Introducing my first letter from the dead, I said it came out of a frustrating funeral experience. It was the "letter" from a dead husband to his wife, possibly something published in a Dear Abby or Ann Landers column that did me in. The message was Don't worry, be happy. I'm in heaven, everything's cool. That fact alone was supposed to cancel any agony the widow would experience. Her circumstances were irrelevant. Arghh.
I've always felt that memorial services were for the living; to provide us with sacred time and space to remember and honor the life of the one we lost, and to give us courage to shoulder on without him/her. I never thought that anything we did or said would make a difference to the dead, or insure them a slot in a specific beyond this realm venue. In that, I agree with Thomas Lynch who says about funerals, "the dead don't care."
My letter to a widower:
After today, take the suit to the Salvation Army. It’s seen too many buried. First your mother, then my brother, then our Samuel. Not Samuel. We needed Samuel. God forbid our child, we’d said. But God didn’t forbid. And how we tried to change God’s mind. Bring him back, God. Bring him back or give us another child. We’ll do anything. Go back to synagogue; invite Rabbi Kamenstein to dinner. Bargaining is for the living, Ira, and we both know it doesn’t work.
In this heat, your jacket will be off at graveside, so starch your shirt, there’s a can of Niagara in the back closet, top shelf. Turn the iron to cotton. Let it heat for five minutes, then spray like you’re doing my hair. Grief is for the living, Ira. I wish I’d known that. I wish I had allowed myself to wail, instead of drowning in the sherry. I know I wasn’t easy with the drinking, the nagging, cheating at Bridge. I had to win, had to have everything my way. You just let it roll like water off a duck. So Ira, do what you need to do. If you don’t want to be alone, I’ll understand. Everyone will understand. I tried to take care of you. I loved you. Maybe I never said it right.
Wear the red tie, you know it was my favorite, and take it to the cleaners, see if they can’t get the gravy stain out. Oh, and put a rose, just one on my coffin. I always liked that. What else? Make sure Ben at John’s Food King de-bones the chicken.
Things will be different, Ira. If it feels like too much, just breathe. Breathe and go through the motions and one day you might find something that makes you want to trim your beard, put on your blue cashmere vest and leave the house.
And Ira, if that something happens to be Doris Katz, you have my blessing.