Culture shock.

Let me begin by saying that I apologize in advance about the mood of this post.

I experienced a major cultural shock today. I would say that after living here for 21 years nothing should shock me anymore, but oh boy how wrong I was.

Hear me out and please, please tell me I am not crazy –  or maybe I am.

As part of Max’s class preparation for their upcoming B’nai Mitzvah, they give the kids a funeral home tour to learn about death and its traditions in the Jewish culture. Yes, you read this right – funeral home. This event was mandatory for kids and parents to attend. When I first read about it, I was strongly opposed to it. I did not want to attend and I did not want Max to attend either, but I guess we had no choice – we had to go.

My first reaction was – who is doing a field trip to a funeral home, it’s not a theater, it’s not a museum, so why are kids as young as 13 years old being forced to learn about death?!

See, the way I grew up, death was a very gruesome and somber occasion. All of our parents were children of war and death to them and to us was associated with something horrible. Back in the USSR there were no funeral homes, so the bodies of the loved ones stayed in the same place with you until they were buried. Now, my American friends, just picture this: for 3 sometimes 5 days you have a dead body in your little apartment – this whole concept made me afraid of death in a major way. I never got over it and I am not sure I never will.

Today I saw how my child and his friends approach death, and I realized that they don’t really separate death from life, they accept the fact that all of them one day in their life will be faced with death and they should know how to deal with it.

They asked questions – I should say smart questions, they participated in discussions and they even laughed about it. I have to give kudos to a funeral director, who made this “field trip” light even for me, although I refused to look at caskets and see some other parts of the funeral homes. I stopped my education short and waited for my 13 year – old to finish the “tour” without me. Please tell me I am not being over dramatic about it. He is now in bed reading his book and laughing about his favorite character and I still can’t shake off the feeling that I just touched death…..



About Ariana

I came to USA about 20 years from former USSR. I am an American Citizen with a heavy Russian Accent. My two boys always make fun of my English. I love to write, I usually do it for me, but if you would like to stop and leave a comment it would be great! I ‘d love to share with you my American World with the hint of my Russian Personality.
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25 Responses to Culture shock.

  1. totsymae1011 says:

    Wow, Ariana. I can see how this would be overwhelming for you. I suppose the good you can get out of this is that your son doesn’t share the experience you had in the USSR. Besides that, he is still young and thankfully, life is good and he’s a happy young man. Though I’m feeling badly for what you’ve had to endure, going to the funeral home, after those unfortunate memories. (Giving you a virtual pat on the back)

  2. I was born and raised in America … Phoenix, AZ, to be exact … and even I don’t deal well with the idea and/or concept of death. So, you’re not alone. I can only imagine, however, how this must have intensified for you, given your parents grew up around war. And the bodies in the apartments, that would scare ANYONE. I’m glad you seem to be doing OK now, though! Hey, I’ve never lived anywhere else, and sometimes I even experience culture shock at how Americans view the world. 😉

    • Ariana says:

      Thank you Shari, so you don’t think I am crazy? It was just too much for me, I really did not want to see where they prepare bodies for burial, but kids seemed to be ok with the whole concept.

  3. Jen says:

    I’m sorry Ariana it sounds like was a difficult day for Momma. I understand perfectly, they actually did that in New York City many many years ago when my mother whose in her 80’s was a child and she’s never gotten over it either ! Her mother made her kiss dead relations, it was just horrible for her too.
    I think however there are more relaxed attitudes about death in our culture. I have to admit I’ve seen a lot of death in my family, including two of my own children. For me there comes a point where its preferable to focus on life; not only on the life of the loved one lost but on your own life, it’s just easier that way. Less painful that way.

    • Ariana says:

      Thank Jen, I know it is a difficult subject for you. The same goes for my parents – in – law, who lost their older son. The way they deal with it -they never talk about him at least in my presence. Before we left for USA we visited his grave and that was it, but what they did is to take his Navy uniform with us.

  4. Monica says:

    Ariana, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. But I agree with Totsy about your son. It should be a big relief that he doesn’t share the experience you’ve had with death. You did the right thing by going outside and waiting, and letting him finish the tour. Were you able to talk to the rabbi beforehand to share your feelings? I hope so. They need to understand that sometimes what is planned isn’t suitable for everyone. That there should be a way to opt out, instead of making things mandatory, especially when there is such a good reason as yours.

    • Ariana says:

      Thank you Monica, you know I should have talk to a Rabbi, but I did not. Now looking back I am glad we went. It did not help me to coupe with death better, but it for sure did not scare my child. What amazes me, is the way death is approach here – part of life. I went to African American funeral once and the people were singing there – that was another shock.

  5. Chanale says:

    Ive actually never heard of any children from my neck of the woods participating in a funeral home field trip but on the other hand we visit the Lubavitcher Rebbes grave with our children all throughout the year.its funny cuz my four year old asks me about death and I like the way you expressed it. Its almost a part of life for this generation whether they have experienced loss first hand or not. I think its ok although I understand it upset you. I just read her a book called Zeydeh about a boy whos grandfather dies and I myself was in tears but she absorbed it beautifully and I felt ok with that. Bottom line may we know of only joy!

    • Ariana says:

      Thank you Chanale, I’ll make sure to check out the book. Last year as a part of Jewish Detroit tour, kids and adults went to visit old Jewish cemetery. Once again – kids were fine, they were making tensile applications off of the graves to take home with them.

  6. It does sound like you had a rough experience. I hope I can help you by sharing my own story.

    I have lived here all my life, in Pennsylvania. And there are still times when something will happen in front of me and my mind is so boggled I cannot think straight. Things happen and I just feel like a train hit me because they are so far out of ordinary reality for me, that I do not understand they could ever happen.

    In time, you will heal from this shock. But, I agree with you that you may never feel strong enough about your past experiences to completely release the pain they bring you. I hope you can heal as much as possible and look at the better side of death.

  7. Ariana says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My experience was a bit shocking, but I guess it was shocking for me and not for the kids.

  8. Shary Hover says:

    I’ve never heard of visiting a funeral home as a learning experience. It sounds strange to me. I think I would have found it difficult, too, but I’m glad your son didn’t seem upset by the visit. I guess kids are more resiliant than their parents are, maybe because they haven’t had many traumatic experiences to connect to what they see.

  9. Kathy says:

    When I was twelve, I accompanied my mother and an aunt to make arrangements for the funeral of my father’s aunt. I had been there before for funerals and visitations, and the owners were old friends of the family, so it wasn’t completely alien. I listened as forms were filled out and walked with them through the casket room. It felt rather strange at the time, but the experience made death less mysterious and prepared me for what I would have to do someday for my own parents.

  10. Phil says:


    I can appreciate the cultural differences and how this must have seemed shocking and appalling to have to deal with, especially for the reasons you give about how death is viewed from where you’ve come.

    I am not sure there is any one way to feel about death. Let’s face it, in a hundred years from now, nearly 7 billion people will have died, and no one yet in the history of man has escaped that fate, so death is a normal process, one that validates life itself. There is no hot without cold, light without dark, day without night, and life without death. The concept of a funeral and burial is more about the living than it is about the dead. I can understand great remorse and grief in a life that was cut short – my own brother died at 10 of leukemia when I was a teen. That was a difficult funeral indeed. Yet when one has lived a good, full life, a funeral need not take on such a somber tragic tone.

    I’m glad you survived the trauma, and that your son is handling the situation well. You deserve a lot of credit for staying tough in a difficult situation.

    Advance congratulations on your son’s upcoming B’nai Mitzvah.

    • Ariana says:

      I love how you are looking at, and you are right there is no other way to look at death and 100 years from now over 7 billion people will be dead….. so sad – put part of life!

  11. It wasn’t too long ago here in the U.S. that people had wakes in their home. My parents grew up with that. You are a good mom to be brave and go with your son. I’m sure he laughed at your fear!

  12. Hey, sorry I creeped you out on my blog. Death to me is not something creepy, but something natural. Enjoyed reading about your tour. HF

  13. Leah says:

    I’m with you on this one. I have a hard time with death and can’t imagine being comfortable with that field trip. And the caskets, yikes! I think staying back was the right choice.

  14. Bella says:

    Ariana, I can imagine how this experience would serve to trigger unpleasant memories in you and I’m sorry that this was the case. I’m glad your son was able to learn from the activity and wasn’t traumatized in any way. Judaism places strong emphasis on death and the necessary rituals that go hand in hand with it. Perhaps this was the reason they chose to do this field trip? In any case, I’m glad you were able to share in this experience with your child.

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