11/18 – I: Teddy’s Funeral

On its last day, I abandon my emotionally charged but exhausted class to my able co-teachers and slip away in the pre-dawn darkness and wind.  I am off to my aunt’s funeral south of Boston, and it is a perfect celebration of her life.

The grieving and mourning is gentle – her death was easy, timely, and at ninety-four, life owed her little.  We miss her, we celebrate her, but there is no anger at God here.  My family is and was a churchy band – my grandfather played the organ and sometimes handled a service; my father the same.  Here, Teddy’s son-in-law, a devout Episcopalian, read the scripture for the funeral, and my brother, a Congregationalist minister, handled the service, pointing out that we gathered around the piano to sing the hymn “We Gather Together” every time we gathered the family for Thanksgiving, which we did for over 40 years at Teddy’s house.  Teddy’s two daughters speak simply and clearly, the six grandchildren the same, and two of the dozen or so great-grandchildren acquit themselves well in speaking about ‘Grammy’.

The rest of us – tending toward a spiritual agnosticism and general discomfort with organized religion – squirm in the pews in our wool suits until the reception next door, when we can unfold and catch up with all the family members to the tune of tea and sandwiches.  People I haven’t seen since they were teenagers, cocky in tennis whites, present themselves – now bald, red-rimmed, and wrinkled – for inspection at the other end of life: its parameters defined, success achieved or not.  A trip to the bathroom and a look in the mirror confirms that I too have defined my own parameters and run my race, and wear the results in my face.  I give myself an Al Pacino wink (you betcha!) and go back to the polite reunions.  It’s a lovely day, brisk and sunny, suitable to commemorate a New England icon in a suitably New England way.

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