At 23, I’ve lived a pretty varied and well-rounded life.
So it’s interesting that the experience of living in Canada has exposed me to a lot of ‘first-offs’.
First snow, first skate on a lake, first Christmas away from home, and today, a sad first:

first funeral.

Tragically, two friends of mine from camp lost their mother yesterday.

Though it is of course an awful situation, it was amazing to me to see the way the community responded and with such rapidity. The majority of my friends in Toronto are Jewish, and so the service today was different from those that I have seen depicted in movies (the root of my funeral knowledge).

At the service, a huge group of people turned out to pay their respects, so many in fact that people had to stand at the back of the room. Every one signed a book when they entered, and the majority of men donned Kippah’s. The service included prayers in Hebrew, and my two friends and their older brother spoke about their mother, who sounds like she was a pretty awesome Mum and member of the community. The prayers were repeated in English, and though not a religious person myself, the sentiments carried through the service affected me deeply. The Rabbi spoke about leaving the service and remembering to take each day as a blessing, trying to let the service change you a little bit to be a bit more thoughtful to those around you.

This is something that I will try to carry away.

We travelled in a procession (police escort) twenty minutes from the funeral home to the cemetery. It was a beautiful day full of sunshine and crisp winter air, with fresh white snow on the ground. At the gravesite, the Rabbi explained that the final kindness you can pay someone who has passed away is to shovel dirt onto the coffin, first three times with the back of the shovel, to signify that this is not a pleasant task, and then from there with the front side of the shovel. It was a very big group surrounding the plot, and so many people were there to shovel that they did the entire thing (apparently sometimes they use a machine to push the dirt in to bury the coffin completely.)

In Jewish culture, after someone dies, they hold a ‘Shiva‘ at a relatives house. Unfortunately I have been to a Shiva before, recently, when another friends Grandfather passed away. At a Shiva, as far as I’m aware, there are times when you can visit the family and pay your respects. There are refreshments and nibbles. Mirrors are covered as a grieving family is not meant to look in a mirror.

And so after the cemetery we grabbed some lunch, and then went to the Shiva. We had not had a chance to speak to our friends at the service or at the burial, obviously. But a Shiva is like a Wake, I guess, and it was nice to be able to share a drink and a hug with my friends in this devastating time. It was a moment to just be around, talk about stuff. To try to make them smile and tell them that you are around, and available.

It was my first funeral, and first Jewish funeral, and the whole thing just struck me as being about love and community and celebrating someone’s life, while also mourning their death.

Life is a series of events from start to finish, Births, Birthdays, Graduations, Weddings, Funerals.

Today will remind me to love each moment, to be grateful for the good, the bad, the difficult, the easy, the dull and the bright because all these things make up a full life, and a full, healthy and happy life is all you can hope for in the end.