Category Archives: Death

Sobbing Sister

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My sister died in much more discomfort than necessary. She had
breast cancer for too long. She went through several rounds of chemo
early, and then it went into remission. We had a long good period of
time, but when it cam roaring back it came through everyone’s lives
like a freight train. I think we had all pushed it to the back of our
minds and were afraid to acknowledge that the change might not last.
In her last days she was in a hospital under a lot of medical care to
keep the pain and complications to a minimum. On her floor was a
very loud patient. I do not know what he was being treated for, but he
was clearly very unhappy with everything and made sure that
everyone in a big radius knew of all his complaints. We were trying to
keep Deborah’s passing gentle (think harp music and low prayers) and
this man was not just disruptive but a severe hindrance. The nurses
acted like we were being fussy until the complaints from other
patients’ families got loud enough and they finally moved him. I know
part of my anger is grief, but what can I do to make sure others do not
die this way?

Sobbing Sister

 
Dear Sobbing Sister:

In such circumstances, protecting the dying person is the single most
important thing.

 
Nurses have a great deal of authority but it is not unlimited. In the
future, should God forbid you encounter such circumstances, I would
do the following: Start with a complaint at the nurse’s station. Ask that
the disruptive patient be told to keep his/her voice down or s/he will
be moved into a room with a door that is kept closed. If that does not
work, start your way up the hospital food chain, both medical and
administrative. Ask each person to stand in the hallway outside your
sister’s room and listen for ten minutes to what other families are
being subjected to. That should be enough to do it. If not, ask your
doctor to request a room transfer to a different floor. As a last resort,
suggesting sotto voce that you prefer not to consult your attorney
should motivate almost any administrator.

Penny Pinching

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was very good friends with a couple who moved to Hawaii twenty
years ago. We kept up a long-distance friendship for a long time, and I
even went there to visit back in the 90s. But for years it has waned to
the point of non-existence. If you’d asked me, I’d still say I liked them,
but I don’t think I’ve had two phone calls in the last five years.

 

Yesterday I heard from the wife, saying the husband had died of
cancer, after a year-long battle. It was a warm email, though in
retrospect it feels like she may have sent it as personal email to a
great many people, just changing the salutation. When I went to the
memory site (with photos and stories and places to post the same,
each page had a very large “Contribute” button at the bottom, to help
defray medical expenses. I’m sure the medical bills were large, but I’m
on a tight budget too. Am I obligated to contribute?

Penny Pinching

 
Dear Pinching:

If you are truly down to counting pennies you are 100% off the hook,
assuming the idea that you have not sent even $25 doesn’t keep you
up at night. If you do make charitable contributions to non-profits, you
could divert a little to send your former friends. But if you are truly so
bust that you cannot afford to contribute, then send a nice personal
note, and an apology for being unable to help out at this time.
Friendships ebb and grow over time. It’s not uncommon for people
who have seemed incredibly important to one’s heart to fade with time
and distance. There’s no shame in having drifted apart. Do what feels
right, and send a heartfelt note. If you have memories or pics to post,
do it. And say kaddish for your friend.

Grieving

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is complicated. My father divorced, then remarried, so ended up
with two families, separated by a twenty-year gap between eldest and
youngest of his children. He died just shy of 100, and, though he was
an amazingly good-spirited person, had some quirks that defy
understanding. One of them was a will that left his assets to his
children, and then, in the event of demise, their children, not his
children’s spouses, and in a ratio of who had provided more
grandchildren. He also invested in real estate, which helped provide for
him and my mother, now deceased, very nicely in their aging years.

 

Among the four sibs/half-sibs, there are of course four points of view
about what to do. They are roughly: honor his wishes and leave
everything as is, dividing the monthly income from the real estate; sell
everything now quickly before the economy tanks; share the proceeds
only among the children, not the grandchildren; and variations on
these themes. The arguments split between the natural sibs, and a
discussion (that sadly began while we were sitting shiva!) led to such
discomfort that people fled to various rooms of the house. It was
painful and disturbing. Is there a solution that won’t enrich lawyers at
the expense of the family? To make it more complicated, we are
spread among Massachusetts, Montana, Florida, and California, and he
died in New York.

