There are three things that are inevitable in life besides taxes; birth, living life to the fullest and death. Sometimes death just sort of creeps up on us as we age; sometimes it comes pounding on the door, wanting to claim us at some nasty moment.
There are five funerals in my life that I remember. The first is my Uncle Dave from the Bronx, who was a very fun uncle that always made the kids laugh. The second is my friend, Big Ron O'Brien,” the legendary DJ; he was certainly a larger than life character. The three funerals I refer to in the title are a little different because of the different ways I knew them.
My grandfather Herman was the typical Jewish grandfather. He was always spoiling my sister and me. He took us places. We all had fun, when he and my grandmother, Ida, lived in Brooklyn.
Then my grandparents moved to Florida. We didn't see them nearly as much. We talked with them, on the phone, all the time.
One day at work, I got a call from my mother telling me that Herman was in the hospital with congestive heart failure. She put him on the phone and we both started crying. I told him I loved him and he tried to tell me the same.
I hung up the phone crying. I called our main office to tell them that someone should be in the store with me the next couple of days. I would have to leave at a moment’s notice to fly to Florida for a funeral. It wasn't a question of if, but when.
The “when” happened the next day, at 3 pm. My uncle called me. I called my wife to find me a flight as soon as possible to Florida. I told the fellow working with me, James, to call the office and let them know I left and would be back in four or five days.
I arrived around 10:30 pm. My mother picked me up. I stayed at my grandparent’s apartment; slept on the floor with an old twin mattress. The funeral was the next day.
As much as I wanted to speak at the funeral, I couldn't. I choked up. One of the many cousins had to hold me up. That was one of the saddest days of my life. When the plane was taking off the next day, I looked out the window and said a final goodbye. I still miss him.
The second funeral happened about four years ago. My Aunt Pam, in Portland, Oregon, passed away. She had made the brave decision, with my Uncle Jay, to stop all cancer treatments and prepare for the end with the help of her daughter, my cousin, Abby. Talk about two peas in a pod.
I was at work when my mother called me to tell me that Pam passed away. I had been using someone's iPhone to try to find flights. I found it difficult on such a small screen. I left work early. I managed to find a flight the next day that stopped briefly in Las Vegas. There wasn't enough time to leave the airport for anything.
I finally get to Portland. I hopped in the rental car, plugged in the GPS and away I went to my uncle's house. I hadn't been there in a few years; I didn't remember what his house looked like. I finally made it, and waited for my mother and sister to show up.
While I was waiting, I got to meet a whole part of the family I never knew, including all of Pam's sisters, nieces and nephews. I also saw three of my cousins that I hadn't seen in years: Enid, and two of her three girls, Lauren and Jamie. They had grown from skinny little kids to poised young women. How time flies.
The funeral was the next day and it was wonderful. My mother and I were crying like babies, as were the rest of the congregation in the temple. Pam was a bit of a bohemian, a free spirit that always did things in her own special way; this service was no different.
When we got to the cemetery, it was drizzling, and I almost slipped in the mud and took Jamie with me. Luckily, she caught me. Only my shoes got messy.
This cemetery doesn’t bury couples side by side or head to head. Here, they bury on top of each other. When the time comes, Uncle Jay will rest for all time on top of Pam.
Pam was a very special person. When I met her for the first time so many years ago, I loved her immediately and always considered her a "real" aunt. Her sense of humor, her intelligence and free spirited way of life were truly amazing. After she died, I asked Uncle Jay for something special of hers; he sent me some pictures. In my living room, I have a handmade glass Seder Plate, which Pam made; we will cherish it forever.
What started all these thoughts about funerals is the last story. Mort is my father-in-law. His best friend, Bernie, passed away this last Monday, from a brain aneurysm. It was fast; he didn't suffer. When Marcy called me at work to tell me, I was in shock.
The funeral was Thursday, at The Calverton National Cemetery, which is in eastern Long Island, about an hour from us. Michelle wanted to go because she is close to Selma, Bernie's wife.
The service was in a pavilion, with all the service plaques displayed on the wall. Two Navy service members attended for the flag folding ceremony. I didn’t know Bernie had been in the Merchant Marines, when he was younger. When they handed the flag to Selma, we all started to cry.
Their son, Neil, talked about Bernie. I learned things that I didn't.. Marcy grew up around Bernie and his family; just before we got married twenty-two years ago. Neil said that Bernie was the pied piper of the neighbourhood, always playing with the kids and piling everyone in his Chevy Nova for ice cream at Carvel.
His daughter Elyse also spoke, as did one of his grandsons. I knew Bernie as the funny neighbour who worked part time at Home Depot. Marcy knew him as the funny neighbor, and Mort knew him as his best friend.
After the ceremony, we talked to Neil for a moment. He certainly remembered Marcy and her brother, Glenn. When he saw us, he got that nice little smile that said it all. He hugged and kissed us all, and thanked us for coming and remembering his father.
We finally caught up to Selma and we both started crying again as we hugged. When she saw Michelle, she also gave her a big hug and kiss; she was happy she came. Marcy also started crying as they hugged.
The three of us went to work that day, though I wasn't really in the mood. I dislike funerals as much as I dislike hospitals. In one way or another, those two places are connected; when the time comes, it comes at its own pace; there is no pre-set check out time.
Its times like this that I think about the important things. Maybe it’s time to say a "Hello" instead of goodbye.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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