Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning - Planning the Headstone

The time has come to plan my father’s headstone. First, how is it no one told us a stone could take 3-4 months to get done? How is that possible? We assumed 1-2, but now entire schedules are thrown into a tizzy, and I have no idea what to do. This week, as we plan for Pesach, I will be calling monument companies to figure this out.

Also, why does no one put costs, even general costs, on their websites. They all seem to expect you to come into their “showroom.” Well, that showroom is a day’s drive. I imagine I’m not the only person to be buying from afar, so why are the websites so unhelpful? So far the best has been St Charles. (Clearly not Jewish) Their website made me feel like they cared. They have a buying guide with general prices (which none of the Jewish businesses have), materials, and explanations. They also seem to have a shorter wait time. I cannot understand this difference, and it frustrates me. Why are the Jewish business website harder to deal with? Do they think/know that many, if not most, will simply accept this rather than going to one of the clearly Christian companies? I am not that person. Of course this also just adds more work to my plate.

In Hebrew a headstone is a מצבה (matzevah). It is a pillar set as a monument. Somehow that seems like so much more than a spot merely to place information. Mom has nixed the phrase, “mostly tolerated and beloved.” I’m sure she was right. Daddy likely would have haunted us, and I’d never hear the end of it in the afterlife. It still gave us a lot of laughter. (Everyone, really everyone, agreed it fit.) Instead we settled on the phrase “accidental gardener.” Daddy was a gardener, but his habits often left him with unknown or accidental growing things. My favourite was the time we threw some decorative gourds onto the compost. (Daddy was composting and using drip irrigation long before it was at all common in North America.) That summer a vine grew. It took over much of the yard, but Daddy left it to see what it was. Ornamental gourds. There were dozens and dozens. We were giving away baskets of them. They were all over the house: on tables, in centerpieces. There were seed packets with labels torn off, missing markers, and more. But it was always wonderful. He was constantly moving plants around, planning and replanning. Seed catalogs came by the dozens. And he loved to be able to give away seeds, plants, or gardening tool, books, or other paraphernalia. When my parents sold their house he knew the gardens were going to be mostly ripped out. He invited friends (including Russell’s and mine) and family to come a dig up whatever they wanted so he knew his plants would go to good homes.

פ״נ is another interesting thing on headstones. It means פא נקבר, here lies. My mother’s reaction... “Who else do they think is there?” We’ll be leaving that off.

Should there be an illustration? Kohanim get hands. Levi’im water pitchers. The sites all show pages and pages of pictures, from flowers to stars, and more. There are at least 10 different stars. On the other stones in the family plot there is a wreath with a bow. Mom was strangely unhappy about the bow. “WHay is there a bow?! He wouldn’t want a bow?! I don’t want a bow!” Okay Mom - we get it; NO BOW. Instead a star of David will adorn the stone, along with a carving of eye glasses. Now Daddy will always know where they are. Sean suggested that to him when he was alive. That he thought was funny. We’re leaving out his middle name. Mom didn’t think we needed Clive. He didn’t like it anyway. What kid from the Bronx would. We’re adding dates. There missing from all the other stones. My grandmother didn’t want people doing the math, but we’ve decided they’re important to future generations.

Then there are the platitudes, sorry, epitaphs. Was Daddy beloved, adored, devoted, cherished, caring? The list just goes on. Beloved is most common. And he was, even when making us nuts. My aunt wants “adored grandfather.” Also true.

Though so much of this seems silly, a matzehvah is meant to last and what we put there matters. Though we may joke, it is a serious business, and we want to do it right.

Star of David & glasses

ישראל יעקב בן אריה דוב ויטא רבקה
Bruce Elkin
October 18, 1935
Accidental Gardener
Beloved Husband
Daddy Brother
Adored Papa
י״ כסלו תשס״ח


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