FOREWORD
Fifteen years ago. I remember the moment vividly. Like it was today.The
first time I introduced my personal voice into my anthropology. My son
Gabrielhadjustcelebratedhisfirstbirthday.Iwassoontoturnthirtyandin
thesecondyearofapostdoctoralfellowship.Wewerelivingonthecorner
of McKinley Street in a rented house painted forest-green. The wooden
floors were old and warped and we had no rugs to cover them. I had a
room where I wrote and dreamed of writing in ways I couldn’t write. A
deadlinewascomingup:IneededtoprepareapaperfortheannualAmeri-
cananthropologyconference.ButIwasfindingithardtowrite.Iwasstill
grievingoverthelossofmybelovedmaternalgrandfather,whohadpassed
awayover the summer while I was doing research in Spain.
Knowingmygrandfatherwasdying,Ihadreturnedtothesmallvillage
in Spain where I had done my dissertation work, carrying the weight of
guilt and uncertainty on my shoulders. Ironically, my reason for going to
Spain was to carry out research on attitudes toward death. Even though
I’d lived in the village for twenty months, I’d never asked people to tell
me stories about death.The research would form the basis of the paper I
needed to present fora panel on attitudes toward death in rural Europe.
Shortlybeforetheendofmytrip,mygrandfatherdiedinMiamiBeach.
Iwasoverwhelmedwithfeelingsof loss,grief,rage,andmoralconfusion.
Why had I been in Spain talking with strangers about death rather than
beingatmygrandfather’ssidegentlyofferingmylastgood-bye?Whywas
it that over the course of my work as an anthropologist I had become an
expert on popular Catholicism and could recite the rosary in Spanish by
heart,butIknewnothingofJewishmourningritualsandhadnoideahow
to honor my grandfather within the traditions of myown heritage?
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