I was recently in conversation with a friend about the experience of being a rabbi and officiating at many funerals. I was asked if and how I was affected by encountering so much loss and death. While there is a great deal that could be said, and I'm sure many clergy would answer the question differently, the experience of officiating at funerals always leaves me contemplative, returning to some of life's biggest questions.
When I speak to friends and family of the deceased, in order to gather impressions and stories for a eulogy, or when I listen to the eulogies of others delivered at the funeral, particularly when I did not personally know the deceased or did not know them well, I am often left with the feeling that I missed out by not having had the opportunity to experience this individual in my life. It is a very powerful experience to hear how they were present in the lives of others, leaving one feeling a sense of their absence very strongly. The message - every life is unique and every person is special and has contributed something to the life of others.
I am also drawn to spend some time recognizing the preciousness of people in my life and sometimes find myself stepping into the time when they will not be with me in this world. I feel the potential of loss acutely, and my love for friends and family feels intensified in that moment.
I also find myself reflecting on my own life. Am I living it the way I would want it to be remembered? What is the source of my life's meaning?
We must not wait for the funerals of our lives to contemplate these questions to find meaning in all the connections we have and the communities we are part of. We must not wait until the end to tell others how much we truly loved them and cherished them in our lives, or how much we learnt from them. On Yom Kippur in the medieval poem unetaneh tokef we are asked to contemplate who shall live and who shall die. I don't believe in a God who is willfully making those decisions about each of us. But I do believe that every human being is unique and every life is special, and we are called upon at the New Year to return to who we truly are, recommit to connect more passionately and more deeply with each other. Because this is the only life that we have, and this is where we will find ultimate meaning and, ultimately, find God.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz