I like a good funeral.
It was 102°F (39°C) in the San Fernando Valley; I will never understand why people live there of their own free will. Going into the funeral home (why is it called a ‘home’?) was bizarre – dozens of people that looked vaguely familiar. Everyone knew my parents but, because I look nothing like either of them, people looked at me very puzzled, like they couldn’t figure out who I was. As I was introduced, people actually said things like, “Oh my goodness, I never would have known. Last time I saw you, you were only this high.” Blah blah blah. Jesus.
I am still angry there was no funeral for Jarda and that is part of the reason I had to be at Annie’s. The rabbi was brilliant. No one else spoke at the service but the rabbi read some things that Annie’s family had written about her, and the rabbi just talked about what an amazing person Annie was and he was successful in capturing her spirit.
The things I loved about Annie were that she was always positive, she only ever said nice things about people. I have wondered all my life how she could resist making snide comments because she had a great sense of humour and a sharp wit. But she would never be unkind. If she met one of my friends once 20 years ago, she would ask me about that person regularly. She once sent me a doll, a monster from Where the Wild Things Are, when I was already a divorcée in my 30s, because she had seen the doll in a shop and remembered that it was my favourite book from childhood. I have never visited LA without seeing Annie and H., her husband.
Annie was selfless. She had written sincere thank you notes to the doctors who had tried to save her, and had consoled the nurses as she was dying. Annie sent early birthday and anniversary cards to people. My mom received both on the day of Annie’s death. Annie wrote cards for the people to whom she was closest to be given to them just after her funeral. Mom got one of those too.
I was overcome by sadness during Annie’s service, even while laughing at some of the stories the rabbi was telling. It got worse as I watched my parents walk out with the coffin, my dad as a pallbearer, my mom behind as an honorary pallbearer.
The graveside ceremony was very quick because of the heat, and because Annie did not want any of the mourners throwing dirt on her grave. She had found that ritual overly dramatic and maudlin. I walked away from the gravesite with my mom. She pointed to a nearby gravestone: “Did you notice who’s buried just there?” I looked and it was Danny J., a kid I had gone to Hebrew school with who had grown up to do amazing philanthropic work but who got sick and died last year. That was when the sadness became overwhelming and I fell sobbing into my mom’s arms. Fucking hell, enough already.
We drove over to Annie’s sister-in-law’s house. All day people asked me if my mom was all right, including Annie’s kids. Annie’s husband and daughter talked to me about Jarda, telling me how sorry they were and how upset Annie had been. Annie’s son hugged my mom and said, “She was just crazy about you, you know.” My poor little mom.
The evening service was a renewal of strong emotion. I got comfort from the familiar Hebrew prayers: I love the sounds of the words and the cadence, I like to sing. I don’t like reading prayers in English because then I have to pay more attention to what the words mean and that is hard because I don’t believe any of it. We read the mourner’s prayer twice (in Hebrew) - that set me off again because I was saying it both for Jarda and for Annie.
I have cried and cried and cried, but now that I have had an outlet for my grief, I will be able to get back to my life more completely starting today. And that is why I like a good funeral.