Grieving

 
Dear Grieving:

I cannot imagine a solution that does not involve lawyers and that also
changes a hair of what is written down. Frankly, I can’t imagine a
solution that simply enacts what’s written that doesn’t also involve
lawyers, if there are four siblings that don’t agree on simply doing
what your father wanted. I would start with his attorney, who may be
privy to information, and certainly is most well-versed in New York
law, which is operative in this reality.

 
I’m not only not a lawyer, I have a healthy respect for them. The
easiest path, by my common sense point of view, would be to
distribute all the assets fairly while all four sibs are alive. If there’s an
approach that gives the ones who want cash the money and the ones
who want to manage property, so be it. But if not, then everything
should be monetized (i.e. properties sold, stocks cashed out etc) and
distributed to the four surviving heirs. Then each can work with their
own attorney to determine if their paternal lineage should somehow be
treated differently than other marital assets. If you accomplish this
before any spouse dies (or is killed or maimed in the inheritance
struggle), you’re home free. But common sense and inheritance law
likely overlap in very few places, so my smart money says you are
probably stuck with your father’s will unless, and even if, all the sibs
can agree on how to move forward. May his memory be for a blessing,
and may each of you appreciate him for leaving you an inheritance
instead of debts.

Quicksand

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve had a pretty tough year. I had health challenges that left me
debilitated, lost a beloved parent and a beloved dog, and had the
company where I’ve worked for twenty years skate perilously close to
the edge of bankruptcy. I’m feeling fragile and shaken and not very
secure in any sector of my life How can I use what’s left of the High
Holidays to set a firmer footing to go forward?

Quicksand

 
Dear Quicksand:

Much of the discussion about Yom Kippur is about interpersonal
relations: asking for and offering forgiveness for slights real and
imagined. It’s a chance to clear the air and enter the New Year with an
emotional sense of solidity. It won’t cure your work or health
problems, but it should make you feel as though your friendships are
intact. So do that and know you have friends.

 
Another way to think about atonement is internal. Think back a year
and see what gives you a pang, a sense of regret, even a caught
breath, a feeling that if you had a chance you would take what golfers
call a “mulligan” and kids call a “do-over.” Yom Kippur is a chance to
forgive yourself and move on. You might wish you’d done things
differently. Next year you should take every chance to do exactly that
in similar situations. But for now, clear your soul.

 
Go back and clean up whatever messes accrued in your wake. That
may mean conversations with bosses or co-workers, children or
partner. Then change how you talk to yourself about whatever
happened. And also how you talk to other people, from your doctor to
your next beloved pet. Nothing lasts forever, even grief and sadness.
A lot has to do with your attitude. Resolve to write a new, better, and
different story for the next year.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 101-year- old aunt passed away in February. I was power of attorney and
executor of her estate. I’d helped her after being contacted by social services
when she was in her late 80s, because neither her brother nor her sister wanted
anything to do with her. I was warned to stay away by the family, who said she
was not a nice person. Very insulting, etc. She was my father’s sister, and even
he fought with her constantly. During that time I packed up her apartment and
moved her to a very beautiful, and very expensive, assisted living. She did not
get along with anyone. During this time I drove her to all her doctor, dentist,
gynecologist, colonoscopy appointments. I even had to change her diapers when
we went to some doctors. I moved her again. Same thing, and finally moved her
to a very good nursing home. Eventually she ran out of money. I was told to pay
for a prepaid funeral, as that was required for her to be on Medicaid. When she
died I was out of town. My cousin, who is ultra, ultra orthodox happened to be in
town. She called to tell me that she was taking care of everything. I asked that
she wait, but of course she went right ahead for a quick burial without consulting
me on costs that were not included. Now she wants me to pay almost $300
towards the funeral home and an additional $200 for the stone. I volunteered to
give her $100 and wanted to find out about a less costly stone. Do you think I am
obligated to pay any of these costs? Also when her family comes to town, they
eat like it is going out of style (at the restaurant) and NEVER offer to pay
anything.

