My older sister Nancy and I love funerals. We go at random every weekend, ingratiating ourselves into the crowds, the friends, the family. We pretend to weep with the mourners, while we absorb things with the coldness of detectives, me in an oversized suit, borrowed from Dad. Nancy in one of Mother’s nice black gowns. We love the darkness, the garb, the somberness. The people gathered together, mothers and children, cousins, nephews, people with connections we cannot fathom. Being so close to darkness, a kind of whirl, excitement. We don’t know dead people, the wildness of loss. Mother and Dad are divorced, but that’s different. They wear fedoras and lavender and false civility. Even our grandparents still live, regaling us with tales of meeting Teddy Roosevelt and other trivialities.
But above all, we find the novelty of it, imagining the dead in their youthful days while the priests and rabbis pontificate on death and mourning. They pay fealty with platitudes about being good husbands and fathers and wives. Our minds drift off into a kind of reverie, wild as jazz improvisations. This guy was a piano-playing reefer addict. This lady was a mother of seven, who ran off with some count. Another guy is a long-lost Russian royal. But all too often, we imagine the things they’ve lost, the real things, the shape of their lives, changed by marriage, by World War II, by Korea, by the threat of things, imagined and true.
Of course, we get older, become adults. We become a writer and a pianist, respectively. Sometimes, we try to crash a few funerals, but we feel more immediacy, a connection so dark, so familiar. Youthful novelty is fleeting. No matter the souls, the elderly flesh-worn faces, the young widows, the middle-aged, we feel a kind of sadness, a desire to flee. The intimacy of space is constraining. Someday, we will mourn loved ones, Nancy and I weeping in black together, sharing intimate space, brother and sister. It may be relatives. It may be our friends. Sooner or later, we will pass ourselves, and we don’t dare imagine the words they’ll pronounce. Here lies Nancy, here lies Nick. They loved to crash funerals. And other crowds will converge, each with their own connection to us.
Nancy says it’s fucking depressing. What idiots we were, she says, laughing, a laugh that turns to something somber. A hobby gone.
We try to avoid funerals. If we get invited to some acquaintance’s funeral, we make up excuses. We feel bad, but also feel deep, shameful relief.
We find hobbies, things that connote living, beyond our lives and work. We sometimes drink, late at night, at a bar that’s meant to conjure nostalgia and Elvis. We crash movies, throw popcorn at middle-aged assholes and quote them loudly, as if we are still children. Apocalypse Now. 10. We laugh at middle-aged horniness, at divorce, at the jingoism of war, blood and napalm. We retreat into youth. We knock over trash cans and dissect people’s secrets. We start bowling instead. If we have to die, let us die in some moment of triumph.
Even the illusion of triumph, something to drown out the image of saddened faces. Of course, even in the moments of joy and triumph, those faces rise to my mind. I drown them out. Nancy probably does too, though she speaks nothing of that.
And on we go. I drown those faces, suppress. I avoid myself in the mirror, avoid the mustache, still young, virile, but with hints of a not-so-distant winter. I can only imagine Nancy doing likewise, as youthful and graceful as she still is. We don’t confess these things together. It’s idiotic, but the realities of things are too much.
Illusions are better than nothing. I repeat that creed over and over, and I believe it. I think I do. So does Nancy.
Image- funeral in the time of Covid – dd