I know that I have been using the word “death” a lot, but I don’t mean to be morbid or anything. It’s just that I can’t stand those awful alternatives “passed away” and “passed on.” People who use those terms always sound so full of false sympathy to me. Whenever I hear someone say, “I was terribly sorry to hear that so and so passed away,” a chill runs down my spine and I can’t help but wince at the sound of their words.
I know that the saying has a religious significance of some sort. And I know that people are simply saying that the person’s soul went on to heaven (or to a “better place,” or something like that). But, it still gives me the heebie jeebies whenever I hear those words used in reference to a dead person. Is death so awful that we can’t even mention it by name? Doe we have to pretend that something else is going on? I mean, really, people don’t pass away – they DIE.
Not that I am trying to offend anybody, or make some huge moral statement, or anything. It’s probably just my non-traditional religious upbringing that has me thinking this way. You see, I’m Jewish, but it sort of doesn’t matter all that much what my religion is. The truth is that my family and I don’t really practice our religion (or any religion for that matter).
According to my grandmother, Judaism isn’t only a religion, it’s also a culture. Apparently, a person can experience Jewish culture without actually being religious in the process.
Now, I can’t say that I completely understand my grandmother’s theory, and I don’t know that I ever will. But, I have to admit that it does seem to describe my family’s situation pretty well. I mean, we don’t really do anything religious. I don’t go to Hebrew School (like the rest of my Jewish friends do), and my family never goes to Synagogue, or keeps the Sabbath, or anything like that.
At the same time, we do have family dinners to celebrate some of the Jewish holidays (my favorite is Passover). And, as I have already explained, my father always lights candles to honor the dead. So, it’s not like we’re completely alienated from our Jewish roots. It’s just that our habits seem to have more to do with family tradition than they do with religious devotion. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny come to our house too.
But, even though some of my friends think that it’s weird that I don’t go to Hebrew School. And even though some of their parents think that my family shouldn’t celebrate religious holidays that aren’t Jewish ones (don’t ask me how I know this, I just do), I really don’t understand what the big deal is. Maybe it’s that non-traditional religious upbringing of mine, but I just don’t see anything bad or wrong with the way my family does things. I like my life – religion or no religion.
O.K., I’ll admit that when my mother died, and I had all of these really intense questions that needed answering, I sometimes wished that I had the answers to every one of them right in the palm of my hand. But, I didn’t. I had to figure things out for myself. And, I am just not sure that the Bible, or a Rabbi, or a Priest would have helped me any more than some of the other books that I have read, or the people I have talked to, or the experiences I have had. Besides, in all honesty, I’m pretty happy with the answers I came up with on my own. They work for me – for who I am right now; what I know, what I believe.
I may not be a religious person, but I am definitely a spiritual person. I believe in the soul, and I believe that the soul continues to exist even after the body stops functioning. Religion or no religion, when your mother up and dies on you when you are eight years old, you can’t possibly believe that death is the total end of everything. My mother may be dead, but I believe that her soul lives on. I’m just not sure where, exactly.
Maybe soul is synonymous with memory; a recollection, stored and maintained in the living bodies of others.
Maybe my mother’s soul lives inside of me and all of the people whose lives she touched when she was alive. Or, maybe, she’s hanging out with Harry Potter’s parents. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
In Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Hermione echoes my own feelings about death when she says, “whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched.”
I like to picture my mother when she was young like me (the way she looks in my grandparents’ old photo albums). She’s a girl again, with a long blond ponytail that swings wildly in the air as she pirouettes in her toe shoes. She’s laughing, and smiling, and she’s happy. And she doesn’t have breast cancer, because she doesn’t have breasts.