Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stillness, Loudness, Endings.

We said goodbye to Eliane yesterday. She was the wife of my mate's mother's brother. I've been at a number of funerals here and they are pretty much always the same. Everyone in the family is notified and come to pay their respects--first at the funeral parlor, the next day at the church, sometimes also then at the cemetery, and finally at a luncheon or afternoon buffet to all sit down together and talk.

It's been snowing all weekend. Eliane had Lou Gehrig's disease, a particularly horrible way to have to end one's life. I didn't know her well but was very fond of her, as was nearly everyone who met her. The caravan of cars driving behind the hearse from the church to the cemetery seemed endless. Six men in identical black coats and felt hats walked through the snow carrying her casket while the rest of us gathered around for prayers and a last farewell. Her son and daughters and grandchildren each placed a flower on the top of the casket and a woman with whom none of us were familiar broke down and sobbed, saying "She was like a second mother to me."

That evening was also my mate's annual office Christmas party, which was held this year at the hippodrome--not a party actually, but a shared supper, in the big buffet restaurant above the casino. What a contrast, between the silence of the group of us huddling together against the cold in the snow at the cemetery earlier, and the cacaphony of three giant wall TVs competing with a tiny disco band and a hundred voices shouting and clinking glasses and karaoke-ing. You had to shout to the person right next to you in order to be able to be heard above the din. Last year's dinner-party was much pleasanter: in a quiet little cafe that served about the best seafood casserole I have ever tasted, occasional music from a Spanish guitar.

We were seated last night near this gigantic window watching the storm outside.  I am always amazed at the lengths to which smokers will go to have their 15 minutes of smoke time. A number of them, bundled in heavy coats,  braved the elements and fled outside.  We could see them pacing back and forth on the snow-covered balcony in the freezing wind puffing away on their cigarettes. (From this vantage point you can follow the race cars on the speedway nearby in the summer, and get a spectacular view of the city at night, especially colorful and lit up around Christmas time.) Before leaving, we tried out one of the slot machines in the casino below, just for fun. We started out feeding it a $20 bill and ended up winning $120. My mate said the machine probably lets new people win on the first try, just to get them to come back. But none of the other two couples won anything and it was their first time as well, so there goes that theory. Besides, how would a machine know who was a newcomer or not? A little 6-seat, glass-enclosed shuttle bus came to pick us up and drive us from the casino to the parking lot, which by this time was pretty muchs iced over. People were slipping and sliding all over the place, even with heavy boots on. We got home around midnight.

I can't get that scene out of my mind though--those six men in dark coats and hats tromping across the cemetery, carrying Eliane's coffin to her final resting place, in the cold, biting wind, snow everywhere, the sullen gray sky, absolute Stillness. The idea that yet another one of the family is gone, surrounded by so many whose names I can't remember but whose faces I recognize from meeting year after year, at a party or picnic or wedding or funeral, a continual reminder of how connected is Family. Rest in peace, Eliane. You will be missed.

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