Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Even Asked my Friends on Facebook: Do I Go to the Funeral?

Yesterday I wrote that I went to a funeral three months after Jimmy died. Some readers asked me why I brought that up more than four years later? A few felt that I was going backwards. “Slipping” another said.



I meant to write about my friend Lewie Bernstein who just died on Friday. Lewie and I knew each other slightly in high school and until our 40th reunion a handful of years ago I hadn’t seen him in all these years.


My close friend Vera (from Junior High) is wonderful about keeping up with people and after that reunion she and her husband Jeff made sure that Lewie was invited to a bunch of occasions at their home.


Lewie and I made pleasant conversation. He owned a restaurant, married, divorced and has two grown children like I do. I’m always astounded that someone who I haven’t seen in years has lived a life, too.

I assume that they are stuck in some sort of time warp. Are they hovering in the school yard or something else creepy? It makes no sense, I know. I never really thought it out. I guess that’s obvious.


Anyway, Lewie looked similar to Mr. Burtish, our assistant principal, except Mr. Burtish had a twitch. I always thought he was winking at me. Vera told me I was retarded (it was okay to say retarded then) that I hadn’t caught on about the twitch, but I still think he was playing it up. Once he established he had a twitch he knew he could get away with the winking.


Tom, a blind piano tuner I know does the same thing. He gropes. Can’t he 
 sense that his hand is headed straight for my breasts? And, then he doesn’t feel where he’s landed? Come on!


Anyway, Mr. Burtish is who I saw when I reconnected with Lewie, a middle aged man. When Vera sent me the e-mail with the subject “Sad news” I knew that Lewie had died. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer eight months ago and he wasn’t doing well.


 The e-mail was sent to our high school group along with the information about when and where the service would be. Was this a suggestion, a strong suggestion or an expectation?

Do I go to the funeral?  Who is Lewie to me, anyhow?  He and I shared some of the same recollections and a handful of mutual friends.


An e-mail by Lily followed: “Are you going?” I answered her quickly, without thinking, as is my habit and probably explains the odd way people sometimes stare at me.


“Lewie was a nice guy, but I’ve decided I will only go to funerals on a ‘need to go’ basis.”


Look at me. When did I become so smug? As if that wasn’t enough smugness I continue, “No one’s going to ask ‘Where’s Carol?’ so that’s my criteria for attending or not.”


Her response was approaching admiration. “Good for you. I applaud your attitude” or something like that. Her e-mail is lost in cyberspace. Still and all, Lily went. True, she’s not a widow, but at this stage of the game we’ve all lost people close to us. It’s painful for everyone to face those resurfacing emotions. And, time is not on my side. My widow card is losing its juice.


Sunday morning, the day of the funeral I was still cocky about my decision but doubt or guilt must have jumped into the mix causing me to run it by Doug, my 29 year old son.


I presented my case by first making Doug scrambled eggs, an act that legal minds may point to as a bribe but they haven’t tasted my eggs.


As precedence, I compared the case to one many years ago when an acquaintance wanted to borrow $2,000.


“Your Dad and I were about to write the check when we realized we didn’t know how to spell her first name, “Phoebe”…was it P h e b e? or F e b e? We just looked at each other and laughed. A person should know how to spell a person’s first name if they are going to lend them money. That became our criteria. Too bad for Phoebe that her name wasn’t Jane."


Doug listened as intently as he ever does which means that he glanced up from the newspaper and said, “What? I’m sorry. Did you say something?”

The bottom line is that Doug didn’t think the Phoebe/Jane story had any bearing on the Lewie funeral dilemma.


“You don’t have to know someone well to pay your respects. The hot dog vendor outside Lewie’s building may want to stop in and tell his kids what a good tipper he was. Lots of people came from all over to Dad’s funeral. We probably never met them or remember they were there. If it’s in your heart to go it’s in your heart. If it’s not – it’s not.”


My son is a wise man all right. The best is that he didn’t put any judgment on it. In the end, I didn’t go. At least, I didn’t reach for stuff to base my decision on to ease my guilt.

And, it’s funny, but I must have spent many more hours thinking about Lewie and weighing our relationship than most of the high school friends who just got off their couch and went to his funeral.


Rest in peace Lewie. In time our high school reunions will be where you and Jimmy are.