only that you are relieved of the worry, it’s that she is relieved of the kind of life she was living.

I’m so glad you didn’t have all out symptoms through the services - it could have been much worse! With a migraine brain, you could have been in a really bad way but it sounds like you weren’t staggering due to dizziness or anything like that at any point during the funeral. (Even if you had, that would have been OK, since family members are expected to be overcome with emotions, but we don’t LIKE to be having a hard time walking a straight line when all eyes are on us!)

I’m not Jewish, but I think the Jewish way of death is one of the healthier traditions in how it treats the grieving process. As I understand it, people will know that for the next year you will continue to deal with this change in your life. Some days will be better than others. Some days it may hit you out of the blue, much harder than you would expect. Some days that you expect might be difficult (birthdays, anniversaries, etc) may turn out not to be as hard as you think - it’s different for everybody. But the Jewish tradition recognizes that you should be given support because healing is always easier when it’s not done in isolation.

Be gentle with yourself. And again, I’m so sorry for your loss.

David, so sorry to hear of you’re loss. It’s heartbreaking to lose a parent. So pleased you managed to get through the funeral. I’d also like to say what a wonderful partner you have, which is clear in all your posts, but even more so in this post. Take care through the hard weeks to come.
Tracey x

I would like to add my condolences as well.Very moving post and I think you handled everything brilliantly.Like others here my mom is 91 soon to be 92.She went into an extended care facility last January.I am always worrying about her as she is so far away.I’m glad that you have the support of your wife and friends and family.

Hi David,
I am so sorry to hear your sad news. Your message was extremely moving; it really touched me. I am glad the MAV is behaving itself, as the last thing you need at a time like this is a flare up of your dizziness.
Thinking of you and your family. Take care.


You write so very well. I was really taken and moved by the story of your mother. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss.


Thank you all, friends. I appreciate your own concerns, particularly Chris, Christine, and James.

One thing I learned, for future reference should I need it, is NOT to rely on someone’s doctor to be the decision-maker, not unless they have given evidence that they really are looking out for the person I love.