The sudden death of a cousin in Florida several years ago forced Erica Brown, left, the Jewish scholar, educator and writer (and Jewish Week columnist), into the role of spiritual adviser and counselor for her grieving family.
The experience led her to confront her own fear of death — and the fact that so many of us refuse to talk about the topic with loved ones.
The result was Brown’s latest book, “Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death” (Simon & Schuster), part inspirational, part practical, which she discussed last Thursday night at a Jewish Week Forum with the paper’s book critic, Sandee Brawarsky, right, at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on the Upper West Side.
With her unique blend of deep Jewish knowledge, overall wisdom and edgy sense of humor, Brown spoke forthrightly of how she learned, from a series of interviews, how people can have “a good death,” for themselves and for those closest to them.
She described the happiness of an elderly woman who encouraged her five daughters to spread her ashes on their favorite ski slope, and discussed how moved she was personally to take part in performing a “tahara,” or ritual preparation of a body for a funeral.
When the women gathered around the body after the tahara and, according to the tradition, asked forgiveness if they in any way performed their duties improperly, “it was one of the holiest moments of my life,” said Brown.
She encouraged the rapt audience to make “a different bucket list” of things they want to accomplish before they die, from sharing past failures to ensuring family harmony.