Feel Taken Advantage Of

 
Dear Taken Advantage Of:

Your feelings are legit. They are also overdue. Your cousin’s family has
become so used to taking advantage of your generosity and good
nature that they’ve managed to forget your fifteen years of helping
out. My guess is that you have not done a good job of communicating
all that you have done during the past while, and that they got very
lazy and hazy about how things were being taken care of. But that’s in
the past.

 
The fact that your cousin made the arrangements without your
knowledge or consent implies she’s on the hook for all of it. Your offer
of $100 will not placate her, but I would send the check anyhow. If she
complains to the family and you hear about it, just remark quietly, I
wish I’d heard from them as much during all the years I was doing all
the care-taking and shlepping. That’ll end the complaints, and if it
doesn’t, you can still feel good about how you took care of your aunt.

Grieving Club Member

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband’s father just died very unexpectedly. It was a huge loss to
the family. I went to help them for a week and while I was there, my
boss’s mother died. She was a matriarch just as my husband’s dad
had been the patriarch. My boss sent flowers and refused to let me
take vacation time, paying me full salary. How can I acknowledge and
thank her?

Grieving Club Member

 
Dear Grieving:

Write her a very personal note. Handwritten is best. Here’s a start:

Dear [Boss]: Thank you so much for the flowers, salary, and most
importantly your support during the recent death in my family. I was
terribly sad to learn you were undergoing the very same grieving
process after [mother’s name’s] death. She was a great person.
Whether the end comes quickly or after a long illness, we who are left
to carry on are no more prepared for coping with the forever absence
of those we love and who were so much a part of making us who we
were. As a wise friend told me, You’ll have good days and bad ones,
and no idea when you wake up which it will be. Grieving is not linear
and tears can sneak up on you when you least expect them. Don’t be
shy about saying “My mother just died.” Everyone has been there or
will be. Sometime when we are all in a better space, lets go have
drinks and toast our departed loved ones. May their memories be a
blessing. Empathetically, [your name]

Then, in a few weeks, send her an email and ask when’s good time to
go out for sharing memories. Being a couple pics of your mother and
ask her to do the same. Share food and drink, and absolutely pick up
the tab graciously and appreciatively.

Sad Too

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

What’s the right balance between letting someone grieve and letting
them isolate? This ties to showing appreciation for their lost parent.
Two of my friends had this happen within the same week. One is
Jewish; one is not. Even the Jewish one is not sitting shiva or doing
any of the traditional rituals. I think she feels guilty because she had a
tough relationship with her mother. I’ve offered to help out with
boxing up her mother’s apartment/things but was refused. I dropped
by some matzo ball soup and got a vmail thanks. The other is isolating
and his wife is worried about his mental health. We’ve organized a few
happy hour times but he has declined to join us. I explained how shiva
works, that it is a chance to share with all his friends what a wonderful
man and father he lost from his life, but he is just monosyllabic. What
can I do except wait and trust time?

Sad Too

 
Dear Sad Too:

No one can explain the grieving process. It’s hardest when someone
loses a child. We expect to lose parents but it’s never the right time,
even if it had been a difficult relationship. You are already doing the
best thing you can for both of these people: expressing your love and
caring offering to help, offering to give them some distraction, and
offering them each a chance to talk about their parent and why s/he
mattered and was a good soul.

 
For the Jewish one, consider gathering some other friends for a dinner
at a quiet restaurant. Once everyone’s caught up on the news of the
day, each of you should ask the surviving daughter a question about
her mother. Nothing huge or intrusive, but things like, What do you
realize you are missing? It might get her talking. For the non-Jew,
keep hanging out with his wife and offering her a respite from the
difficulty of living with someone who is grieving and in pain. Suggest
to her that in a while, as in several months from now, she consider
having a BBQ with the expressed purpose of having her husband talk
about his dad. One way to encourage this is to ask everyone who
attends to bring a picture of their own deceased 9or living) parent(s)
so h realizes how universal the pain is. Sharing helps.

