I am in New York.
Why I am in New York is because my two great aunts (on my Mother's side) just passed away within two weeks of each other. My Mom asked me if I would go with her, and in return for a flight and my attendance at the burial, I am given two days to frolic with my many New York friends. Fair trade.
We took the red-eye last night. I shared half a Lunesta with Mom. Apparently it worked, as we arrived in Newark both saying: "Well... we must have slept, but I don't remember doing it."
Straight to the funeral home where, to my surprise, there was an open casket with a dead body in it. This is not a Jewish way of doing things and I was caught off guard. I've never seen a dead body before. Strange and surreal. Even unsettling. Not something that needs to be done, in my opinion.
Then following the Hearse to the cemetery. Old Jewish cemetery in Staten Island. Lots of tall stones. There, I witnessed my first burial – another first. The casket was there surrounded by fresh dirt. The rabbi spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent.
After the casket was lowered, we were invited to each shovel some dirt in the grave. This is a tradition, though I didn't know it when I had already felt an odd impulse to do so. As people took turns grabbing shovels, one older man who had walked to the site with a cane continued to shovel. "You're supposed to cover it up" he said to the assembly. There was an awkward moment where nobody else took up the task. It was a rather large hole. We wouldn't have to fill it completely, but at least render the casket invisible under the earth.
I grabbed an extra shovel and put my back into it. Odd work but satisfying. Seemed the right thing to do. I don't plan on leaving earthly remains, unless they're allowed to be buried naked in the ground to decompose - in which case, I'd like everyone to lend a hand in burying me. An excellent act of closure.
But now all that business is done and I'm off to conquer New York City. For your records: MOMA closes at 5:30 pm.
-Thank you for reading.