GATHERING TO HONOR THE DEPARTED
Having lived and played indoor and outdoor basketball in urban areas, I liked it when, just before taking the first warm-up shot, some kid would say, “This one’s for all the brothers who couldn’t be here today.”
We all live for a limited time and occasionally it’s good to stop and remember those who came before us, either specifically or generally. Just because people are gone doesn’t mean that what they said or did doesn’t matter anymore; some of their words or actions inevitably live on. Dedicating play time, or other time, to the memory of others also reminds us to play or to live in a way that shows appreciation for the opportunity to still do so.
On Saturday, we celebrated the life of my mother, who died two weeks ago. Even though she died at 94—after having “survived Covid” a year ago—and most of her contemporaries are gone or are unable to travel, about 80 people showed up. One missing person was her 100 year-old friend who “has Covid” and wants to die soon but almost certainly won’t.
Unvaxxed, I hugged, kissed, shook hands with and/or spoke at close range with nearly everyone at the memorial service. We also shared a catered lunch buffet in a loud, congested narthex. As far as I know, no one sanitized their hands. Many had crossed state lines. Only one wore a mask. It was a Coronamaniacs’ nightmare. But I loved it.
In addition to spending up close and personal time with my own family, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, I met some unrelated people whom my mother had known from her church. Everyone said nice, believable things about her; as they spoke, some had tears in their eyes. I saw, once again, what one always sees at such end-of-life gatherings: one life affects so many others. It was uplifting.
After the service and long lunch, fifteen of the core family went back to my parents’ condo and, for seven more hours, told stories about back-in-the-day, looked at old photos and talked about life. It felt like family; quintessentially so. It was awesome.
I thought of all of the families who, during the Scamdemic, were denied the opportunity to gather this way to celebrate the lives of others. The bans/restrictions on gatherings were especially brutal to those whose loved ones, unlike my mother, died unexpectedly. Instead of being comforted by others, those who were closest to the recently deceased had many fewer people around to help to absorb the shock.
I also recalled the tens of thousands forced, by state hospital “emergency” rules, to unnecessarily die alone. In so doing, I considered those who wanted to accompany their loved ones at such an important time but were forbidden to do so. The bans and restrictions on such gatherings were cruel political theater.
Near the end of the memorial service, I eulogized my Mom by saying only the words that follow:
Sometimes Mom gave instruction or advice.
She taught me how to tie my shoes and cook Cream of Rice.
She taught me how to swim, she showed me how to dance
She told me not to wear striped shirts with plaid pants.
…and I thought I was looking really sharp that morning.
I’m done rhyming. I was going to rap this whole tribute but I couldn’t convince my brother, Danny, to be my beat boxer.
Mom taught me all of that stuff and much more. Because she was a stay-at-home mother, we spent a lot of time together, especially when we lived in that little ranch house on Acorn St. I have many specific memories of her.
But today, I’ll only talk about one memory of something that happened many times:
When I was around three and four and five, Mom would read me books at bedtime.
This one (the 30 page, illustrated kids’ Golden Book, Toby Tyler, published in 1960) was my favorite. I've read a lot of books since then, many of them classics. But for sheer pathos, this one stacks up with any of them:
It's about an orphan who lives with his aunt and uncle, gets in trouble and runs away with the circus.
But it’s also about: responsibility, making mistakes, desperation, having dreams, how hard it can be to be a kid, taking chances, friendship, conquering fears, misfortune, trying to make some fun, perseverance, the dignity of work, redemption and going home.
It’s a small, but very dense, book. And no, I won’t lend you my copy.
When I later learned more about Mom’s childhood—she was also an orphan raised by aunts and uncles—I thought that many of the book’s themes must have resonated with her, too.
When Mom finished reading this book to me, she would tap me on the head with it.
I loved that. It made me laugh.
Then we’d kneel down together and pray.
And I’d crawl into bed. And she’d tuck me in.
She made me feel cared about.
And that was more important than what she told me about plaid pants.
People told me they appreciated this tribute. More importantly, to me, was that what I said was true and not known to many, and that my mother—like many other people—deserved for this and other stories and tributes to be spoken, face-to-face by and to people who loved her. Further, withholding positive messages disserves people; humans need some inspiration.
The time we shared during Saturday’s gatherings was essential; it was life-affirming and family-affirming. For us and for other families and friends, these gatherings are, and were, far more worthwhile than was imaginarily “mitigating” some wildly exaggerated public health threat. If soldiers crawl across battlefields under extreme fire to try to drag back a wounded, or killed, comrade, why did the government pretend, in the face of a virus that did not threaten anyone who was basically healthy, that we couldn’t share the same space as the people closest to us when we needed them most? Please don’t say “But we didn’t know.”
The mean-spirited bans or restrictions on such gatherings were—in addition to many other measures such as lockdowns, school closures, mask and vaxx mandates—reasons that I can’t ever forget or forgive those who implemented or supported the Covid overreaction.
And I won’t say good things about them after they’re gone.