The Good Kid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother is dying. My sister is crazy and greedy. My brother can’t
hold onto a job with a belt. She doesn’t have more than two years and
if she doesn’t stop smoking and drinking probably more like one. She’s
not rich but does have some assets and a modest house. But she also
has special needs now, for in-home care and assistance, chauffeuring
to appointments, and housekeeping. Only I of the sibs provide any of
these services, and I am also the only one among them that has a job,
a spouse, and a child. Both of my sibs have approached my mother for
loans. They have come with sob stories about emergencies, about
needing help with broken cars, overdue rent, and—the boldest—for a
down payment on a “great deal of a house,” this last from a woman
who hasn’t held the same job for more than a year in her life or stayed
with a partner more than two. My mother feels sorry for them and tells
me that I have such a good life. I’m worried they will bleed her dry
and that after she goes they will keep coming to me with their fake
and outrageous demands. How can I interject some reason into this
process?

The Good Kid

 
Dear Good Kid:

You can get your mother to consult an estate attorney. Someone
competent and articulate who can explain both her current finances
and needs and the options she has for helping her children now and
after she goes. You should not be expected to either fill her shoes in
administering her estate or trying to solve the life issues of your
siblings. Nor should you be expected to sacrifice your share of the
estate to their needs.

 
If I ran your show I would have the attorney identify a budget for her
monthly needs, an emergency fund for each of you to draw from
before her death, with the used amount be charged against that sib’s
share of the estate after your mother dies. I’d recommend each
“emergency loan” come with a note and have at least a minimum
monthly repayment amount. That’s primarily to encourage the insight
that money isn’t free, and also to begin to convey the notion that it
isn’t infinite. The monthly for each of the sibs (not you) should be put
into a trust, administered by the attorney, that will provide a monthly
sum towards living expenses, with a fund for emergency expenses.
Decisions about those emergencies should be at the discretion of the
executor.

In Shock

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last week the sister-in- law of a good friend/neighbor woke up (in
L.A.), did her morning rituals, went to work, and while seated at her
desk in the shop she and her husband owned, was struck by a truck
doing 90 miles an hour that plowed into their new building, seriously
injuring her and three others. She ended the day in ICU, in an induced
coma after brain surgery, with many stunned and horrified loved ones
praying for a non-tragic outcome, one that seemed painfully remote.

 

When she awoke that morning, she had no idea it was the last day of
the life she had known. They’ve been told by the neurologist, “Sarah’s
brain has been badly wounded. Even if she pulls through, she won’t
really be Sarah any more, and she’ll need lots and lots of love and
support. If it were my wife, I’d pull the plug and if it were me, I’d want
her to do the same.” What do they/you pray for? And how do I support
my friend, who is about to have her cantankerous, controlling, 93-year
old Catholic mother-in- law who is on the downhill slide move into her
small guest room? The woman’s only activity other than eating and
sleeping is watching game shows (with the volume turned waaay up).
Her favorite is The Bible Quiz Show. It’s all a bit overwhelming. Sorry
for the mishmash of deep and practical but this has us all up-ended.

In Shock

 
Dear In Shock:

The world is a scary and unpredictable place. You’re describing five
different problems: the dying woman’s husband’s decision about his
wife; her mother’s grief; her brother’s decision to bring his mother
home; his wife’s acceptance of her mother-in- law; your support for
your friend. Here goes:

The husband is the only one who can legally make the decision about
his wife. He should consult with his rabbi/priest as well as with medical
ethicists. Although many folks would trust the neurologist’s judgment,
this is a minefield of emotions and medical issues. I am sorry for his
predicament. Yes to prayer, but no I cannot tell you or anyone else
what they should pray for in such a circumstance. And no one will ever
be sure that the outcome they think they want or happens is the best
one for their loved one or themselves. It’s a tragedy, pure and simple.
No parent expects to survive a child. That’s doubly true for a person
with her own medical issues, who may not fully be able to understand
what’s occurred. No rational person could. The loss of a child is an
extreme trauma, as is a move to another state. Frequently elders need
much more support after either trauma, let alone both in rapid
succession. The mother will need a lot of love and help. But your friend
and her husband do have some rights about air pollution in their
home. They should be kind and caring, provide lots of tenderness and
care at the outset, but should not establish living arrangements that’ll
break up the marriage. They should at least look at assisted living or
group homes as an option, or consider building a mother-in- law suite,
after the initial after-effects of death and relocation wear off. Chicken
soup first, then problem-solving.

