My safta (grandmother) was trapped. It had been three weeks since I was able to see her at her retirement home even though she lived fifteen minutes away. She was holding on to her last moments and we could not even say goodbye. Then, on a Friday evening, my mother got the call. My safta had passed away, alone.
We soon found out that burying a loved one during the Corona time was not easy, especially since we had to transport the body across state lines. We kept hearing rumors that the trip would not be allowed by the police. My safta was placed in a morgue with scores of other victims. Despite all of this the shomrim (people performing the traditional Jewish ritual of guarding over a body from the time of death until burial) still kept her company, sitting by her side day and night.
A few days later, my safta was taken to the burial plot up in Boston, a distance away from our home in Westchester County, NY. Only one car was allowed to go to the cemetery as the graveside workers were falling sick with the virus. Since I was the closest with my safta, I was chosen to accompany my mom. When we arrived at the cemetery we could hardly make out who the rabbi was because he was covered in protective gear from head to toe. That was almost more frightening than seeing my grandmother arrive in the hearse.
After a lot of bickering, we were allowed out of our car against the funeral workers’ will. It was extremely hard to concentrate as everyone had to FaceTime other family members who were not allowed to come. After the funeral we had to race back home to be ready for the Zoom shiva. This was a learning experience for all of us including our rabbi who said this was the first Zoom shiva he had led.
There were two nights of the Zoom shiva and each was beautiful in their own way. At first, I was devastated that my friends and family couldn’t gather with me in person, but I soon realized the Zoom shiva allowed many more people to attend, including my overseas relatives.
Little boxes of my loved ones filled the screen, and each one that popped up added more excitement. Sometimes a kid would appear or a dog would show up, and each brought more and more life. We told tales of my grandmother and sang and prayed. Not only was the shiva comforting to us, but it gave people a source of connection at a time when everyone is locked away from the outside world. In some ways I was extremely thankful we had the shiva online because people from Israel and Brazil and around the country could partake.
Though this quarantine and the fear of contracting Corona is difficult for many people, perhaps new traditions will arise from this period. I’m hoping that one night of Zoom shiva will become the norm for many. Although I miss my safta dearly I feel warmed by the sendoff she received even during this hectic time.
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