Friday, April 09, 2004

Funeral Blues

Jewish burial law says that the body should be in the ground 24 hours after death, but if we ever wanted proof that Judaism was traditionally about the community more than it was about the self, we need merely note that major holidays (and there are many) supercede burial as it does other personal events and celebrations familial and subjuctive, from Bar Mitzvahs to Weddings, moving and abbreviating the funeral rite strangely across to proximate calendar days.

Which is how we found ourselves in the car at eight in the morning on a workday, under a suddenly sunny sky, four days after grandpa passed away in his sleep, anxious about traffic on the Merritt Parkway on our way to the Long Island cemetary where, half a century ago, my grandparents bought narrow burial plots as part of a package deal with everyone else in their apartment complex. Happily, the densest of it cleared around noon, just over the Throg's Neck Bridge (I just like saying Throg's Neck, and what the heck is a Throg?); there was even time for a quick change at the hotel before meeting up with the thirty or so family mourners attending -- which, in this post-Holocaust family shrubbery, works out to over half of my relatives overall, a substantive turnout for a kind of patriarch, or at least the gentle man married to beloved Gramma, the predeceased matriarch almost undisputed -- at the gravesite parking lot.

The proximity of passover also meant an abbreviated service. The grounds staff carried the pine box in on a frame; the same rabbi my mother had as a child, the man who buried her mother and married her first cousin's children, spoke the bare minimum of prayer; some brothers and children and grandchildren spoke; we wept. The sky grew grey, and the wind whipped cold as if it had never been Spring before. We lined up to throw dirt on the casket, our final burden of love, and left in small groups when we were able, back to the hotel for a light lunch and family time.

My grandfather's death was in many ways a blessing. His body had long betrayed him, locking him inside: in death, he was finally free of the heavy bonds of late-stage Parkinsons. He'd been sick so long, and on morphine for a while, the rest and release will surely have been a relief. But though Willow understood that he was sick, and that we had gathered to be sad together, she will not remember him, any more than I remember my own last remaining great grandparents. My mother will forever be an orphan. And I'm getting older, too.

posted by boyhowdy | 7:45 PM |

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