I wore my black Banana Republic funeral suit today. I hate it. I purchased it 14 years ago when I needed a new suit to wear to client meetings for my corporate advertising job. I never wore it beyond the initial hiring interview; it was too conservative for me. It sat in my closet for ten years until I pulled it out as the perfect, respectful black thing to wear for a funeral. I wore it to my friend’s father’s funeral where colon cancer was the criminal. It came out again two years ago to attend my grandfather’s funeral, another victim of the cancer villain. And until this morning, the suit hung at the back of my closet, dripping sadness from its 3/4 length sleeves. The wool skirt sits too high on my waist and falls too low in the hemline.
Today I wore the itchy suit to bury my aunt.
The rabbi told us her body was respectfully handled according to the rules and traditions of the Jewish faith. She was dressed in customary burial attire, and placed in a simple pine coffin, which will disintegrate, along with her body, into the earth, from where she came.
The rabbi said she was a gift from God and now she must return to him. However religious you are or to whichever religion you abide, this lesson is universal: we’re all on borrowed time.
His sermon and explanations of the traditional burial were sufficient and mildly poetic. He spoke so fast I wanted to focus longer on each word, the way my aunt would have. I wanted to stand with an open mind and heart, not judging the white foam which never left the sides of his mouth. My aunt would have giggled and told my sister and me to stop making fun of him.
Nothing he said could change what we felt at the moment. Watching a person who was just alive a few days ago be lowered into the ground is a tattoo moment; a memory you can’t forget. After the coffin is lowered, everyone uses a shovel to cover her with the colossal pile of dirt beside the hole. “The first scoop you do with the back of your shovel,” the rabbi explained, “symbolically to indicate you don’t want to do it. The rest you can do the standard way.”
The rabbi said how attending and participating in someone’s funeral; ushering them to the next life wherever or whatever it may be, is the kindest and most generous blessing you can bestow because the recipient can never thank you. It seems crazy. Thank me for coming to their funeral? To me, this event was more than a good-bye, it was the burial of one world: the one with her in it and the beginning of life without her in it. I do not have an aunt anymore. My father doesn’t have a sister. My cousin doesn’t have a mother and his father doesn’t have a wife. We just have memories.
I’m in the normal stages of grief, mostly thinking about what a shitty niece I was, never worthy of her goodness. I’m squinting to remember her face and my sister reminds me she had the softest, downiest skin of all time. It was alabaster and uniquely hers. I could have been better, done more.
Millions of people go through this life event every day; there is no out-running the inevitable ending. A thick lump sits in my throat and gut and I burst out into tears randomly and I’m told this is all healthy and normal. I linger in the wake of her death, waiting for time to blur the pain and for life to distract me.