A body is fragile. It can be bruised, slashed, pricked, torn, burned; it becomes stiff and frigid; things fall apart. I should have died the moment I was born. Three months premature and born with an infection. “You went through hell and back,” my dad said. I’ve almost died once since then; it doesn’t scare me so much anymore. Fear can be the ultimate silencer, the reason for hushed whispers and euphemisms like “they passed away.”
I’ve been to three funerals. Two Jewish, one Christian, all equally strange. Two were for my paternal grandparents who died within a month of each other. The other was my stepfather’s father’s funeral. It was an open casket service, and he said he wanted me to have the experience of seeing a dead body.
I only remember crying at my grandfather’s funeral, which is kind of ironic because he always frightened me as a child. I remember smoking a joint with my cousin during the shiva, I remember awkward introductions to second cousins, great uncles and aunts. I don’t remember anyone being particularly sad during those cumulative two weeks. I remember my father saying the months before his dad’s death was the nicest his father had ever been during his entire life.
I was 15, standing with my entire family—an extremely rare occurrence—listening to my uncle give a eulogy in Hebrew that I could barely understand. I remember my father and his siblings having to rip their clothing to symbolize their mourning. My father was upset because he had to cut up his nicest shirt. In Orthodox Judaism, the dead have to be buried as quickly as possible and they cannot have caskets, just a soft white shroud. They’re placed in the ground wrapped in a sheet.
My grandparents’ funerals have kind of become one mixed memory, fused together like a giant wad of sickly-sweet bubblegum in my brain. I remember people bringing in my grandfather’s body on a stretcher wrapped in snow white linen, only seeing the outline of him for the last time. I remember thinking these graveyards are much more fitting for the idea of death, they’re dry and barren not wet and lush. I remember my grandmother’s body being lowered into this hole in the ground and everyone placing a rock on top of her grave instead of flowers.