Jewish Law (Halacha) on Burial and Cremation

To learn more about the halachic basis for modern Jewish funerary practices, as well as two environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional burial, you might wish to read this article I wrote for Jewish Currents magazine. View here.

Resources on Grief, Mourning, and Death

The Jewish Book of Grief and Healing: A Spiritual Companion for Mourning, edited by Stuart Matlins, is another wonderful resource featuring essays from spiritual leaders from across the Jewish world. This book is more of a personal exploration into grief and healing, with writings from some of my favorite teachers: Debbie Friedman, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, and Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, just to name a few.

Beloved and respected spiritual leaders from across the denominational spectrum share insights from Jewish tradition and from their own personal encounters with grief and healing. This wide range of perspectives, offered with grace and compassion, can be a treasured resource in times of grief.

Buy it here >>

Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, edited by Jack Riemer, is a wonderful compendium of writings by Jewish educators from across the denominational spectrum.

Part 1 explains the history and varied traditions of burial, shiva, kaddish, and hevra kadisha (burial society). Part 2 explores such ethical issues as euthanasia, stillborn births, and Jewish views of the afterlife.

Buy it here >>

Meetings at the Edge: Dialogues with the Grieving and the Dying, the Healing and the Healed, by Stephen Levine and Ondrea Levine, is a book born of the Levines‘ work as founding directors of the Hanuman Foundation Dying Project.** Beginning in the mid-1980s, the husband-wife team staffed a 24-hour-a-day hotline for people dealing with catastrophic situations involving death, dying, and extreme grief.

As one colleague explains: “(This book) shows what is possible, when one’s mind has been stilled by meditation, and one’s heart is receptive and in a place of love. Many of us feel embarrassed or frightened by death. Stephen shows that honest loving acknowledgment of a person’s situation is a prerequisite before healing can happen (healing of mind and heart, as physical healing, may not be possible). He goes straight to the heart of callers’ situations, including those of a parent whose child was murdered, another parent whose child was washed away at sea and never found, and of many people who themselves are approaching death. He has the courage to be direct and the compassion to be gentle. And AMAZING transformations follow… .”

Buy it here >>

** I also recommend you spend some time on the Hanuman Foundation website.

Accidental Grace: Poetry, Prayers, and Psalms by Rabbi Rami Shapiro isn’t about death or mourning per se. But nothing inspires us to seek out life’s deeper meanings and truths more than the death of someone close.

This book, published in 2016, is a collection of the life’s work of spiritual teacher, writer, rabbi, and poet Rami Shapiro, who has taught thousands of people in workshops across North America for a quarter century. If you’ve been to a Reform or Reconstructionist Shabbat service in the past decade, you’ve probably read some of his beautifully inspired words!

Buy it here >>

Recommended Fiction Novels & Memoirs

I am such a lover of nonfiction, I rarely make it to the fiction titles on my reading list; however, I appreciate that for some folks, life challenges are sometimes easier to contemplate through the lens of fiction. Here are some memoirs and novels on loss and mourning recommended by some of my friends who work as editors, psychotherapists, and clergy:

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion addressed the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The book was published in 2005, months after their daughter Quintana Roo Dunne — their only child — died at age 39. In her new book, Blue Nights, the 76-year-old author has pieced together literary snapshots and retrieved memories about her daughter’s life and death.

Buy it here >>

NPR podcast on Didion >>

Reflections in Vanity Fair magazine by famous journalist Dominick Dunne on author Joan Didion and her work: View it here >>

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel by Max Porter Graywolf Press, 2016

Here he is, husband and father, scruffy romantic, a shambolic scholar—a man adrift in the wake of his wife’s sudden, accidental death. And there are his two sons who like him struggle in their London apartment to face the unbearable sadness that has engulfed them. The father imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness, while the boys wander, savage and unsupervised.

In this moment of violent despair, they are visited by Crow—antagonist, trickster, goad, protector, therapist, and babysitter. This self-described “sentimental bird,” at once wild and tender, who “finds humans dull except in grief,” threatens to stay with the wounded family until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and the pain of loss lessens with the balm of memories, Crow’s efforts are rewarded and the little unit of three begins to recover: Dad resumes his book about the poet Ted Hughes; the boys get on with it, grow up.

Part novella, part polyphonic fable, part essay on grief, Max Porter’s extraordinary debut combines compassion and bravura style to dazzling effect. Full of angular wit and profound truths, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers is a startlingly original and haunting debut by a significant new talent.

Buy it here >>

Jake Fades: A Novel of Impermanence by David Guy Penguin Random House, 2008

Jake is a Zen master and expert bicycle repairman who fixes flats and teaches meditation out of a shop in Bar Harbor, Maine. Hank is his long-time student. The aging Jake hopes that Hank will take over teaching for him. But the commitment-phobic Hank doesn’t feel up to the job, and Jake is beginning to exhibit behavior that looks suspiciously like Alzheimer’s disease. Is a guy with as many “issues” as Hank even capable of being a Zen teacher? And are those paradoxical things Jake keeps doing some kind of koan-like wisdom . . . or just dementia?

These and other hard questions confront Hank, Jake, and the colorful cast of characters they meet during a weeklong trip to the funky neighborhood of Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As they trek back and forth from bar to restaurant to YMCA to Zen Center to doughnut shop, answers arise—in the usual unexpected ways.

Buy it here >>

Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by Christopher Buckley Hachette Book Group, 2009

In 12 months between 2007 and 2008, Christopher Buckley coped with the passing of his father, William F. Buckley, the father of the modern conservative movement, and his mother, Patricia Taylor Buckley, one of New York’s most glamorous and colorful socialites. He was their only child and their relationship was close and complicated. Writes Buckley: “They were not—with respect to every other set of loving, wonderful parents in the world—your typical mom and dad.”

As Buckley tells the story of their final year together, he takes readers on a surprisingly entertaining tour through hospitals, funeral homes, and memorial services, capturing the heartbreaking and disorienting feeling of becoming a 55-year-old orphan. Buckley maintains his sense of humor by recalling the words of Oscar Wilde: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.”

Just as Calvin Trillin and Joan Didion gave readers solace and insight into the experience of losing a spouse, Christopher Buckley offers consolation, wit, and warmth to those coping with the death of a parent, while telling a unique personal story of life with legends.

Buy it here >>

Star Child: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief by Jennifer Martin iUniverse, 2018

At age 4, author Jennifer J. Martin’s son, Kelly, was diagnosed with a rare inherited metabolic disorder, mucopoly-saccharidosis, or MPS, which caused multiple complications throughout his short life. He lived until the age of 23, when he died of a sudden heart attack.

Star Child: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief is a deeply poignant look at Martin’s bittersweet healing journey following her son’s death. Written from the soul of a bereaved parent and for the spirits of other grieving parents, Star Child proclaims death as a harsh mistress and grief as the dark pain in a loved one’s heart. Divided into three sections: Entering the Labyrinth of Grief, Traversing the Darkness, and Emerging from the Other Side, Martin shares her personal story through journal entries, poems, and essays.

Martin’s heartfelt expressions in Star Child celebrate Kelly’s brief life and give grieving parents solace and support, allowing healing to finally begin.

Buy it here >>


How Can I Help?

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, contact me today.