The Funeral

Friday, May 27th, was a beautiful blue-sky day. I was grateful that, unlike the viewing, I didn’t really have to do much of anything except be present and brought from place to place. It felt like we had very little downtime between Thursday’s and Friday’s events. Sam, Dad and I got up, I made sure we all had something to eat, and we were cleaned up and ready to go by 8:45, when the limo was waiting outside to pick us up.

It hadn’t registered at the time, but Dottie, when they left the viewing said, they’d see us at the funeral, not the private final viewing at the funeral home. No one else had reached about about that, so as far as I knew, it was going to be just Dad, Sam and me at the home. I told them that we’d need to be there for a while, and just be prepared to not have anything to do (in other words, bring a book).

As it turned out, my friends Susanna and Patrick from Rochester had gotten up very early and were driving in. Susanna texted me that they were almost there and would the church be open yet and was there parking? I breathed a sigh of relief, told them to meet us to the funeral home instead, where there was parking and facilities, and they could visit Charles if they wanted, and at least it wouldn’t be just the Petersons. So they did, and there were happy/sad reunions, and then the Keisers did show up, because they’d made really good time from the Catskills. So there was quite a little showing for the final viewing, which was great.

Meanwhile, my father is looking at me and says, “wait a minute” and starts fussing with my suit jacket. It turns out that the little flaps in the back had been sewn together, the idea being that you’d clip the thread once you bought the suit. And I hadn’t noticed, because I’m clueless like that. (I’d told everyone during the viewing and the funeral, “you have carte blanche at all times to fix me – straighten my tie, whatever”) So we hunted down some scissors and fixed it. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, laughing, said, oh, yeah, I noticed that yesterday, didn’t want to say anything. And I thought, Dottie, jeez, we were here for five hours yesterday, you couldn’t have given me a clue? (I adore Dottie. She’s the sweetest.)

At the right time, they started ‘the funeral process’, which of course involved lining up the cars and all that. (since this is the city and most people don’t have cars, it hadn’t occurred to me that we’d do that, but there we were). They took the flowers out to the hearse and shooed everyone out, except for me. They brought me up to the casket so they could remove the jewelry I wanted to keep (wedding ring and so on) and I could say a last goodbye. I kissed his forehead, but I could have skipped that part, he wasn’t there any more there than he’d been before. And I went outside to meet up with my family. My brother had an interesting question, “Is all this giving you closure?” I answered immediately, “No, but this isn’t for me, this is for everyone. I’ll have my own thing later.” I will say, though, that I might have been wrong. Certainly, there was relief later that C had been safely delivered to where he needed to be – his soul in heaven, his body in a respectful resting place.

Rich and Dottie didn’t want to ride in the limo, particularly, but their daughters kicked them out of the car, so they got in the back seat, Dad and Sam in the middle seat and me in the front by the driver. (It wasn’t one of those Vegas-style limos with a wraparound bench, it was just a big car.) Limo driver very nice. Limo stunk like smoke, but only on that first ride, which made us wonder if he’d smoked with the windows open on the way there or something. And off we went to the church.

St. Joan of Arc is the Catholic church in Jackson Heights, and while I’d walked by it a zillion times, I’d never been in it before. (Charles had.) It’s beautiful! When we got there, Michael the funeral home guy had us wait in the back of the church, until they brought the casket in and draped it with a cloth. Michael handed me the crucifix that had been displayed inside the lid of the casket during the viewing, then had me walk behind the casket with the rest of the family up the aisle as the organist played. I placed the crucifix on the casket (the wrong way, but Michael corrected me) and then we all sat in the front row together.

Standard Catholic mass. The priest, who’d done a short service at the viewing before, Father Johnson, was a very young, fairly handsome Indian man with an accent. He led us through a lovely service. Poor Rich had trouble walking up to the podium for the first reading, but Michael helped him, and then Susanna did a beautiful second reading. I spent most of the service wondering when “O Magnum Mysterium” would appear, and the organist played it after communion (although he left off the zippy part at the end, which was fine). And then we finished, and processed out. Michael gave me the crucifix to keep, which I handed to Sam to put in his large shoulder bag.

