The Unveiling

The shroud was a plain, straw-colored cotton fabric taped to the mausoleum’s wall. It concealed the name, newly carved into the granite façade, that my sister and I were to unveil. The material had been carefully placed there earlier that Sunday by attendants at the South Florida cemetery, where most of the deceased are “buried” above the earth to prevent the groundwater’s raising the dead to the surface. The obligatory period had passed since my mother died. We were at the site of her small tomb to perform the Jewish unveiling ceremony.

My family had traveled down from the northeast to gather in the humid air and brilliant sun for the purpose of honoring my mother. Jewish tradition calls for unveiling the grave marker after the prescribed mourning period, which is eleven months for parents, though some perform the unveiling much earlier, after as little as one month. Psalms are read and memories shared. Then the cloth covering the headstone is removed and the mourner’s prayer, the Kaddish, is recited. The ritual is a spiritual reunion that helps close the wounds of loss.

Each of us present had memories of my mother. Mine centered on some of the words she liked to use, words that channeled her Yiddish and Russian roots. One I dearly recall was chozzerai, meaning what today would be called junk food: food not fit to eat that you really wanted to have. A special variant of...

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About the Author

Lloyd I. Sederer is a psychiatrist and medical journalist.