Think of me what you will, but I did not cry at my mother’s funeral. Perhaps it was because I had time to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, or perhaps that’s just the way I am. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me well, but from the very beginning to the very end, when it came to escorting my mother to her final resting place, I was forever the Rabbi.
But I did cry. The day after the funeral when I began to sit shiva at my sister’s house in Chicago, I read a note that the flight attendant had handed me. We were late leaving DFW and I feared missing my connection in Minneapolis to the G-d forsaken city, Winnipeg (which ultimately did happen.) Because I was seated in practically the last row of the aircraft, I explained my plight to the flight attendant. Not only did she move me to the front of the plane, but as I bolted from the aircraft, she handed me a handwritten note on a napkin. It read: “Dear Mr. Zell, I’m very sorry to hear about your recent loss, and I’m sorry that our unexpected delay has added more stress to your already difficult situation. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you. I wish I could do more. She’lo teida od tza’ar (may you know of no more sorrow.)”
I cried the day of the funeral, when I greeted two cousins of mine. It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen one of them. One flew in from Edmonton and the other turned his car around 120 miles west of Winnipeg as he was heading home to Banff. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be present to bury his Aunt Ida. Together, with four others, these two cousins from different sides of the family met to escort my mother’s casket to the hearse, as we made our way to the cemetery for the service. Upon arriving at the cemetery, I was nearly brought to tears as I looked out and saw thirty-five people, who had come to pay their respects. Some of them family, some of them friends – going all the way back to grade school. And there I was, having been of little faith, doubting very much that a minyan would be present so that my sisters and I could recite kaddish.
I cried when I met Harlene and Jay Pine, neighbors of my sister, who two weeks earlier, were on an odyssey to visit a grave of a great grandfather buried in the G-d forsaken city. While there, they made it a point to visit with my mother and spend over an hour with her looking at photographs. I cried at the daily phone calls that my mother would receive from her friend, Miriam Diamond, checking in to see if everything was okay. I cried at the visits my cousins would make from time to time coming over to the house to spend precious moments with their Aunt Ida.
I cried at the outpouring of concern and support, the trays of food, the text messages, emails, and phone calls from Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Israel, and of course, Dallas. They mean more to me than anyone can possibly imagine. They will be remembered and cherished for many years to come.
In all likelihood, I will continue to cry from time to time, not because my mother died but because my mother lived, imbuing me with priceless, as well as timeless, lessons of life that no institution of education could ever offer, and precious memories that will be cherished increasingly with the passage of time.
It is the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that Hashem will wipe away the tears from all faces. My tears of blessing and gratitude however will remain in my heart for as long as I live.