On a nice day it is easy to get lost in the Sharon, Massachusetts’s Memorial Graveyard. This past Thursday it was snowing. The ground was covered in white, each snow flake different, like I imagined each life had been. Looking out in front of me was the same view as looking behind and down and up, all equally white. There was something beautiful about new, fresh powder dancing around old souls.
We followed a caravan of cars to the hole that had been dug for my Grandma. My family arrived to watch them lower her grave into the ground. Right in front of our eyes, the plain wood box containing years of our memories went into the earth. Someone commented how glad they were that they did not just drop it down. I wished we had arrived a few minutes later. The men doing the work could not have been much older than 20. They wore blue uniforms and work boots covered in dirt and snow. Their hands were protected by work gloves and they talked as they worked, smiling, not disrespectfully, every once in awhile. We stayed in the car for as long as possible before the ceremony since it was scheduled to be outside in the cold.
They set up a tent for us with chairs for the family and the rabbi that knew my Grandma led the service. It was short, due to the cold, and maybe due to this long awaited moment, a death that not only saddened, but relieved, to be out of pain, to stop worrying and guilt, to finally imagine her smiling with Grandpa. The rabbi said wonderful things about her and I heard muffled sobs in each direction.
In Jewish tradition, we all buried her. The first person picked up the metal shovel and used the back end to throw dirt into the earth. We use the back because this should not be easy, the Rabbi told us. And, it was not. He stood the shovel up in the pile of dirt next to the grave and walked away. If he had handed it to the next person, it would have meant asking them to help. The person should only do this on their own free will. The second person pulled the shovel from the pile and again used the back end to help cover my Grandma. Then they turned the shovel over and used the regular side a few more times. At this point I could not feel my toes from the frost and found it hard to feel my heart. Eventually I heard the shovel slammed into the dirt and it was meant for me. I pulled it out and used the back end. As the dirt fell, so did stones and broken twigs. They made clanking noises against the wood. The rabbi had told us not to be offended by this. Just as we cannot take all the bad people out of the world, we cannot pick all the stones out of the earth. It is natural, just like death. It felt wrong to slam the shovel in the pile when I finished. I did not like the aggression I used, but knew I had to since the cold made the dirt stiff and broken. I walked away and got back into my father’s car where I turned on the heat and warmed my toes.
From the car, it felt like I was watching a movie. The people, all dressed in black, with hats and gloves and winter jackets to their ankles were contrasted by the soft white snowflakes that landed everywhere, on noses and cheeks, on winter hats and boot toes, on the grass and the dirt and in the hole in the earth that held my grandma’s body. They disappeared when they landed, dissolved into fabric, or joined the other flakes that created the white blanket on the ground. And then it was over. After so much heartache, it was over.
As everyone began walking back to their cars, I started to feel my toes again.