talktooloose: (Saints in Love)
[personal profile] talktooloose
With my sister and her husband in from Long Island, and my nephew home for the holidays from Harvard, my family was  all going to get together for New Year's Eve. But an hour before Béla and I were to head uptown, my mom called to say that my sister-in-law's father had died suddenly at age 95.

She and my brother were left waiting for hours with the body for the Coroner to show up, and my two nephews were stuck up in Vaughan waiting for their parents to come home, so the rest of us had a smaller, quieter New Year's.

We desert peoples don't keep bodies around for very long, and so the funeral was the next morning. I had been to that exact corner of that same cemetery more than once for deaths in the same family, both for my sister-in-law's mother two years ago, and for her sister back in 1995 who commited suicide at age 41 after years struggling with both MS and bipolar disorder. I was a pall bearer at the funeral.

I was again a pall bearer on Sunday for the deceased, whose long journey had started in Poland early in the last century, taken him through Auschwitz where he lost much of his family, to a DP (displaced persons) camp after the war where he met his future wife, and to Canada.

The day had started out sunny and fairly warm downtown, but by the time we got to the cemetery it was freezing and pelting down rain and wet snow. The pall bearers were asked to come to the back of the hearse and get into position, and I was in trouble pretty much right away.

The deceased was in a traditional pine box coffin, and so for the first time (I've borne pall about six times) there were no handles to hold. To add to my troubles, my brother decided it was his duty to bear his father-in-law on this last journey. But my brother, who has parkinson's disease, is not strong enough for the task, and I was beside him holding up a front corner while he was giving no support in the middle. The far end of the coffin was being carried by very tall men from another branch of the family, so I ended up having a large portion of the weight tilted my way as we held the coffin awkwardly from underneath, supported on our hands, down a slippery slope, stopping regularly as tradition dictates.

And I was wearing wool gloves with no gripping power.

I almost threw my back out, I almost dropped the coffin three times. When the nervous funeral director said, "keep lifting!" the tall men on the far side lifted higher, making my burden worse. But we made it. You do what you have to when you have to.

The truth is, I really like funerals. I like how everyone comes together and lets their emotions run free. I like the shiva afterwards. In this case, it was shocking and amazing and touching to hear my sister-in-law's account of events, since she was there with her father as he suddenly, catastrophically went down hill and died in a matter of minutes. I guess I like how funerals and shivas are times when we realize how much we, the living need each other and can be there for each other. And even if we think we're going to drop the coffin, we don't.
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