My father died on 5 October. He was 78, but a young 78 at that.
Two weeks before, he seemed healthy and robust. He walked into the hospital with a curious condition, and after a series of medical procedures and medical bad-events, he just went.
I saw him the evening before he died. By then, he had already been through a lot and was quite uncomfortable and agitated. He was about to get prepped for a late-night procedure, and I had to leave the hospital. Later that night, during the procedure, the doctors saw that too much of his intestines had already died, and there was nothing they could do to save his life. When I saw my Dad in the morning, he was already gone. Only the machines kept his heart and lungs working. Otherwise, he stared blankly, a functional body without a functional mind.
We of course decided to turn off the machines, and he offficially died. It was about 8:15 in the morning.
At the time. we the family had no talk of souls or afterlife or angels or salvation or God’s mercy. All of that would have been completely out of place and irrelevant. It never came up in the ensuing days or weeks, either.
As far as I can see, each of us only has an “I” insofar as our brains are functional and functioning. Nothing confirms this so well as holding the hand of someone you love while he unknowingly loses the function of his heart and lungs.
I mourned my Dad in something like the old Jewish way. I sat Shiva with my Mother and brothers. I did not shave or cut my hair for 30 days after his burial. I recited the Mourner’s Kaddish as often as I could. Now, I have no spark of belief in gods or any of Judaism’s religious claims, but I have affection for some of the rituals and traditions. I cherish the love my father had for these. I wanted to mourn him in a way that honored his life and loves.
Neither Judaism nor its rituals brought me comfort or solace; instead, my uplift came from exactly where one might expect: people. The people who know my father and my family, those who joined us in mourning and in support, are collectively the ongoing source of bittersweet pride that helps me take my place in a world where I no longer benefit from the counsel and goodness of the kindest, most wonderful man I will ever know.