Chevra Kadisha

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On an unpleasantly hot night, I lay very still on my side of the bed, arms by my side, readying myself for sleep. I am so quiet and so still, the night so heavy, I imagine my body waiting for the Chevra Kadisha. My leaden flesh weighs down on the cold slab of the porcelain table. I see the glaring fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. And I hear the voices of the women coming toward the room to prepare my body for burial. They enter and become quiet. One of them discreetly peaks under the sheet and looks into my face to check that that they have the right body. It’s me, I think, and I am ready. Another checks a form for my Hebrew name…Hanna bat Shlomo it says. How glad I am that I have used my Hebrew name for years. It is not, to me, a nearly useless appendage that one drags out for special occasions and that one quickly forgets again. I am Hanna. I was Hanna.

The women scuffle about preparing the tools of their holy work. Buckets of water, sponges, sheets, towels, nail clippers and a comb. When all is ready, they address me and recite the burial prayer.

I am moved and try to muster my social graces to return the thanks I wish they could hear.

I know they intend to do their job respectfully and threat me with dignity. And I know there are awkward moments when it does not seem that way. I want to reach out to them and hug them, support them in their labor and express my gratitude. They are the last hands that will touch me. I wish they were Ken’s. What an act of courage that would be. Too much, too hard.

No idle chatter; they go about the tasks they divided among themselves.