Tag Archives: death

Putting the “Fun” in Funerals

Laughter, followed by fits of crying, ending with ennui. That has been the cycle I have followed for the past week. Am I going completely insane? Maybe.

If you read my blog on a semi-regular basis, you’ll remember that my brother died almost two months ago. Missed that post? Catch up here. Don’t worry; I’ll wait.

Last week, my parents and I traveled to the homeland to have a wake/closure ceremony/cry-fest. It was weird, dark, and cathartic; much like the rest of my family’s get-togethers.

My father likened the trip to entering a parallel universe; things seem the same, but are just a little off.

Let’s start with the cake. My family, and more specifically, my mother, has a twisted sense of humor. Her logic is that since my brother has died, he’s obviously a ghost now, so we really should have a cake with ghosts, and maybe a grim reaper in case anyone didn’t get the intent of the cake, with chipper ghosts alone, to wish my brother well in the great beyond.

Try explaining this to the bakery at the Ralph’s.

Instead of asking for a grim reaper dessert, we chose a Halloween cake. That’s not weird at all, nearly 7 months after the holiday.

Of course, all the poor man behind the counter has is a bag of Casper the friendly ghost rings. He offers to make a black and orange cake, but that would just be ridiculous. So we skip around the real intent of the cake and ask for one with chocolate frosting and an assortment of Casper rings.

I also opt to have the cake filled with strawberries and whipped cream. Would my brother have wanted that? I don’t know but it sure sounded yummy. It’s not like he’s going to have a slice.

And what do we inscribe on the cake? “See you soon?” “Sorry you’re not here to eat this delicious cake?” What’s appropriate for a ghost cake? We end up with a simple “We’ll miss you” message and hope for the best.

Now, to explain a little something about my family, we usually create a poster board full of pictures from the deceased person’s life. I don’t know if this is common at other funerals, because I haven’t been to too many outside my family.

Anyway, it’s up to my mom and me to decorate the board. We picked out pictures before we flew out, making sure we had good hair in all of the photos where we appeared. And we went to Michael’s to pick out a few embellishments.

Of course, our choices were not angels or warm sentiments. We wanted to keep with our ghost theme and found a Halloween pack with the phrase, “Happy Haunting.” It was really too good to pass up. My mom and I were laughing so hard we were crying and I honestly don’t know if we were amused or sad or both.

Needless to say, the patrons at Michael’s gave us a wide berth.

Before you think we’re too tasteless, we did not buy the sticker that read, “Bon Voyage.” Although, I was very tempted.

The family gathering was an understated affair, and other than the ghost cake and photo board it could have been mistaken for a family birthday party.

The guest of honor was even there, albeit in a basket.

My brother was cremated, and my other brother brought the ashes in something larger than an urn but smaller than a breadbox. I can only describe it as a basket. Not quite like the one in which Moses was found, though.

As the festivities were winding down, someone asked my mom if she wanted to take some of the ashes and sprinkle them somewhere meaningful. She said yes.

This is how I ended up holding a plastic Solo cup partially filled with the ashes of my brother. I did not need to be this intimately acquainted with him, but I was willing to do anything for my mother.

Side note… The awful truth about cremation? It’s not a pile of ash. There are bits. I will leave it at that.

Later she swore that she had been joking and had no clue what to do with the ashes. We transferred them to a child-proof pill bottle to prevent spillage, because that was not a horror we wanted to deal with. All I could picture was the scene from that Woody Allen movie where he sneezes on the giant pile of cocaine.

I do not appreciate my mother’s humor.

So, on Sunday, we travelled north and left him in a place we thought he would enjoy for eternity. Truthfully, I found it incredibly difficult to leave him. It was too final. Funny since the reason for the gathering was to have closure. I am nothing if not a loveable ball of contradictions.

If you’re ever in California and run into Casper, say hi and offer my brother your sympathies on his crazy family. I know I’ll have a lot to explain when I see him again.

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Finding Humor in Death

“We may laugh about everything. We must laugh about everything – even death. Especially death. After all, does death show any qualm about laughing at us?” – Pierre Desproges

Last week, I decided to join my husband on a trip to Puerto Rico. I thought it would be great to get out of the snow, lay by a pool and sip tiny tropical beverages for week. And God laughed at me. Hard. Pretty sure it was the kind of laughter that ended in snorts.

