A couple of weeks ago while I was sitting in my favorite Richmond District cafe, Toy Boat, reading the paper, a man remarked to me, with dismay, "Why are you reading the obituaries!?!?" "Well," I answered, "it's part of life...."
I started reading the obits daily during my cancer treatment in 2002. I remember my eye catching an article about a 55 year old woman who died of breast cancer after a 5 year struggle with the disease. Okay, maybe not the most psychologically healthy thing for me to be reading at the time, considering the similarities in our situations. But what started with a morbid fascination with the death of those like me has become a way I honor the life of others in my community of all ages and situations.
Rabbi Lew often talks of the Abravanel teaching on the spiritual path represented by the Chumash, the 5 books of Moses. Bereshit/Genesis is the start of the spiritual path, the personal story always involving some sort of leavetaking. Shemot/Exodus is the revelation, and the entrance into community. Vayikra/Leviticus is about practice. Bamidbar/Numbers involves bringing the practice into our lives. And Devarim/Deuteronomy----that's about preparing for our death. When I first heard this teaching, I was fine with the first four, but the last one upset me. What does it mean--living our life so we can prepare for our death. But it is important to face our lack of immortality. In fact, it is that lack of immortality that gives us our spirituality.
So, why do I read the obituaries. In some ways, I guess, it's just the voyeur in me. But it's also a way to bring spirituality into my life by carrying a piece of someone else's life into my heart, even just for a moment. And it's not just about reading about those who are gone, but seeing them through the eyes of those who loved them. Yesterday, one notice was written in the form of a letter from a beloved only child, only daughter to her beloved father. You could feel the pain of her loss, but also her release. Sometimes it's a fond farewell to a favorite aunt or friend. Sometimes it's an homage to one who has lived many years on this earth giving to many.
By reading these notes, I get to share in all of it, honor those who are gone, grieve with those who remain, and realize that we don't travel the path alone.......