As I nervously waited for the funeral service to begin, a little girl sitting behind me complained to her mother. “I can’t see!” she said with a bit of a whine. Her mother assured her, “there is nothing to see, sweetie.” This couldn’t have been farther from the truth. The funeral was for my former father-in-law, a man I adored long after my marriage to his son was a distant memory. What was there to see? From my perspective, plenty! The rows were filled with friends and acquaintances but more importantly, nieces and nephews who flew in to South Florida from Los Angeles, Washington DC, Rochester, New York and New Jersey to honor their uncle. It wasn’t at all surprising to me, as Walter was always the glue that bound the family together. Whenever there was a simcha (happy occasion) or an opportunity for consolation, most of the family members made it a priority to be together. And if some of them claimed they couldn’t make it, they received a stern, but loving reminder from Walter, of the importance of maintaining familial relationships. I loved this about him.
After the funeral, we went back to my former mother-in-law’s residence for the traditional Jewish “meal of condolence.” This is a fascinating and comforting custom. It is the first meal that the mourners eat after the burial, and it is customary to eat round foods, such as eggs, lentils, and bagels, symbolizing continuity and the cycle of life and death. Traditional practices of mourning attempt to strike a balance between expressing one's suffering and recognizing the need to resume one’s daily life. So it’s not surprising that the first moment of mourning is connected to a meal. Friends and relatives usually make the arrangements and in addition to the “round” foods, they provide a nourishing and nurturing environment for the mourners.
Once again, the connection for me between food, family and tradition was unmistakable. I am fortunate to have these rituals to lean on and I was incredibly fortunate to have known a man whose commitment to his family was paramount. I will miss him.