Ceremony to Honor One Who Has Died
Presented at the 2015 North American Chevra Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference
I have developed this ceremony, inspired by the Jewish tradition of Tahara, to encourage others to use or create their own for their loved one. This is one way to respectfully bring closure and comfort following death. The ceremony can be personalized by adding or substituting personal memories and stories, for example, “Her eyes beheld with joy her infant granddaughter, her voice delighted many as she sang old-time favorites whenever given the chance, her mouth spoke words of wisdom and encouragement, her breasts suckled three children, her hands cared for her beloved roses or baked endless cookies, her feet carried her on well-worn paths up the mountains she loved…”
Individuals may take turns doing part of the ceremony, or there can be a leader, allowing others to add in. Stories could continue after the ceremony is complete, granting a longer time of closeness and comfort. The ceremony can take place wherever the one who has died is. A candle may be lit, or other simple articles of beauty or memory placed close by.
Feel free to adapt and share this, and please include my name and contact information.
Begin by expressing gratitude in being present. I honor you, Source of life. I am grateful for all that has brought me to this moment. I am grateful to have been nourished by the wellspring of life, to be aware of Your Presence now, to feel beloved and part of the whole. I give thanks for the privilege of honoring this one before me now, in the fullness of her life and death.
Daughter of an ancient lineage, I honor you. Please forgive me if anything I do or say would not be pleasing to you.
Gazing at her face, gently stroke her forehead and cheeks. I honor your face, the face of the divine. You felt the heat of day, the cool of evening, wind and rain.
Touch her eyebrows and very gently, her eyes. I honor your eyes, which beheld the wonders of creation: blue sky and bright sunshine, clouds and rain, sunrises and sunsets. By night you saw the moon wax and wane, and the distant stars. You saw plants and people grow, blossom, fruit and die. You watched seasons change, year by year. Your eyes saw birds soaring from tree to tree, butterflies, an array of the animals of Earth. Tears shed in happiness and grief came from these eyes. You beheld both injustice and kindness.
Touch her nose and ears. Your nose smelled the fragrance of flowers and aromas of baked food, the air fresh and enlivened after rain. Your ears let you enjoy favorite music, birdsong and crickets, thunder, and the familiar voices of those who were close. You heard stories of others, their challenges and victories, their laughter and your own.
Very gently, touch her lips. Your mouth smiled with happiness, spoke words of meaning, uttered surprise at the unexpected. Perhaps you sang at times and were silent at others. You tasted flavors and felt textures of favorite foods; the pleasure of thirst-quenching water when your mouth was dry. Your lips may have kissed with love, tenderness and promise.
Brush her hair. Your hair, washed and styled time after time, changing with the years.
Hold her shoulders for a moment, stroke down her arms, then take each hand in yours. Shoulders which carried a sense of purpose and responsibility, standing tall, at times shrugging or drooped with tiredness. Arms strong in the day-to-day tasks of life. Hugging, holding, empty. Hands that spoke with meaning, wrote words, prepared food, and a thousand other things.
Hold your hands about six inches above her body, moving slowly from her collarbone to her mid-thighs. I honor your heart, lungs, and other organs, which worked as a whole for you to live and breathe every moment of your life. Your breasts, womb; your sacred woman-parts.
Still holding your hands above her body, move them from mid-thigh to her feet, then gently hold her feet. These legs propelled you down streets and over hills. Your feet carried you across the earth, taking you on purposeful travels and perhaps walking also for the pleasure of it.
Slowly sweep your hands above her whole body three times. May this journey into the unknown be one of peace. May you go in blessing.
Wrap the sheet about her, starting at her feet, then sides, and finally her head. Stand facing her in stillness for as long as feels right, blow out or turn off the candle if there is one. Open your hands, close your eyes, breathe deeply and say, Thank you.
Celebrating Transitions, Honoring Life and Spiritual Wholeness