Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Commemorating grief

We'll be traveling soon back up to New Jersey, to the cemetery where the lovely husband's grandmother was buried in January. This might be a Judaism-only tradition, I don't know, the ceremony we'll attend. It's the unveiling, where her gravestone will be seen for the first time. Her grave has lain unmarked all this year. In the coming days the stonecutters will install the gravestone. We'll drape it in a dark cloth, say some words of comfort, and undrape it for all the family to see.

The kids are new to cemeteries this year and this will be their first unveiling. Death is the most impossible conversation for kids and they have so many questions and an unusually quiet curiosity. Their mood shifts down in anticipation and stays reserved for hours beyond their normal ability for decorum. We've been collecting pebbles. We're going to paint them brightly and leave them for Gigi, little gifts, little tethers to their memories and their nascent comprehension from their warm breathing hands. I don't know if anyone has ever predecorated cemetery pebbles, but it brings the children a measure of comfort and a mechanism for generosity that conforms to their worldview.

The unveiling loosely marks the end of the official mourning period. We'll gather to eat afterwards, because rituals beget meals, and coming out of mourning requires breaking bread, finding sustenance, acknowledging life. It's hard, though, as the lovely husband's family (not unlike mine) is quite small. Such occasions call for a grand situation, and this one will likely be modest. But the most important lesson about family is you have who you have, and so we celebrate together, we mourn together, we carry forth together.

And then the five of us will come back home.

This post was inspired by This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila, a collection of short stories that shares a view of Hawaiians few tourists ever experience; and particularly by the story "Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game." Join From Left to Write on August 8 as we discuss This Is Paradise. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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