Purple Sweatpants

By Stefanie Small

The Chevra Kadisha (Ritual Burial society) has been part of my life for as far back as I can recall. My parents are longtime members of this volunteer group of people who, as part of the Jewish tradition, prepare the deceased for burial. The members wash the person and dress them in shrouds and ready them for the final leg of this life’s journey. It is considered a “chesed shel emet,” a kindness of truth, done for no other reward than the knowledge that someone will do it for them when the time comes.

I became a member of the society about 10 years ago and have never looked back. It is a life altering experience to be part of the conclusion of a person’s existence in our world. The room where the work is done is quiet, almost reverent, as we know that we are the last to wash and dress this person. We are the final people to see the whole person as we place them in their caskets. And it is peaceful and hopeful and a reminder that life is precious.

We can always tell the difference between someone who comes from hospice vs. treatment in a hospital. The person is dressed in their own clothing rather than a hospital gown. There are no tubes, no hospital bracelets, and no ID tags to remove. And often, the person looks at peace. They had known the peace and value of being surrounded by quiet in the last moments of life instead of blinking lights and beeping alarms.  They reach a level of understanding that many of us hope to achieve in our lifetimes. And it is reassuring to those of us in that room that the person we are with achieved it.

I remember one woman who came to us in purple sweatpants. I remember her because she was not very old, maybe in her 70s, and these must have been her favorite clothes: comfortable, soft, and easy. She had a look on her face that probably could best be described as a soft smile. No lines, nothing harsh, unlike how many faces are when they come before us. It was surprising because one does not think of facial expressions after death. But she appeared to have relaxed into that final stage of life, accepted it, embraced it, and carried it over with her. She did "go gentle into that good night," contrary to what the poem says.

Written by robots= on September 23rd, 2011 at
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