I checked my email on Friday morning, before heading out the door — my dad had forwarded sad news — a link to an obituary. My beloved childhood dentist passed on Thursday, April 15th — before sunset — he was 70. We called him “Dr. Bob” — short for Robert. I expected to check my email and quickly be on my way, but, not now. I must give pause. Tears welled up and I cried.
My parents met Dr. Bob near the time of his graduation — he interned in a local dental practice. After he completed his internship, he set up his own practice on the other side of town. My parents made the drive every year for our regular check ups. He would check the ‘teeth’ on my doll before there was a need for my own check up. He was especially good at putting children at ease and even calming the fears of skittish adults. You would never see the Novocaine needle — never know it had been used. The vacuum appliance that keeps your mouth dry was named, “Mr. Thirsty.” A treasure chest always awaited children while their parents completed the check out and scheduling the next visits. There was an aquarium in the waiting room and lots of reading material.
Really, the waiting area was nothing special, but, it was part of the experience. It is because Dr. Bob liked to sing. He piped in a local Atlanta pop radio station — not the bland stuff of Musak. At any random moment, his voice would belt out in loud song along with whatever song was on the radio. People in the waiting room would look at each other and smile — laugh a little — especially if there was a new patient waiting. He was a devoted family man and loved to ski. He was tall with the permed and curled hair of the 70’s. He wore polyester leisure pants and usually some satiny kind of shirt, partly unbuttoned, and a thick gold chain. The likeness of Tom Jones and Saturday Night Fever disco. He was very kind and thoughtful. He would read your dental insurance provisions and, well, did his best to work within those guidelines.
I grew into a teen — then, a young adult — my first job — my own dental insurance. I made the drive across town every year for my check ups. He was always careful to protect my one baby tooth. I was born with one tooth that didn’t have a permanent to take its place. Oddly, my sister had an extra tooth. That was quite the dental humor of our family visits to Dr. Bob. “Your sister got your tooth!,” — he would joke. I began making my own appointments and visited on my own without my parents. But, I tagged along on their visits as well, just to visit. Maybe once or twice to take my sister.
Dr. Bob eventually let us know that he was having problems with arthritis in his hands. He didn’t know how long he could keep up his practice. He brought in an additional dentist to split the clients. He was thinking of investing in some entrepreneurial venture. The day came that our family got “The Letter” — a letter of regret saying that he was finally giving it up and turning his patient list over to the other dentist. My family cried. My mother is quite sure they still owed money, but, the office said they had asked and he said, “No. Nothing owed.” I tried the other dentist. It wasn’t the same. Dr. Bob’s name was gone from the door. I cried. I don’t know if he was ever able to practice again. I have to this day never found any dentist that comes near to the kindness and care of Dr. Bob.
I read the obituary and it said to leave condolences at the funeral home web site — a Jewish funeral home. I’d never thought about it, but, I guess he was Jewish. I entered my condolences to the family. The Jewish funeral home listed some information — I saw they noted that he passed away “before sunset.” I saw in other places that you indicate if the passing was before or after sunset. Perhaps the next day begins after sunset. I started clicking around information on Jewish funeral customs. I found the following information regarding the ritual washing of the deceased person —
Most well organized communities offer the services a sacred burial society (Chevra Kaddisha), which will prepare the body for burial. Men prepare men and women prepare women. They wash the body with warm water from head to foot and, although they may turn the body as necessary to clean it entirely, including all orifices, they never place it face down. The body is dressed in white burial shrouds (tachrichim), which are purposely kept simple to avoid distinguishing between rich or poor. Men are buried with their prayer shawls (tallits), which are rendered ineffective by cutting off one of the fringes. If, however, a person suffered an injury and blood soaked into his or her clothing, ritual washing is not completed. “…the blood of a person is considered as holy as his life and deserves proper burial,” Greenberg writes. From the moment of death, the body is not left alone until after burial. This practice, called guarding/watching (shemira), is also based on the principle of honoring the dead. A family member, a Chevra Kaddisha member, or someone arranged by the funeral parlor passes the time by reciting psalms (Tehillim) as this person watches over the deceased.
In our Catholic Church, we are still celebrating Easter. Just two weeks ago, we celebrated the Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday. I read the passage above and can imagine the Jewish customs around the death and burial of Jesus. Christian roots are found in the Jewish culture. The Shroud of Turin has been in the news again as it is brought out on display. The words above give very specific instructions regarding the blood of the deceased person. The blood is “as holy as his life and deserves proper burial.” The reasons behind our Catholic purification rituals are deeply rooted in customs of the earliest Christian Jews. The Precious Blood.
I don’t know how Dr. Bob practiced his Jewish faith. I do know that I went to Israel — the Holy Land — for the first time in February 2000. Less than two days upon my return to work, I was eating lunch at a cafe’ with a coworker. To my horror, as I bit down into the tuna salad croissant, something didn’t feel right. I reached in my mouth and pulled out my baby tooth. I was mortified–I had protected it for all of 35 years. I had no choice but to find some dentist to fix this. Groan. Sigh.
So… I am contemplating another trip to Israel later this year. Hopefully not followed by another trip a to a dentist who pales in comparison to my beloved Dr. Bob.
I prayed for you at Mass today. Shalom.
May His illustrious name become increasingly great and holy
In the world that He created according to His will,
and may He establish His kingdom
In your lifetime and in your days
and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel
Speedily and soon. And let us say amen.
May His illustrious name be blessed always and forever.
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled
Honoured, raised up and acclaimed
be the name of the Holy one blessed be He
beyond every blessing hymn, praise and consolation
that is uttered in the world. And let us say amen
May abundant peace from heaven, and life
Be upon us and upon all Israel. And let us say amen.
May He who makes peace in His high places
Make peace upon us and upon all Israel,
And let us say amen