We mourn the death, after a long struggle, of our great friend Linda Booker. Diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago, the day before Pesach (Passover) 5774, she died, at home, on the first night of Pesach 5777, towards the end of the first seder.
We’ve talked before about a decent funeral for Noahides: a “green burial,” where nobody’s entombed in a sealed concrete sarcophagus, nor buried in a metal casket, nor cremated, nor dumped at sea, nor exposed to the birds and air or in any way to the public’s gaze.
Linda, who started out as a little girl as a Christian-believer and became what we’ve described here as an Ivri, a conscious follower of God, the God of Israel, wanted and deserved a green burial.
A hospice nurse pronounced her dead the next morning and the mortician’s people claimed her body and secured it. Two of her nearest came the next day, Wednesday. They bathed her, with the help of the mortician, and dressed her in a shroud (provided courtesy of the local Hebrew Benevolent Society). We placed her in a simple wooden casket, made without nails or metal handles, or metal of any kind. It reminded us of a cabinet to hold a scroll of Torah. The morticians drove her to the “green cemetery,” her grave had just been dug. We, with a little help from the cemetery staff, we gently placed her casket in the earth.
We had purchased this “real estate” – a nice place, although not very expensive, close by a lake, behind a forest – we explained, as a sacred place, forever, for all her loved ones. And that this was spectacularly better than the alternatives before us: the atrocity of cremation, on the one hand, or the atrocity of embalment, entombment and anerobic decomposition in a metal casket and/or concrete sarcophagus. We spoke as we – people who loved her, family, friends, neighbors and others – filled her grave back up with earth.
We read “a prayer she loved”: “My God, the soul You have given me is pure,” from Israel’s morning prayers. We spoke about how, with God, “there is no forgetting” – that God recalls all our doings; that we all connect and share thus with His eternity and infinity. (A neighbor who is herself a cancer patient gave that some “Amens,” with the Gentile pronounciation, naturally: “Aaymen.”) Of course we spoke of “dust to dust,” how we all come from stardust and should go back to stardust, back to the earth, and how burial, committing one’s dust to be restored to the dust, is simply and obviously wholesome, a final act, a sacrament, of atonement.
After the burial we drove back to the city. The extended family, which includes caterers, put out a big meal – reputed to be delicious, but impossible to partake of for some of us, smack in the middle of Pesach - in a big gathering in the First Covenant Foundation compound, for a broad aggregation of mourners.
Neighbors and others inquired about “green burials.” Several said they were “touched” or “moved” by the services; one neighbor, who’s always described himself as a “non-believer,” was “impressed,” he said, by what we’d said graveside (probably thinking mostly about that wonderful prayer from the Jewish siddur/the prayerbook, so alien to any religion that he’d ever heard of). The mortician who helped wash and dress Linda’s poor cancer-wracked body declared, “This was beautiful.”
(We wish Linda were still around to read and comment, like usual, on this Covenant Connection.)
Rabbi Michael Katz, our rabbinic supervisor and a First Covenant Foundation director, has written a model funeral service for Noahides or Non-Jewish “Ivri” (people who aspire to consciously serve God, pursuant to the Way of Israel, the derech HaShem). We’d read it, years ago, and had it in the back of our mind when we spoke at Linda’s service. You can look at it and study it by following this link to the Oklahoma Bnai Noach Society - http://www.okbns.org/Free.html - and then scroll down to “Funeral Service.”
By Michael Dallen