Today I helped prepare Phyllis to meet her Creator.

"It is better to know us and not need us,
Than to need us and not know us."

That is what the plaque on the funeral home office door read. I thought that to be extremely strange. I can see this kind of philosophy at, say, a hospital or doctor's office. But at a funeral home?! It is inevitable; everyone is going to need them...

Oh well. I had some time to spare, and would have inquired about it within the office, but it was closed.

I sat on a bench instead, soaking in the peacefulness while waiting for the other volunteers to arrive.

Her name and the fact that she was Jewish were the only things I knew about herPreparation of the dead for burial is undertaken by a community organization called the chevrah kadisha, the "Sacred Society." The volunteers of the Sacred Society quietly and privately wash, purify and dress the deceased, while simultaneously reciting lyrical prayers and Psalms.

We were a group of five women, eager to fulfill this mitzvah. This was my first time and I was a tad anxious. But this was something I had wanted to volunteer for, so I came with a positive attitude.

We walked into the room where the deceased woman lay completely covered. Her name, Phyllis, was scribbled on the wall-board.

Her name and the fact that she was Jewish were the only things I knew about her. Nothing else mattered.

The little bit of nervousness that I had felt dissipated when Tova, the leader of our group, uncovered Phyllis' face and remarked, "Oh, wow, she was a beautiful woman."

The atmosphere in the room was serene. There was a calm, a composure, a holiness.

There was a task to be done and our concern was accomplishing it with utmost dignity and care for the deceased, and of course according to the letter of the law.

Since I was the most inexperienced of the group, I chose to be the one to recite the special prayers as needed. However, as Tova began to guide us through the procedures, I felt myself able and willing to help hands-on.

There are many details involved in preparing and purifying the body before its burial. Laws and customs with symbolism and meaning; so special, so sacred. There is a system and order for every stage of the process. From the washing through to the dressing, from the preparing of the casket to placing the body inside. It is truly amazing how many details and beautiful rituals are involved in preparing the body for its next phase. From the sprinkling of soil from the Land of Israel, to the tying of the ribbons in the shape of a shin, (signifying G‑d's name)—it is all a holy experience.

Again and again we were reminded to handle the body with gentleness, care and utmost dignity. Every movement was infused with such reverence, gentleness, it was awe-inspiring. I felt comforted knowing that I too, some day, will be treated with such respect.

This concept is what touched me so—the absolute honor given to the deceased. Keeping the body covered whenever possible. Moving the body gently and as little as possible. For example, when dressing the body in tachrichim (shrouds) we encountered some difficulty pulling down the shirt in the back. We wanted to lift the body, but Tova pointed out that we will be able to smooth everything out when we put the top shirt (kittel) on, and that way she will only be moved once.

It was a challenging task, after Phyllis was all dressed, to lift her off the table and to carefully place her into the aron (casket). Thank G‑d through the team effort we managed without incident.

Lying peacefully in the aron, dressed in white, face covered, she was an awesome sight to behold, so pure, so holy, so ready to greet her Maker.

I felt comforted knowing that I too, some day, will be treated with such respectAfter the aron was closed, we each apologized to Phyllis, in case we had moved her too quickly, a tad too roughly, or if by chance we mishandled or offended her in any way. I later learned that an annual fast day was established for the volunteers of this Sacred Society, as a form of repenting, if, G‑d forbid, we had failed to handle with appropriate care.

So much care and attention to avoid hurting a body. The emphasis and caution to guard against offending someone who can no longer feel really altered my perceptions.

Made me think... more aware.

How we need to be ever so careful in treating our friends, neighbors and even total strangers who are alive. People with feelings, with sensitivities, troubles. Not because they can hurt you back, but because they are part of G‑d.

If the Torah teaches us, with lots of intricate details, how to treat a body without a soul—without G‑d's holy spark that gives it life, shouldn't we be so much more cautious and careful when relating to a human being with a soul?

"Phyllis the daughter of .... We ask forgiveness of you if we did not treat you respectfully.

May you be an advocate for all of Israel.

Go in peace, rest in peace, and arise in your turn at the end of days."