 
You can support your friend in several ways. Let her vent, cry, and
take quiet time as often as she needs to until the shock of all these
horrors and changes become a problem that needs to be solved
instead of a horror show she cannot stop. Encourage her to have very
practical conversations with her husband about all the on-going
logistics in L.A., from funeral to putting his mother’s house on the
market. Make sure he consults with his married-in- laws about the
relocation in case there is a different option that does not involve a
move. Assuming mother really is coming, help her get the house
ready. Prepare the guest room before she comes, by cleaning and
painting it. Make it warm and welcoming, even if that’s not her gut
response to the change. Help her use the occasion to do a household
purge and reorganization, taking advantage of the shift. That may
mean rolling up your sleeves and grabbing a paintbrush, running
things to thrift stores or recycling, or just lots of brainstorming and
listening. Make sure she knows you are there for her, and that you will
offer her a place to come hang out and kvetch later if she needs it.
Virtually everyone in “the sandwich generation” (people with aging
parents and children) has experienced this kind of dislocation. She is
neither the first nor the last. There’s probably support groups and
helpful hints all around her, once she gets past the shock of losing a
sister-in- law and housing a mother-in- law.

Worm Out

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother and I have always had a difficult relationship. It feels like
she&'s been the rock in the road of my life. She never believed me
when I told her about abuse issues in our family. She ran off every
boyfriend I ever had. She refused to help me pay for college. She cut
me off for a decade when I converted to Judaism. More, more, more….
She was just diagnosed with metastasized cancer and is refusing
treatment, putting herself on a hunger strike, and trying to die as
quickly as possible. My other siblings had an equally difficult
relationship with her. But now that she is dying they are bending over
backwards to hold her hand, wipe her brow, and act like she’s the
queen of the universe. I’m a 55-year old CPA in a new happy
relationship and drowning in tax returns. I understand that she&'s dying
but don’t want to be a hypocrite or give her more chances to ruin my
life. Do you have any advice for how to deal with an end-of- life
situation that I don&'t want to make worse but also cannot give her the
obedience and tears she seems to expect?

Worm Out

 
Dear Worn Out:

Assuming her body follows her will, time is short. I understand tax
season dominates most years, but you’ll have more of those later, and
your mother will only die once. Only you can know what will be okay
for your soul and heart. My usual question to folks with difficult
relationships facing a death is this: If she died today, would you be
okay? If not, you still have time to do something about it.

 
I recommend shooing away brow-wiping siblings for an afternoon. Say
you want some one-on- one time. Wait till she’s had food and a nap,
and then say something like: I know it hasn&'t always been easy
between us. But you’re my only mother. I’ve always respected that
you believed your opinions very strongly, even when I didn&'t agree
with them. I wish you could have felt the same about me but it was
clear that you didn&'t. But I recognize we won’t always have the luxury
of eye-to- eye contact, so I want you to know that I asked for this
alone time so we could be really honest with one another. My life has
turned out better than you thought it would. I am happy. But if there’s
anything you want to say to me about your life, my life, or our
relationship, I&'m listening.

 
Then really try to listen. Don’t be defensive or argumentative or feel
you need to justify your life. This is probably your mother’s last time to
tell you what she thinks you need to hear. You may be surprised if she
is milder or less judgmental than she was in life. But no matter what
she says find some way to respond to her that doesn&'t provoke an
argument. Find a way to communicate from your new happy and
confident self, so that you feel like you said what you needed to. End
with, I know in your way you tried to be a good mother. After all, she&'s
the one that&'s dying you. I don&'t think you should have to swallow your
truth but I am encouraging you not to upset her last few weeks with a
strident need to assert something that will have no impact on her
quality-of- life or your reality. It could come back to bite your
conscience or relationships with your sibs later. If you are really
happy, you will find a way to keep peace as she passes. You’ll feel
better if you do and worse if you don’t.

