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Facing Death

I’m a rabbi. As such, I deal with death frequently. I officiate at maybe five funerals a year. I spend a lot of time at graveyards (compared to your average American). Death is something I think about and talk about professionally. But I don’t have to deal with it in my own life very often.

Until now. Somehow, over the past three months or so, I’ve found myself dealing the loss of a number of people in my life. My friend Paul┬ádied in April, while I was in Boston spending time with my grandfather who was in hospice. My grandfather died at the end of May. And my college classmate Elinor passed away last night, following a lengthy battle with cancer. All in all, that’s a lot of death (putting aside the three funerals I’ve already done this year).

It makes me reflective. I find myself thinking about how long I’ll live. Certainly no one knows when they’ll die (unless, like Elinor, they are able to plan the moment), but somehow I always think about my own death as somewhere in the nebulous–but distant–future. After all, people my age don’t die of natural causes. . .

Except that as I get older, and age into my forties, more and more of my contemporaries do die of natural causes. Part of that is just the nature of statistics. The longer you live, the greater the chance of dying of natural causes. And as I get older, the people I bury get closer and closer to my own age. Usually that doesn’t strike close to home. This spring, however, it’s beginning to feel personal.

Elinor, Paul and my grandfather represent exactly three generations. My grandfather died at age 91. Paul in his early 60s. Elinor in her early 40s. Death is an equal opportunity employer.

All of which has me feeling just a touch reflective, a touch melancholy. Buy while I am yet above the ground, I will celebrate the day. I will lift a glass of wine to the memories of loved ones who have passed, and savor the flavor of life.