Goin’ to a Funeral

     Life is never brought so clearly into relief as in death. 
     Years ago, and it is odd that I can remember the intersection we were at, I was driving with my buddy Chip to a funeral for the father of two brothers who played soccer with us, Freddy and Walter. Their father had died shortly after catching the biggest fish of his life.
     I had cleared the schedule, there were no compromises, no bit of work done, no sports, no social obligations. Chip who works in the movies had done the same.
     We talked, as we waited for the light at Arroyo and Del Mar in Pasadena, about how it was a free day, plucked at random and on short notice from all the days and months, weekdays and weekends.
     A day off, with only one thing to do. You had the strongest and clearest of reasons  goin’ to a funeral. It was unassailable, everybody understood, they didn’t question and they didn’t want to hear too much more.
     After the funeral at a big Catholic church on Hill right across from Pasadena City College, we went to Freddy and Walter’s parents’ house on Oakland and a had a right wake. I remember the photo of the fish that, basically, killed him.
     And there was another little incident that stays etched in the memory of that day. A nursing student at PCC was doing a paper on old folks for a class and she took the opportunity to interview the grandfather who had outlived his son.
     The grandfather had the spare, funny, crisp take on life that the very old often have, where all the flab of extra words and superfluous sentiment is trimmed away and you are left with a pure form of expression.
     Making my living as a reporter, I knew that the old man’s quotes were really good stuff.
     The nursing student kneeled next to him, with her notebook and pen in hand, and to my great professional frustration, wrote down almost nothing of what he was saying. But there was one statement I did not need a notebook for.
     When she asked him, at his son’s wake, why he enjoyed life, he said something like, “Because it’s better than the alternative.”
     Last week, it was Chip’s turn to be the host. His wife had died of cancer at the age of 37.
     All the “soccer guys,” as we were referred to, drove together, all in ties and coats, out to Marina Del Rey where Christina had worked organizing day-long cruises for social events. Called Fanta-Sea, it was a family-run business and they paid all the expenses to host the funeral and subsequent spreading of the ashes at sea.
     Chip’s speech was tender but funny. He started by saying Christina was not perfect – she could not whistle. And came around full circle, as a good writer does, to wrap it up with, “Christina wasn’t perfect. But she was perfect for me.”
     We went out on the boat with him and started – and I understand better and better why you need a wake after a funeral a long afternoon and long night of drinking.
     Three miles out, the boat stopped and the ashes were dropped into the sea, followed by sets of flowers followed by handfuls of petals, gold and purple bits of flowers on the wide, white wake boiling into light-blue.
     The coast was a good ways off, the swell was pretty heavy, with white caps, the sunlight was pure and bright, and the San Gabriel mountains, still with lots of snow, were off in the distance, the wind was brisk.
     There was something so timeless and basic about being out there, as though it was all part of this huge, great natural cycle where we were just a tiny piece.
     The boat turned and headed back towards shore, a few roses strung out in the wake. We passed a young seal, who popped up to take a look at us, then dove back beneath the waves, fishing way out there, with a pelican and three seagulls floating in attendance, waiting to see if he found anything. As if to say, life is sweet.     

%d bloggers like this: