Monday, April 6, 2009

A Baby In Black and a Bottle the Hard Stuff

When LittleBird was just shy of a year, our neighbor died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Shockingly. Her death rocked our small condo community to the core. One day she was there, the next she wasn't. She had no family but us and her giant German Shepard, Riley. She was a fixture at our late night gatherings. A cynic. An anarchist. A believer. A non-believer. A heavy drinker. She was eccentric to the core. She'd had quite the political background in the 1970s, and when she first met LittleBird at one of the many fireside gatherings in our courtyard, she whispered political advice in her ear and turned tail so we could not see the tears in her eyes. She was a hard ass with a soft heart.

Which left me in a dilemma I never thought I would ever find myself: How do you dress a baby for a funeral? In all the myriad styles and colors of little girls clothing, black seemed to be lacking. My heart just ached. The idea of dressing a baby for a funeral just seemed so...heavy. I could understand where the old wives tales gain their power. Does bringing such a young child to a funeral taint the spirit somehow? Will they be marked in some way? I do not take much stock in those types of myths, but I would by lying if I said it didn't cross my mind.

It turns out we had an outfit that fit the bill, and while I am sure not one person at the memorial service would have cared what my daughter was wearing, I wanted to be respectful. I wanted to do it right. For her. Her friends were the only family she had, and I'm sure she didn't give a flying fuck one way or the other, but it mattered to me.

The memorial service was one of the most bizarre and refreshing events I have ever attended. She was a member of a Universal Unitarian church. Which meant everything and anything went. When we were invited to come up and speak our peace, many came forth. Some came up and said they knew she was watching over us and waved at her. Some did not believe in the soul or afterlife and said they were glad to have known her in this lifetime. One man brought up a bottle of her favorite hard liquor, took a swig, held it to the sky in tribute and then left it next to her urn.

I brought my daughter to the front of that church. In front of hundreds of strangers. I didn't have much to say, but I shared with them the difficulty and seeming wrongness of dressing a baby for a funeral. Believer and non-believer alike nodded their heads in agreement. A crying shame. I shared with them the snarky advice she had whispered in my infant daughters ear that chilly spring night, and in spite of the tears there were cheerful shouts of laughter and more nodding of heads. Yes. That's exactly who she was.

I am honored to be attending the memorial service this week for Doris' beloved daughter. If you haven't made it over to her blog, please do so if you are so inclined. While I am very much a proponent for children to experience funerals, my kids will not be with me. This is not their time. I need to give my full attention to my friend and her family. It will be a time to grieve and celebrate.

I leave you with I Grieve, by Peter Gabriel. It is a song that touches on such agony, I do not listen to it very often. There is such a striking change from the grieving tone in the beginning to the celebratory tone at the end. I don't quite like it, actually. But I understand what he is trying to do. Life really does go on in the people we meet. A funeral should be a place of happy memories. To remember those wonderful times. To start gluing those tiny fragments of our shattered lives back together into some semblance of what it was before. Similar, but not the same.


Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

I remember writing the memorial service for my beloved Uncle Curtis. In it, I mentioned that it was he who taught me my first cuss word (Hell, if you must know) and how when confronted with this knowledge, he sheepishly grinned ear to ear.

The fucking minister wouldn't read that part of his memorial service. And I? Was too broken-hearted that he was dead to even fight it. But it was so very much him and how he was and I know, if read at his memorial service, he would have laughed his ass off.

Memorial services and funerals are so very much for those of us who are left behind. It's a way for us to share stories and keep the person alive through said stories and memories, even if for just a few hours.

Please give Doris a huge hug from me. I'll be thinking of her.

A Free Man said...

Thankfully, it's been a long time since I had to go to a funeral but this post has me thinking - what do you do with kids at a funeral?

Your neighbor sounds like she was a great one. A real rebel!

Irrational Dad said...

What a sad week this is. My thoughts are with your friend.

baronessvonb said...

Argh. I just found out about this horrible tragedy this morning - I'm kind of behind in my reading.

Although I've already sent her a note, please give Doris an extra big hug from me. Thanks, honey.

RiverPoet said...

I was so glad you were there for us. There is a reason we delivered the eulogy for our daughter and that it wasn't delivered by someone who barely knew her. I wanted the service to be personal and special. I hope it was that.

Thank you again for being there - D