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let the dead bury their dead

This week I traveled to New York for a double-header funeral. My maternal Grandfather passed away over the weekend, and just as we arrived in Riverdale we got the call that my great-uncle on my father's side also passed away. Good think we had packed out black suits, although certain members of our party, imagining they would depart the same evening, were stranded without necessities like a toothbrush or second pair of underwear.

My grandfather had been very sick, and his death on Saturday came as a relief for him and for everyone. I had worried privately about how my Grandmother would react to his death, since for the past 65 years she had been dedicated solely to her husband. She handled herself well, however, in the matter-of-fact way characteristic of her, that signifies that Things need to be Done because the constant burden of daily living involves Doing Things. At the funeral home the director asked us if anyone wanted to have a moment with the casket before the service started. My grandmother snapped, "I think we have to identify the body." When the funeral director opened the casket, I almost expected to see a half-decomposed, bluish carcass; Jews donít embalm bodies, you see, and I had never actually seen a Jewish casket opened. My grandfather, however, looked sleeping and peaceful, like the last five years of dying was behind him and he could finally get some rest. "It doesn't look like him," my grandmother said, "He looks so thin."
"He looks thin lying down," my mother said. "He was always sitting up before when you saw him. That's why he had all those double chins."
My grandmother kissed my grandfather on his forehead. "He's cold," she said. "I paid extra to have him refrigerated." She looked at him again. ìOkay,î she said turning away and walking towards the door, ìIíll see you soon.î

The second funeral had a bit of a jovial atmosphere, if only because my fatherís family cannot stop cracking a joke every thirty seconds. My great uncle was buried at the same cemetery on Long Island where the rest of my fatherís clan is buried, and after the internment we went and visited my paternal grandfather.
ìWell Dad,î my father said, ìNow Zamís here too, and Alice right over there. You can all get together and play cards.î
My fatherís cousin yawned. ìIím so tired,î she said.
ìYou can sleep when youíre dead,î said my uncle.
ìIíd rather sleep now,î she said.
ìIíll wake up when Iím dead,î my father said. ìIíll do other stuffÖ Iíll cleanÖî

Neither death came as a big surprise; my great uncle was 82 and had cancer, and my grandfather was 90. Two funerals in two days meant three meals eating in moving cars, two in funeral processions. When I got back I was sick to my stomach from all that driving and eating. Iím very glad to be home, back with Dan and Rascal in the center of life.

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