David Techner: Answering An Unanticipated Question

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By David Techner
By David Techner

When I decided to join The Ira Kaufman Chapel as the third generation of a proud business entering its fourth decade, I committed to a principle a college business professor taught in our class. He challenged our class to find a career where you know you could make a difference, preferably a path not yet explored in the business you were representing.

My path was personal. My grandfather died when I was 9, and for reasons unknown to me, I was not told of his death from leukemia. I came home from school to find my parents and family observing shivah.

I was left to wonder what my parents were hiding though I came to understand they were not hiding anything. They simply did not know what to say or how to say it. I realized this was a huge void — not only with parents, but also with professionals who simply did not feel a need to engage kids in a topic that adults struggled with.

I also realized that unlike the expression, “Ignore it, and it will go away,” this would not go away. In good conscience, as a young professional, I felt a need to establish a dialogue so I could not only speak to kids regarding a significant loss but their parents as well. 

As I explored a new and effective approach, I knew I needed to learn as much as I could about every task we must accomplish from death to burial. What must we do, and why must we do it? What is required by civil law, and what is required by Jewish law?

As I studied and understood the beauty and practicality of what happens “behind closed doors,” I was excited to share a beautiful tradition, which speaks to wisdom, guiding us in life, in end of life and, yes, even in death.

Then, after more than 40 years of taking on questions from all ages — kids, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents — I was asked a question from 6½-year-old Becca that I could never have anticipated when I began this quest four decades ago.

After taking three family generations on a tour of our chapel, answering the typical curious questions common with each generation, Becca was particularly inquisitive and not shy about asking questions. I answered all her questions and assured her I would see her at shivah, and if she had any more questions after the service, she could ask me then.

I walked into the home and Becca was ready for me. But was I ready for Becca?

“Mr. David, do you remember you said if I had any questions, I could ask you when you came to my Grandma’s house.”

“Yes, Becca, do you have a question for me?”

“I do. Can you tell me how I can FaceTime with G.G. in Heaven?”

Maybe I should have anticipated this question? After all, when my first and second grandchildren were living out of town, FaceTime became a daily routine, a tool to connect in ways I could have never anticipated — having grown up as a child blown away by the concept of color TV!

But FaceTiming with G.G. in Heaven? In a career of great questions, this is my new favorite.

“Becca, what do you need to FaceTime with G.G. or anybody?”

“A phone?”

“Excellent. And what does G.G. need to FaceTime?”

“A phone?”

“Exactly!”

I feared Becca panicking, knowing a cell phone had not been placed into G.G.’s casket, so I asked another question. “Becca, have you ever heard of Wi-Fi?”

Her reply was a simple, “I have heard of it, but I am not sure what it is.”

I proceeded to explain that Wi-Fi was set up in houses, office buildings and any building that was set up to connect to the internet. I then asked if she ever looked up at a clear sky, with stars shining, the moon glowing, where it appears you can see stars forever. She replied she had. I asked if she looked up at this sky I described and knew what it was called. She did not have an answer.

“The universe,” I said.

I explained to Becca that we have figured out how to Wi-Fi houses, schools, office buildings and movie theaters, but no one has figured out how to Wi-Fi the universe. After a short pause, she looked up and said, “It’s OK, they’ll figure it out!”

I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I may be getting too old for this,” but I am grateful to Becca for the smile that has not left my face in the weeks since she asked my favorite question.

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