By Dana Schneider
This essay is dedicated to my stunning, jewelry obsessed warrior of a woman cousin Ally.
I’ve always secretly thought that you could catch death. I mean, not catch death, as in if it’s an actual thing you can physically grab and catch, more like, if death was a virus, if I was in the same room, I would catch it. Then mysteriously I’d be the next person that people would be coming to mourn. I know how that must sound. Childlike silliness. But when you have a true fear of something, it manifests itself in your brain in weird ways. Funerals as we know them from when things were normal, popped up whenever and wherever. No mental prep time. When I had to go to a funeral, I would layer myself with my own protective shields of superstitious accessories, like wearing a red something to ward off evil, then pairing that with a good luck charm given to me by a friend, along with not looking directly at the casket, and sitting all the way in the back back back of the service room. Somehow, this kept me feeling safer. It was a layer of protection to cover my raw naked fears.
The morning of getting dressed for said funeral and making my way to the car and eventually walking into the funeral parlor, for me, is beyond draining, energy sucking and confrontational as hell. The day always ended by throwing my clothes directly into the laundry machine so as to wash off any death virus particles. Fact. And if you really want to know the truth, I had a funeral outfit. This was not to be worn at any other time, because, then while wearing it, I’d think of death. I know. Insert eye roll.
So, coming from this place of fear, I never thought I’d say this, at least say it out loud, but I’ve never wanted to go to a funeral more in my life than I do right now.
Turns out, this fear of death is real. Can’t deny that. I’m working on it, especially in the face of COVID-19. But the act of attending a funeral to say goodbye to a loved one, is in fact, a ritual, that I never was able to understand, before this pandemic, as cathartic and necessary.
I lost my cousin a few weeks ago to COVID-19. My exact age (late 40’s) with a husband, 2 children and 2 dogs. She was a NYC school teacher for 20+ years, dedicated to the core daughter and daughter in law, collection of dear friends since elementary school, an avid community member, law abiding citizen and adored family member. She was one of us. There is nothing in her story that will make any sense as to why she was taken from us. In the past, when someone died young and unexpectedly, that “out of nowhere” story, sometimes I would wonder, for my sanities sake, secretly look for a reason as to why the universe decided to take that person. Thoughts like “I wonder if they did something to deserve this death” would cross my mind. I used to believe that good things happened to good people and bad things happened to bad people. It just made such clean good sense. I believe I thought this way to ward off the truth that we are all vulnerable at any given time. Another false sense of security. I’m working on that one too.
With this pandemic has come some of the most deeply disturbing and thought provoking times. I find myself in deep thought about so many aspects of life from parenting, marriage, family relations, health, money and death. What I can say for sure, through all these thoughts, is that I’m craving rituals.
I’m craving togetherness. I’m craving hugs, tears, laughter through tears, funny stories, touching someone’s hands, heartbreaking memories, history of our family. I’m craving it all. I’m desperately craving her funeral.
No news flash here, funerals have been cancelled. Or at least no more than 10 people are allowed to attend the service and or burial. In our almost 2 mos. home, we “attended” one funeral via Facetime and one was just a message sent out to let us know that the departed was comfortably laid to rest. If you’ve been unlucky enough to lose someone during this pandemic, than you might understand what I’m feeling.
I have no proof that my cousin passed. In my mature adult brain, I’m thinking that maybe they misidentified her body, it wasn’t her that died and she’s walking around the city with amnesia. Which means she will turn up on someone’s door step soon enough and this whole nightmare will be just that….a nightmare. I’m sure this is one of the stages of grief? Just not sure which one. How many stages are there anyway? But at the end of the day, there really is no closure without a funeral or service or something to recognize her beauty-full life. This was taken from us. Dying with dignity was taken from us.
The funeral allows us to say goodbye, to have that closure. To neatly wrap up death. Death hurts so damn badly, so at least let us wrap it up in a pretty bow and send the departed off with a beautiful good-bye. She’s already gone. We all know that. But whether it’s religious or just ritual, saying goodbye allows us to move forward. Not necessarily move on, just move forward. One baby step at a time, one minute, hour, day at a time.
I want to be in a room of other people who adored her the way I did. I want to hug them and cry on their shoulders. They understand my ache. They ache too. I want to be able to share some funny stories about her that maybe she would have wanted to share with the world one day. I want to say her name out loud. She deserved to be loved out loud and talked about. I want to be able to say good bye for goodness sake. I miss her.
From my home base, in quarantine, I’m doing what I can to memorialize her. Tears have been shed, pictures have been dug out of really loved brown-edged photo albums, jokes have been made of our teased and permed hair, stories have been told. But I still need ritual of a funeral to say goodbye. To know for sure she won’t be coming to knock on my door someday soon. Until then, I can dream.
My name is Dana (rhymes with Banana)I’m a mama of three beautiful souls trying to figure out their way in this world. As they wander and explore about, I find myself drawn to the computer to share our stories. Turns out, walls can talk! My hope is that you find comfort, relatability, tears and maybe some humor in my words. I rely heavily on my friend squad to get me through the days. If you need someone to get you through yours, I’d be happy to be that gal. Lets connect. Connection is everything. When I’m not writing, parenting, wifing, daughtering and friending, you can find me decorating peoples homes. firstname.lastname@example.org or insta: @danaschneiderdecor.
THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND