Sunday, March 06, 2011

Jewish Funeral

The Jewishness isn't the main point, just an interesting add-on.

Kyle's grandfather, John Adelberg, had a memorial service at Levine Chapel in Brookline, MA, today. We walked around the historically Jewish neighborhood on Harvard St. We both looked interesting in yarmulkes. Kyle got to see his Mom and his youngest sister, but none of the others were there.

I met John only a few times, and didn't know much about him. In fact I learned most of what I know of him today. If you want an incentive to finish well in life, remember that the last few years are going to dominate what people say about you in the eulogy. Unless you did something historic, the work and focus of most of your life will be breezed by in a few sentences. Was an architect at thus-and-so for 25 years, then had his own firm until retiring. Your idiosyncrasies during retirement, and how you bore your final illness will take up more space. I suppose that is because the people at the funeral will tend to be those who knew you more recently - including the young rabbi. In the same way that some guests at your wedding quickly faded from your life, the mourners at your funeral will be something of a snapshot of your last years.

Family will be an exception, of course. Some of them will come even if you haven't kept much contact for years.

Eulogies are supposed to emphasise whatever positive spin of events can be found, and I think that entirely proper. It is good to think there will be a day when people will say their best about you - even if you deserve worse from their lips because of sins against them. Yet I found it jarring to hear in John's eulogy two things that weren't quite true: that he was close to his grandchildren (the other thing I won't mention). I have no doubt he was fond of them, and Kyle, at least, seems to have liked him. And there were periods when John saw them with some frequency.

It was more jarring to realise that most of those present, who knew John far better than I did, thought they were true. It's not that I don't want to give the man credit for good things. As I noted, it sounds like a lot of good things that deserved to be told were left out. Yet at some point, accentuating the positive becomes talking about a fictitious person.

Put the best spin on me you can. Leave out the bad things and perhaps the world will forget them. But no untruths, please.


Ben Wyman said...

Your funeral will be pretty easy to plan. The ceremony will start five to ten minutes late. The prelude will be an ancient folk song played on an unusual instrument of some kind, such as a lute, or zither. We will then sing two songs in a brisk, energetic style. Everyone will be required to sing.

This will be followed by a ten-minute informal coffee break.

The ceremony will resume with another six or seven minutes of ceremony, patterned after Puritan and/or medieval funeral practices.

This will be followed by a ten-minute cigarette break. Everyone will be required to walk around the grounds and look for something interesting in the building or architecture to bring up in conversation with your children later.

The ceremony will resume for remembrances. Two minute limit. You should have an interesting or funny story. Jokes are encouraged. Blathering is discouraged. This will continue for another five to ten minutes, then let out early in order to allow people to go to the reception, which will be held in the church basement. There, they will drink another cup of coffee, regardless of the coffee's quality (in memory of the deceased, the coffee will be terrible).

Dubbahdee said...


What would a formal coffee break look like?

Will cigarettes be provided for the guests? I would hate to show up without any.

It seems some element of improvisation would be important.

Dubbahdee said...

One more thing.

I'll spike the coffee pot. A mild touch of anarchism also would seem appropriate.

Ben Wyman said...

No need to worry about cigarettes, Dubbahdee. We'll have a special procession out to the nearest gas station.

A formal coffee break, FYI, would require clean, unstained shirts.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My name is David Wyman and I approved this funeral.

wv: sessions. It must mean something.

GraniteDad said...

oh, oh! Describe my funeral next!

GraniteDad said...

Mom's won't be any fun. She'll just want everyone to sit near each other and make sure people who don't regularly come to church feel welcomed. Though maybe we could play that mix tape you made for her- she loved that thing.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I remember you wanted "Jingle Bell Rock" played. Because of its longstanding importance to you.

Don't let it happen soon, because the whole youth group would want to come.

Ben Wyman said...

Jonathan, I know! She still has that tape in her car! She's the only person left with a tape deck.

Yours would be easier to plan. It would start on time. Everyone would be required to make fun of a family member. Heidi would be in charge, but out of respect for the dead, we would interrupt her as much as possible. And I would close the proceedings with the lightbulb story.

Assistant Village Idiot's wife said...

Actually I don't have a tape deck in the car I drive now. Though we still have the Toyota with the tape deck. I can still play cassette at home though. And the light bulb story would be perfect story to tell.