I attended my third funeral of 2012 last week. But let me back up a bit.
Mary Durkot was the mother of one of my oldest friends, as in my friend and I went to kindergarten together. This means I knew Mrs. Durkot – I never referred to her by her first name – for over a half century. She lived in Binghamton, NY, my hometown, all of her 92 years.
One of the last times I saw her was when my daughter was a baby. She took such pleasure in seeing her, as though Lydia were one of her own grandchildren.
On June 30, the day before she passed, all four of her children, along with several of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, spent the day with her, as my friend put it, “laughing and cracking wise.” This was pretty remarkable in that only one of the children live in Binghamton, with the others in Boston, Brooklyn and near Baltimore.
Unsurprisingly, she had arranged and paid for her wake and funeral years earlier; she even picked out the dress she wanted to buried in.
The Wife and I arrived at the funeral home about 5:15 last Thursday evening. My friend did not know I was coming, since I was not 100% sure myself. She seemed shocked, but pleased with my presence. Some of our mutual friends came by, including the sister and the mother of our mutual friend Carol (not to be confused with my wife Carol). At 6:30, there was a prayer service. This was in the Russian Orthodox tradition, and while I had grown up in this Slavic neighborhood, this was likely the first funeral of this style I had attended. A lot of chant, a bit of repetition. I tried to pick up on the sonic rhythm, occasionally successfully.
Friday morning was the brief prayer event at the funeral home, followed by the 2/5s of a mile funeral procession to the church, which we found ourselves part of. More chanting and prayer, followed by a homily that I really liked. The narrative was based on the scripture where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The priest noted that Jesus did not remove Lazarus’ burial cloth, and that Lazarus was unable to remove it himself. It was up to the others to help Lazarus. In the same manner, we have to to help each other remove the bindings of our collective grief.
During the procession to the cemetery, the hearse broke down! (On Clinton Street, for you Binghamtonians). The procession was scheduled to go past the house on Mygatt Street where Mrs. D lived for many years. The house was sold only last December. The running joke was that, while the house was very nice, the new owners kept the hedges THREE INCHES inches higher than Mary would have liked. Most of the cars went onto the cemetery, but the pallbears returned to where the hearse broke down to put the coffin in the back of someone’s pickup truck. It WAS a nice pickup. There are several cellphone pictures of the back of the truck, with the flap down, showing the coffin and a bag of potting soil, to be used for the burial.
Afterwards, The Wife and I were invited to eat a very nice meal at the church with the extended family and then we went our separate ways, though my friend and I tacitly vowed to be more in touch; I hadn’t seen her since July 2011.
I must say that, while I went primarily for my friend, and for her mother’s memory, I also went a bit for myself as well. Celebrating the passing of someone in her tenth decade is a bit more expected – though the passing of a parent is NEVER expected, I’ve found – than the death of a 57-year old. Or a 20-month old.