Caring (from a distance)

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

A few years ago I had a big fight with a friend with whom I’d been
close for a decade. The reasons don’t matter and we both decided to
let the friendship fade without any big confrontation or attempt to
reach closure about a black/white issue on which we disagreed and
each thought the other intractably wrong. We are polite when we see
one another but aren’t personal. I just heard that her father died last
week, after a long illness. I lost my father while we were friends, and
she was very helpful. Do I let it pass, call, send a note, or ??????

Caring (from a distance)

 
Dear Caring:

It’ll help heal the wounded friendship if you acknowledge her father&'s
death. The best way to do so is with a condolence card: the old-
fashioned, hand-written personal note that you send with a stamp. You
do not have to reference either the friendship or the fight, just her
father.

 
Here’s some language, but make it your own: I just heard about your
father’s death. These are always hard passages that we all go through.
I appreciated how much you helped me when I was grieving. I know
you were a good daughter and this will be a tough process even
though you knew it was coming. Here’s what I learned, the hard way:
Dealing with the death of someone close is never linear. You&'ll have
good days and bad ones. Days when you think it&'s all going to be fine,
and others when you&'ll be teary and sad. And when you think you&'ve
adjusted, you can get slammed in the head out of nowhere. Listen for
your father in dreams, and remember all the good times you shared.
It&'s also good to keep some pictures of him around and writing or
telling stories about him. Here&'s a big hug.

Quality of Life Matters

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just saw in incredibly painful movie about a woman slowly dying of
strokes. It was a beautifully done French movie, and she had a loving
husband to take care of her. But by halfway through this very slow
drama she is lying around in wet diapers, moaning incoherently in
pain, trying to track a nursery rhyme. I know everyone says they don’t
want to live—die– like that, but it seems that most people do. Is there
anything I can do to escape a fate like this, which is my worst
nightmare? I think I could deal with pain better than the indignity of
losing my sense of self. But why should we have to balance out the
various bad ways to spend our last few years. BTW I am single and
lack the loving caretaker the dying woman in the movie had. That’s
part of why I am scared.

Quality of Life Matters

 
Dear Quality of Life Matters:

This is serious stuff. Everyone faces death and no one has found an
easy way to cope with it. At the risk of sounding grim, most people’s
last days, weeks, months, or even years before dying are less
pleasant, pain-free, and autonomous than their peak years. The
number of ways to become debilitated are many and though their
variations are unique to each person, they almost always involve more
medical treatments/people and less of a sense of dignity than any of
us would wish for ourselves or loved ones. Having a loving spouse or
child and a healthy bank account can make the process better, but
very few people are spared by drifting off painlessly one night in their
sleep.

 
You can investigate the idea of death with dignity. Some states allow
assisted suicide in cases of terminal diagnoses. Many other people
have taken steps to ensure their own demise. Here’s the catch-22:
when you are healthy you are unlikely to take those steps. A sound
mind in a sound body wants to live. So it turns out does an unsound
mind in an unsound body. And once you’ve shifted into the latter
state, you have less access to means and opportunity, even if your
motives remain the same. This is a very difficult subject for
individuals and families. If you start conversations with family you’ll
find out very quickly who thinks death with dignity is a viable option
and who is horrified that you’re even interested in learning about it.
That alone will be instructive.

Future Donor

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in my 70s and reasonably well off. I don’t have family whom I feel
a need to subsidize with my assets after my demise. I’m not a Grinch,
but the meshpochah are well enough. I’ve begun thinking about death
more lately, after a brush with cancer. I am in remission and according
to my doctor I could have a long life. But I could also die a lot sooner
and all the money I have saved could be doing the needy some good. I
want to put my money where my mouth and votes have been going
for the last fifty years. I know that once I raise this issue with
everyone from my synagogue to non-profits that I will have to fend off
the planned giving managers. Do you have any pointers about how to
open the door without inviting a stampede?

