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 Questions in Death & Mourning
My oldest daughter, now 15, has for most of her life lived and acted like a tomboy, rejecting most everything traditionally associated with femininity: dresses, long hair, girls' sports, etc. None of this was really an issue . . . we simply accepted her for who she was. About two years ago she began to develop some mental health issues and after seeing a number of specialists, it's been determined that my eldest is actually transgender, a boy born into a girl's body. Knowing this and what happens next is, of course, complicated. Part of the initial course of acceptance - and we accept this without condition - is that we all make the shift of referring to her now as "he" or "him". He has legally changed his name to a boy's name and his new birth certificate indicates he is male. He will be able to get a driver's license and passport that shows his gender as male as well. Meanwhile, nothing is being done surgically and he is not even taking testosterone. I've had a few discussions with my rabbi about things like a name change, having a bar mitzvah, etc. but it is early in the process. That said, it's dawned on me over the past few weeks that I no longer have a daughter. She is gone. The person, the life I thought would be there is no longer. It's not a death, per se, but it is a growing emotional loss. My question is "How do I mourn or grieve this loss?" It obviously doesn't rise to the level of sitting shiva but I've recently felt tempted to stand for the Mourner's Kaddish. Is that too much or inappropriate?
My mother is 90 years old, in frail health but of sound mind. Last year, one of her 3 grandchildren and the youngest of my 2 sons died in an accident at age 29. My son and my mom were close. As an adult, my son moved to another state but made a point of visiting every few years. He has remained in contact with regular phone calls and other correspondence. My sister has demanded that my mother not be informed of my son's death. She argues that my mother will die in a few years anyway and so should be spared the sad news, and that the grieving process could hasten my mom's death. "Let mom die in peace." I've complied with my sister's demands. Whenever my mom asks me about my son, my rehearsed response is "Your grandson loves you dearly." But as time passes without contact from my son, I'm concerned that my mom has concluded that my son has lost interest in his grandmother. For my mom's sake, I'm uncomfortable with keeping her in the dark. But I'm also conflicted. I miss my son so very much. To include my mom in my own grieving would benefit me. After all, she is my mom. Any ideas?
Reading your website concerning cremation, it appears the more liberal sects in Judaism discourage it, but tolerate the wishes of those who choose it, while the more observant or strict sects absolutely discourage or prohibit it, on various grounds. My thought was that cremation would be a way to be in solidarity with those who died in the WWII ovens, 9/11 and so forth, that their death circumstance was not a dishonor to them. A cremation, in my view, would dignify their situation. I do understand that the circumstance was not their choice, but nonetheless, it is their factual situation. Also, cremation would solve a problem for me personally. I'm a widow with two spouses buried in two states. Having two cremation urns would allow me to spend eternity with my two basherts, which would save me from making a choice of whom to be buried near. Any thoughts? Given what I read on your site about what Judaism says, is there any leeway? What Jewish values might help me to decide this issue, and resolve my problem concerning choosing which husband I should be buried with?
I would like to hear your take on the article in The New York Times (October 2, 2012, "Tattoos to Remember," by Katherine Schulten). Livia Rebak was branded with the number 4559. Now her grandson, Daniel Philosof, has the same tattoo. At right, three men who stood in the same line in Auschwitz have nearly consecutive numbers. .WHY did Eli Sagir get a tattoo with the number 157622 inked on her forearm? WHY might this tattooing practice be unsettling or offensive to some? WHY did people in the camps “treat with respect the numbers from 30,000 to 80,000,” according to Primo Levi? About HOW many Holocaust survivors are still alive? etc. Judaism, as the article mentions generally frowns on tattoos (and body piercing) as it alters G-d's image. I will be using this lesson, for 8th and 9th graders. Others, in my school will be using it for 7th graders. Thanks.
My wife and I are thinking about how our children should dispose of our bodies once we have passed. Having no love for the traditional methods, we went in search of alternatives. We discovered a body farm. In this method the bodies are staked out (often) in the open on a protected plot of land so that they might be studied concerning natural decay, then the information gathered is used for forensic studies and training concerning murder investigations and other such things. We like the idea of this for two reasons: First, it helps to assist the living, and second, it returns the bodies to the earth in the quickest way possible. We will not go any further in this plan without guidance. Can you help? [Administrators Note: There is a related question on the importance of burial in a Jewish cemetery in the JVO database at The concept of a body farm was foreign to me and I had to research it. There are multiple in the US at this time. They are used for training purposes, as the question states. However, the bodies are not always placed on the ground: some are buried, partially buried, covered with materials, placed in shade or sunlight or under water, and so on. The bodies are then examined at various intervals ranging from daily to weekly to monthly, depending on what is being studied, and photographs and samples are taken. This is not, strictly speaking, a completely natural decay process, as it may include exhumation and sampling multiple times.It is certainly not a traditional burial, and the body does not remain undisturbed.]

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