While the dominant culture of North America has largely lost touch with family- and community-centered responses to death, there are cultures within the U.S. where these traditions have remained more intact.
A recent post on the website The Jew School explains, "The chevra kadisha (“Holy Community”) is a geographically-organized group responsible for all Jewish matters pertaining to death, including arranging people to sit with and guard the body (shemira), and preparation of the body for burial (tahara)."
Giulia Fleishman, a third year rabbinical student, shares her personal journey to joining a chevra kadisha, and participating in her first tahara. She describes tahara as "the loving act of ritually washing a deceased person, clothing them in white garments, and enclosing them in a simple pine casket." Giulia's story describes the process: "As they perform taharah, the members of the chevra kadisha chant prayers that ask forgiveness for any mistakes they might make, as well as lines from The Song of Songs that attest to the deceased’s beauty, even in their present state."
Read Giulia's full post.