(note: the funeral was live-streamed and the video is still available on the church website here, although for how long, I don’t know. I am contacting them to see if I can get a copy of the video file.)

Outside, as they got the casket out and into the hearse again, I finally got to meet and greet the mourners who came. Quite a few neighbors, some Blue Hill Troupers (Gregory, Ellyn and Nancy B) – which was a nice surprise), quite a few friends, our accountant, some co-workers of Charles whose names I didn’t retain. Again, it was beautiful out, so no one was miserable standing outside the church. For that reason, at least.

Back in the limo and the cars, off to the cemetery, not a long drive. Once there, we had to pause our procession for some paperwork to be done between Michael and the cemetery, so Sam and I took the opportunity to duck in the office there and use the facilities. Then got shooed back into the limo, even though we at that point could have just walked to where we were going. Pulled up to the St. Mary’s mausoleum, we all got out. Michael handed us flowers to either put on the casket or keep, and we all elevatored or climbed the stairs to the 3rd floor, where the casket was on its stand by the crypt space. I’d been through this with my grandparents – you have a little service, but you don’t hang around to see them put the casket into its space, unless you really want to and we didn’t. So Michael led a little final prayer service, we put the flowers on the casket and turned to leave. I stayed for a minute to commune with the casket, but I didn’t even know which end was which, not that it mattered, told him I’d be back to visit soon. And we all worked our way outside again.

Goodbyes were said, but most of us were heading to the ‘party’. That was the last leg for our limo trip. I’d tried to get Bill the funeral home guy to tell me how much to tip the limo driver, and he waffled and wouldn’t say. So during this leg, I actually asked the limo driver how much people tip him, and he wouldn’t say. So I ended up giving him $40, figuring no matter what I gave him, it would be wrong, but dammit, I’d tried to figure it out. Also, I felt bad, because he started talking about how his son had passed away the year before and the life lessons he’d learned from him, and I’m like, “yeah, the block ahead there, that’s our building.” “Oh.” Not that I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, but he’d just started what was clearly going to be long and involved two minutes before the ride was over. *sigh*

God bless my friends. They’d assured me that they’d organize the post-funeral gathering, I just had to pay for it, perfect. We had gone back and forth whether the event should just be at the apartment, with party trays from Fresh Direct or whatever, or at a restaurant. I told them that the obvious restaurant would be the Queensboro, right down the street from my building. I go there all the time, they’re excellent, they’re friendly, they all know me. So Renee had reached out to them and got us a dedicated space by the bar and ordered trays of devilled eggs and sliders and hummus and all sorts of stuff. The family, and hearty few friends left took over the bar and the high tops and had a really nice time. Dad had a memorial martini in honor of Charles. I got a mimosa as soon as I could get my hands on one (and then two), and basically let the party happen around me, without worrying about hosting. (but I talked to everyone, and especially got caught up with my dear Nancy B, who I hadn’t seen to talk to since before COVID) It was really pleasant, and perfect for the occasion (and for my energy level).

Poor Mark and Marie, from Philly, had been schlepping their luggage throughout the funeral process for lack of a better option. They now needed to get to the subway – not a difficult walk normally, but Marie had back problems. There was discussion about hailing a cab, taking the bus. Finally I said, look, while you’re here in the nice air-conditioned restaurant, download the Uber app and put a credit card on it. Then you’re good to go, literally. And they did and they were off. (Oh, yes, while taking Mark to the apartment to pick up the luggage where we’d put it for the party, I ran into Julia, a trumpet player in my orchestra who, we’d found out to our surprise, lives just a block away from me. I told Julia about C’s passing and we commiserated.)

And we settled the bill and then everyone who wanted to came over the apartment for a while, but I think everyone was beat by this point and it all emptied out fairly quickly. Honestly I don’t remember the afternoon at all after that, except that I think Dad, Sam and I retreated to our separate corners and I did computer sit-down stuff, so much stuff to get done. And we went to Black Thai for dinner. And went to bed early.

But, as I’ve said before, kudos again to Conway Funeral Home. Everything went swimmingly, no bobbles, I got exactly what I’d asked for and pictured in my head, and it was absolutely a fitting way to lay to rest the mortal remains of my (am I really going to type this?) immortal beloved.

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