When I walk out of a mourner's home, having spent an hour or two listening to stories about the person who has died, I feel unspeakably lucky to be doing this work.
It's an incredible honor to be able to walk beside people in their mourning. To bear witness to their emotions and their memories.
Sometimes we look at old photographs or newspaper clippings. Sometimes one story leads to the next and suddenly everyone's talking over each other, eager to reminisce.
Sometimes the relationships were healthy and sweet, and the grief has the flavor of mourning something beautiful which has moved into memory.
Sometimes the relationships were painful or broken, and the grief has the flavor of mourning something which wasn't what it needed to be.
I try to take notes as unobtrusively as I can, asking questions -- if I need to -- to spark more stories. Bit by bit, anecdote by anecdote, a picture emerges.
Sometimes people ask me about Jewish ideas of the soul and the afterlife, wanting to know where (I think) their loved one is now, what comes next.
Sometimes people tell me stories about being present at the moment of death, the luminous quality that may accompany that transition into what we can't know.
Always when I make my farewells, even if I feel daunted by the task of writing a eulogy which will live up to their memories, I'm grateful to be able to try.