Future Donor

 
Dear Donor:

This is a great time to talk to your attorney. That’s the only way your
wishes can be legally protected. You can call, ask, get information, and
indicate your wishes. But a legal document is your best protection that
they’ll be observed. Though even then, unless someone cares enough
to monitor and enforce, you have to assume you’re giving a gift to an
organization you trust.

 
Choosing wisely is an important first step. In a preliminary call to
every group you’d consider giving money to, ask for a meeting with a
planned giving rep. Ask what minimum makes it worth their time to
talk to you regarding possible conditions attached to bequests. Explain
you’re thinking of a donation in the $10-50K range. (I just made up
those numbers; adjust as needed.) Say you have specific opinions
about uses – e.g. direct assistance to those in need, a library fund,
social justice policy, whatever matters to you. Explain you still need
your money now, but that you’re happy to share once you’re gone.
Ask what guarantees they will give that your wishes will be honored
and a bequest will not disappear into a general use fund. Ask if they
have specific language for you to put into your will. Then narrow the
targets to make the money used most effectively. Kudos to you for
putting your assets where your heart is.

Surviving Son

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My father killed himself last week. My parents divorced when I was
five (twenty years ago) and we moved 1,000 miles away. I saw my
Dad only occasionally thereafter, though we did stay in touch with the
rest of the family. I never found out all the reasons behind the divorce,
but I know it centered around his mental instability. My mother and I
have decided to go the funeral, out of respect for our other relatives. I
need help knowing what to say when people come up to me with
condolences. The truth is that I don’t really feel much of anything, and
I am going primarily to be supportive of my mother. I’m confused and
embarrassed by my lack of feeling. I think I should be experiencing
more than I am. Even my mother seems distraught, though it could be
that he killed himself rather than the fact that he’s dead. Can you help
me get through the trip and home to peace?

Surviving Son

 
Dear Surviving Son:

I can understand that your confusion. Your lack of feeling comes in
part because you didn’t have any real relationship with your father.
That’s understandable for someone who spent most of his life far
away, without any real contact, or sharing a home or experiences
together. Even though it’s understandable, consider seeing a grief
counselor to explore your confused feelings. Losing a parent is big
stuff and not to be gotten through as though it were just a bad
weekend.

 
As for the embarrassment and taking care of your mother, focus on
the latter. When people say things to you they will be trying to comfort
you and to express their own grief. Come up with some simple
platitudes you can say sincerely (It’s a difficult time; He’ll be missed;
Thanks for your concern.) Stick close to your mother and help her
through the time. She had the deeper relationship with him and with
you. She’s the one who’ll need a strong shoulder to lean on.

Almost Gone

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve always been a very secular Jew. I’ve gone to temple on the High
Holidays but cannot say with deep conviction what I believe in. I am
dying of cancer (probably a month or two to go). I’ve always assumed
I would be cremated but my wife is asking me to allow her to bury me.
I think of my body as a suit that used to fit me but is now ready for
the rag bin. But I don’t know what to do.

Almost Gone

 
Dear Almost Gone:

Some people have deeply held views about death and dying. Many
others are ambivalent or confused. You’re asking about an issue we’re
all going to face. If we don’t address it directly, we leave the decision
in the hands of others.

 
If you’re truly not tied to the idea of cremation, then you should
accede to your wife. Why? Because she’ll have to face the mourning
and grieving without you there. Knowing someone will die is not the
same as having them gone. Having a place to go to, and a place to put
a stone on the marker, is comforting. It gives a physical resonance to
the passage of a loved one. The same can be true of a yartzeit
plaque/light at your temple. Grief is never easy. You cannot predict
what rituals will best serve her. If she has a grave to go to and tend,
and a place to go and to talk to you, to tell you about the feelings and
process of her life, she may weather the difficult passage that’s
looming more easily. My vote is to say Yes, and, if you are physically
able, to help her choose the plot where your old suit will spend its last
days.