Friday, December 19, 2008

Seasonal Sadness

It may be the season to be jolly, but the season has also had it's fill of sadness. A dear Aunt died (the mother of one of my closest cousins), as well as the mother of a dear friend and colleague (one of the LLWL members).

I spent two days in Scranton this week, attending the funeral of my Aunt Mary. She was a lovely, kind lady who lived to be 92, so the funeral was really more of a celebration of her much-loved life. And her life was not an especially easy one. Her husband, my father's brother, was killed by an electrical wire that fell after it was struck by lightning. My newly married aunt, who was also pregnant at the time, moved back to her mother's home in Pottsville after my uncle died. At that time, single women (widowed or otherwise) did not live alone. Also, Pottsville was considered far away from Scranton, yet she made sure that her daughter was a part of her father's family. They always came to visit for holidays and family events.

I also lived with my cousin in York the two years that I worked in Harrisburg between college and law school and we've remained close since then. She was like a sister to me & she's the one who taught me my love of shopping. Before her, I spent my time in the world of books, so I had little interest in clothes or jewelry. For those who know me today, that would be a shocking revelation, since I am known for my attire & jewels.

Because she lived a long, full life, the funeral was not as sad an occasion as it usually is. However, there were a few weird moments as we bid farewell to my aunt. That is, I have to say that the picture of the family, standing around at the funeral home, laughing and reminiscing alongside the open casket of my aunt Mary, was a snapshot of a truly bizarre tradition.

This was the Lebanese side of the family, so the ceremony was infused with Arabic music and traditions. After the viewing, we enjoyed a repast of Middle-eastern food that was delicious. I even got to eat one of my favorite Lebanese dishes -- Kebbeh Nayyeh (raw lamb meat) -- a dish that is definitely not for everyone. That was fine with me. It just meant that there was more for me to eat.

Then, of course, there was the Catholic funeral mass. The Priest at the Maronite Church is not my favorite, as I mentioned when he served mass at our family reunion this summer. This guy definitely has serious issues with power and control. He managed to make a time of mourning the loss of a loved one even more stressful.

For example, he would not permit my cousin to have a eulogy during the funeral mass ceremony. The No Eulogy Rule is not one ordained from on high; rather, it is a rule imposed by Father Tyrant. What is a funeral without a eulogy you might ask? Just a mass with a lot of people and a casket, which occurs during services held during the week. During his sermon, Father did include a few words about my aunt, whom he acknowledged he had met once.

Father Tyrant also nixed a request by the family for the choir to sing "Silent Night," one of my aunt's favorite Christmas songs, during the service. No reason given -- just no. Imagine the delight of those in attendance when the choir began singing Silent Night, Holy Night, as the mass ended and the casket began its procession down the aisle of the Church. The Choir director, a relative, decided to defy the good father. After all, it's a bit difficult for the priest to stop the choir, as they're playing the organ and singing in the loft of the Church, from his position on the altar. That alone made my attendance at the mass worthwhile.

In contrast, the ceremony for the mother of my colleague was a memorial service held at her home, where friends and family spoke about Sylvia, a delightfully funny and feisty woman who will be greatly missed. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, because it was the same day as the service for my aunt. My luck -- it was the one concession to Jewish tradition that the family followed -- that the burial occur within a day of the death. However, luckily for me, the Sylvia stories will live on in our memories & remain part of the lunch lore of the LLWL Gang.

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