We had a relative die recently. She was 91, she died in her sleep at home. She'd been well loved by family, and will be missed. Though she never married, she was absolutely beloved by all of her many nieces and nephews, all of one of whom gathered last year to celebrate her 90th birthday. She had sent each and every one of us, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, and great-nephews, birthday cards over the years and made it a point to try to attend every wedding, first communion, or other big event that she could afford to go to. She had lived a full life, serving in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve during World War II, and teaching in NYC schools for her entire career after that. She had no period of illness before her death, never experienced the indignities and frustrations that go with terminal illness, and never entered a nursing home. She spent her final years near her last living sister, and was well-loved in her community. She was discovered dead in her bed after she was missed in church this last Sunday. She's going to be buried next to her brother who died fighting in World War II at the age of 19, in a veteran's cemetery.
So we're talking, and my mother is saying how she can't even be sad, as she considered it to be a "good death" after a long, good, fulfilling life. "What a way to go. That's the way I want to go. A good Jewish death."
"A Jewish death?" I asked. We're Catholic, as was my relative.
"Well, it's like that old joke," my mother replied. "So a man is depressed, and he goes to the rabbi and says, 'Rabbi! I'm depressed. Tell me a story to cheer me up.' And the rabbi says, 'Well, there's an old man who dies one day. And then his son dies. And then his grandson dies.' And the depressed man says, 'Stop, that's a horrible story!' The rabbi says, 'No it's not, it all happened in the right order.'"
So. I don't know exactly where my mother got that joke from. I don't know really why she considers that to be a "Jewish" death. But I like the sentiment. Sad things happen, to everyone in their time. But sometimes you have to be grateful for the small mercies, like people dying in the right order, and having had the chance to live full lives. And I guess, in the end, that's as happy as an ending as we're all going to get. So that's nothing to be sad about.
Goodbye, Aunt-of-mine. We'll miss you, but we were grateful for your time here with us. And we're grateful that life was good to you, even in the end.