It’s been more than a year since my son passed away. Of all the things that had to get done after his burial, I still remember the following tasks as taking the most out of me emotionally as well as physically.
1. Getting a Headstone For My Son
Putting up a headstone for a child’s grave is the hardest thing for a parent to do.
Erecting a headstone is very important and has been a custom among Jewish people since Biblical times. Our Torah tells us that Jacob placed a stone at Rachel’s burial place:
‘…Jacob set up a monument over her grave; it is the monument of Rachel’s grave until today.’ (Vayishlach 35:20)
Our Sages say that the soul enters Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) when the headstone is erected. There are various Jewish customs as to when a headstone is set up. Some people have the custom to set up the headstone on the day following shiva, the eighth day after burial. Others wait until thirty days, and still others wait until twelve months. Our custom is to put up a headstone as soon as possible.
It’s a whole process. First, we had to find a monument company. That part was made easy for us. A member of our synagogue gave us the name and number of the company who did the headstone for his mother. So at least we knew where we were going to get this done.
What Should I Write On My Son’s Headstone?
Next, we had to decide what words we wanted on the stone. Obviously, Jacob’s name, his Hebrew name, and the date he passed away. But what else? After a lot of crying and thinking we decided on the following:
‘A Kind, Sweet Young Man
He Brought Happiness To All Who Knew Him
Beloved Son, Brother, Uncle, And Friend’
Despite the emotional pain involved in the process of setting up the stone, we felt it was the first step in honoring our son. I can’t even describe how gut wrenching hard it is to see the name of one’s child on a headstone. It’s now more than a year after Jacob passed away. When we visit the cemetery, I still find it hard to look at the stone.
I would advise grieving parents not to rush setting up the stone. Follow your family custom or the advice of your rabbi. Especially regarding what’s written on the stone, lots of thought needs to go into it. After all, once done, ‘it’s set in stone.’
2. Cleaning Out His Room
Cleaning out a child’s room is so hard on a grieving parent
(This is not my son’s room, just a pic)
What Should I Do With My Son’s Clothes And Electronic Gadgets?
For several weeks after Jacob passed away, I couldn’t even enter his room. I felt his presence there so strongly. Bit by bit, I would go through a few of his things. First, I had to figure out what I was going to do with his clothing. Some clothes were in his dresser, some were in the laundry, and some were on the floor. Each piece of clothing carried a memory with it. I would remember, ‘oh yeah, he wore this t-shirt at such and such a place, this one he wore more than the others, etc.’ The clothes on the floor got washed. Then we put it all in bags and donated it to a local used clothing store. At least someone will benefit from his clothing.
Next, I had to figure out what to do with his video gaming stuff. He had PlayStation, Nintendo, Sega, a VR headset, a stack of games, and a mess of hardware with cords and cables. I didn’t even know what some of the stuff was. It’s not like he needs it anymore. I just didn’t want to throw it away. I thought maybe I should sell it, but then a better idea came to mind. I remembered that the neighbors across the street have teenage boys. They would would probably love this stuff. The kids came over, and sure enough, they identified every piece of equipment and took the whole lot. Their mom later told me that they were so happy to have something new to play with. I knew Jacob would be happy too.
3. Going Through My Son’s Cellphone Pictures
I felt like I was invading my son’s privacy when I went through the pictures on his phone, but I found beautiful selfies of him and his dog which I cherish.
It was time to recycle his phone. For security, it’s always recommended to erase the phone before getting rid of it, but first I wanted to see if there were any important photos on it. Like most young people, Jacob’s phone was full of photos. Photos of friends, photos of his dog, photos from his drive cross country, even photos of me and his little niece. Looking at those weren’t so hard for me. What was hard was looking at the selfies. I still don’t know why it’s hard for me to look at pictures of Jacob. I don’t have a problem seeing pictures of him as a child, but pictures of him as an adult are still tough to look at.
4. Settling My Son’s Financial Matters
Unmarried adult children should assign a beneficiary for their financial matters, just in case the unthinkable happens
When Jacob set up his financial accounts, I never thought to advise him to designate a beneficiary. I never thought he was going to die young and unmarried. After he passed away, getting his money out of his accounts was a living hell, not to mention the expense of retaining a lawyer to probate the accounts. And the process took months.
Everyone Should Have A Beneficiary On File
The one piece of advice I can give to a parent with an adult, unmarried child, is please, please, please make sure a beneficiary is on file for their financial accounts. Young adults are very independent minded and don’t like being told what to do. Nonetheless, it has to be discussed. The parent doesn’t have to be the beneficiary if the child would rather have someone else, but someone should be designated for that role in case the unthinkable happens. Even if your child has only a checking account with a small amount of money, your life will be a whole lot easier if a beneficiary is designated.
Is There A Purpose To My Emotional Pain and Aggravation?
All these things had to get done. Even though it was emotionally draining, I feel better that it’s over.
There’s a popular saying regarding exercise, ‘no pain, no gain’, meaning that even though we ache after exercise, it’s good for our body. In my case, I’ve had a lot of emotional pain, and right now, I’m not seeing any gain. I know that G-d has a master plan. I know that everything He does is for my benefit. I just wish I saw the benefit.
Our sages tell us that G-d is sensitive to our slightest inconvenience. If we reach into our pocket to get a quarter, and we take out a penny by mistake, G-d empathizes with our annoyance to have to reach back into our pocket to get the quarter. I know He loves me and feels my pain. There’s also a tradition that says if one has not had aggravation for at least thirty days, he has no portion in the World To Come (Olam Haba).
If that’s the case, I’ve got a direct ticket.