Less than 12 hours before I was supposed to fly out, I found out that my brother passed away.

Insert long, heavy pause here.

Since I don’t want to bore bring anyone down with the details, I will leave it at that this was a surprise.

I did decide to go on vacation and, yes, I have spent roughly 1/4 of my time crying randomly around Old San Juan, convincing the locals that we mainland gringos really are crazy. But I have also brought forth great memories of my brother, which also spawned crazy crying. Here’s a sample.

1. I was born on the mean streets of LA (okay, it was the valley). Consequently, I did not see snow in person until I was 5 or 6. My parents thought I should experience the horror wonder that is snow, so we trundled up to the mountains and pulled off to the side of the road and played in a random patch of snow.

Side note… My parents sure know how to make “baby’s first snowfall” special. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and instead of assuming they are lazy for not taking us to a “proper snow patch” I’ll pretend a snow-covered turnout in the mountains was the perfect plan.

Of course initial wonderment devolved into a snowball fight. I gleefully lobbed snowballs at my brother, and in turn, he put snow down my back.

It was the best of times. It was the frostiest of times. I am lucky I didn’t end up with hypothermia. Thanks for the snow slushie, big brother.

2. When I was growing up, I LOVED Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and that show was something that gave my brother and me something to bond on. Before this, it was hard to find common ground with him. He was in high school and I was watching Snorks. I mean, seriously. What is he going to ask me? “So…how’s that finger painting coming along? Have you learned to paint within the lines yet?”

Pee Wee was a gateway drug that led him to introducing me to Pink Floyd, muscle cars, and other things that made me more well rounded, and most importantly to my teenage self, more attractive to boys. I am sure this is not what my brother had in mind, but I’ll just say it was a delightful benefit.

3. When he was a teenager, my brother bought a truck. So, of course he was expected to play chauffeur for his baby sister. One day he picked me up from school. I was younger (we will say 3rd grade because I really don’t know when it happened, only that I was little) and sitting in the front seat with him.

Let that settle in. I am in roughly 3rd grade and in the front seat of a pickup truck.  Long live the unsafe 80s.

As we are driving and chatting, I notice he has these little containers of creamer in his cupholder. I pick one up and for whatever reason known only to my childhood self, decide to open it. Pickup trucks are bumpy. Creamer tends to build up lactic acid, making it swell with air.

I think you can guess what happens next. I cover my brother’s sweet ride in coffee creamer. He was not amused. I feared for my life. I don’t remember what the outcome was, but since I am here and he is not (nothing like a little gallows humor to spice things up), I can only assume I ran to my dad who was bigger and tougher than my brother and he fixed everything.

4. Speaking of the gallows, my brother had a dark sense of humor. It’s something that runs in my family. Kind of like poop through a goose.

For a period of time, my brother received phone calls from someone asking for a person named Metahia. He was polite and explained that the caller had the wrong number. Unfortunately, the caller didn’t speak English and kept calling back, asking for Metahia.

My brother took a logical leap and decided the caller spoke Spanish (before any reader gets uppity, please remember I was living in the San Fernando Valley where everything is bilingual English/Spanish). So, he learned how to say that Metahia wasn’t there and the caller had the wrong number. When the mystery guest phoned again, my brother used his magic phrase and hung up. You’d think that would be the end of it. Nope. Not long afterward, he got another call for Metahia.

No wonder Metahia didn’t give her family the right phone number. They never give up. I’d want to avoid them too.

In a fit of frustration, my brother shouts, “Metahia esta muerto.”

There was silence on the other end and the caller hung up. You might think that is cruel, but, it did stop the phone calls. I think everyone wins in that situation.

I have so many more wonderful memories, more than four anyway, and I look forward to reminiscing with my family when we gather to say goodbye. There will be dark jokes, and playful jabs; all part of this crazy family that is mine, all mine. God help us all.

Don’t worry. Right now I am in my black crepe and wearing a jet necklace, but I promise to put on my half-mourning garb soon and spin a delightfully funny take on the other reasons I should not have taken this vacation.

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