Notes from the funeral of Miriam Chaya

Notes from the funeral of Miriam Chaya, also known as Harriet Fields, held Friday, April 17, 2015:
by Lea Delson

The funeral of Miriam Chaya, also known as Harriet Fields, was a very moving occasion. Family members and friends gathered at Rolling Hills Cemetery in Richmond under a beautiful clear sky, surrounded by lush greenery. The following are some of the highlights of the occasion. I wrote these notes for the benefit of those who were not able to attend and might want to read about it.

Rabbi Diane Elliot presented a beautiful eulogy, encapsulating Miriam Chaya's life in a very loving and comprehensive way, describing the challenges, accomplishments and triumphs of Miriam Chaya's life, including: her childhood in Detroit marked by the absence of her parents and her responsibility to care for her older disabled brother, her first marriage and motherhood, her teaching career, dedication to feminism including her authorship of two feminist fairy tales, her daily practice of journaling, her love of beauty, love of performing, her theatrical and filmmaking career, and her second marriage to Bernie Freedman.

Rabbi Diane read Miriam Chaya's words in which she described undergoing the ritual immersion of a mikvah in which she took on the name of Miriam Chaya as part of a ritual of moving into her elder years. Miriam Chaya was her adaptation of her given Hebrew name of Chaya Miriam. Miriam Chaya's words (as read by Rabbi Diane) described her realization that she wanted to bring her previous identity of Harriet Muriel along with her into her newly assumed identity.

Yakov Jaffe spoke to the assembled mourners and described the times when he, Miriam Chaya, Bernie and Alison Bermond would join in celebrating Shabbat together. Now he is the sole surviving member of this group. He described dancing with Miriam Chaya to the music of Cole Porter in her later years even as she became frail.

Miriam Chaya's older daughter Juliet read a poem by Mary Oliver about your one wild and precious life, "The Summer Day". Cantor Richard Kaplan sang "El Maleh Rahamim" in a deeply spiritual and moving way.

At the conclusion of the funeral, the mourners formed two rows and the closest family - Juliet, Claudia, Barbara, Tallula (Miriam's granddaughter), and Miriam's first husband Jerry and his wife Beverly - walked between the rows of mourners in the traditional ritual of comforting the bereaved.

The shiva gatherings were the occasion for many warm and often funny memories and stories from family and friends. A fitting finale to the life of a unique personality.