Since I was a little girl on Mother’s Day, we spent the day taking a trip to Los Angeles to visit my Grandmother at her gravesite and my Mom would share a few stories. The rest I filled in with my wild imagination. I was only an infant when she died and hearing these stories kept my Grandma Elaine alive in my heart. Our family did not speak of death, so going to the cemetery felt strange and almost like we were really visiting Grandma. She was alive in her mausoleum vault. I spent my time walking around asking who else we knew here. Naïve till my dying days I will be!
I observed several interesting sites. The dead were in rooms in the wall; outside in the ground; in huge statues, fountains, under benches, and in walls.
What intrigued me was that people left flowers, stuffed animals, money, books, and stones. The stones spoke to me even as a child. They were pretty, colorful, small, large, smooth, and rough.
This year, I placed a stone on my Sister and My love-Mom’s gravesite while feeling a deep connection to “All that was, All that is, and All that will be”.
The act of placing visitation stones is significant in Jewish bereavement practices. Small stones are placed by people who visit Jewish graves in an act of remembrance or respect for the deceased. This ancient practice is a way of participating in the mitzvah, (an individual act of human kindness in keeping with Jewish traditions). It is customary to place the stone with the left hand.
The tradition can also be found outside of Jewish mourning practices— the presence of stones placed by mourners can be found in the alcoves of the recesses of resting stones in ancient Ireland.
Various explanations have been given for the origin of the practice:
- Stone is frequently used in the torah as a metaphor for God in Judaism
- To ensure that priest or rabbi should not be affected by corpse impurity by inadvertently coming into proximity with a grave
- To ensure that the mitzvah is maintained by marking the grave with rocks
- To show respect and a sign that the living remembers the dead
- In the Jewish tradition, leaving stones at a grave is thought to either protect the grave from evil spirits or keep the deceased rooted in the grave until final judgment.
This is still practiced today for many that grieve around the world. Placing a stone on a grave is a commemorative ritual and leaving stones offers an expression of the love, honor, and richness of life and an expression of how their life enriched this world.
Rituals bring meaning to our lives. A ritual is an established ceremony (religious or non-religious) with specific forms that are aimed at imitating a past event, initiating a person into a belief system or practice, offering sacrament, conveying a message, and/or connecting with the divine. The ceremony could be something as simple as having everyone sign a card to the deceased’s family, or it can be as big as planning a company-wide memorial service for the deceased. Rituals can be practiced at any moment! Rituals bring meaning to our lives and bring us to the present moment in life, leaving our thoughts behind. It is never too late to remember, honor, and cherish our loved ones. They are only a steppingstone away.
What rituals bring you the most comfort?
With love from my heart to yours,