Dad’s funeral service was really beautiful.
(At a later time, I would like to share some of the eulogies with the permissions of the speakers.)
We headed out to the cemetery, located along the Long Island Expressway, where New York Jews have bought burial plots for generations.
SIDEBAR: The near universality of this practice has come in handy over the years. I remember when both Mom and Dad were much younger, we had two funerals — one in each of their families.
As we were rushing from one graveside service in order to be fashionably late to another, I heard my mother say under her breath, “a shtetl in life; shtetl in death. Thank G-d!”
My father was a veteran and the last of his brothers to die. We requested a honor guard because we thought it an important tribute not just to Dad, but to the whole generation, and to the ideals for which they fought and to the resulting scars that would never truly heal.
We arrived at the family plot. The two cadets were waiting there in full uniform and at attention.
When we were ready, we nodded and one cadet started playing Taps. As he played, everyone had their hands over their hearts. Even those at nearby graves. When a veteran is being buried, respect must be paid. I know that when I see someone in uniform, I quietly pray that they will go home to their families, safe and sound and in one piece.
I looked at my father’s coffin, draped with the American flag. His generation went to war. And they fought so that their children would not ever have to do so again (or so that was the hope).
Our family has demonstrated our love of country through these five brothers and their children and children’s children. In every generation, a Shapiro has served in the armed forces.
The sun was shining, and the wind was whipping, and the two cadets folded the flag with such precision that I felt as though our family was about to be given something truly priceless.
The more senior cadet walked to my sister and presented her with the flag, saying:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, ——
SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECH!! STOP THE MUSIC. CUT!! STOP TAPE!!!!!
WHAAAAAAT? We all stopped. The spell and majesty of the moment were SHATTERED.
Then a cousin saved the moment by muttering under his breath (but at the top of his lungs, as is our custom): “He meant Obama!!!!!”
Ok, we could continue ———
——————— the United States Air Force, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
Even with the snafu, the flag is indeed priceless.
And, in that moment, the sad and the beautiful, the creepy, the orange and the inspiring, the funny and the mundane all existed and were inextricably connected, as they are in every moment.
The rest of the burial went according to tradition. We shoveled dirt on the grave as a sign of respect in Jewish tradition. I think we all wanted to shovel more — because of tradition — but at the same time, we didn’t want to bury Dad because we didn’t want him to go. I think about that conundrum and it haunts me still.
And I was sad to leave Dad there in the cold but I rationalized that it would be ok because he was next to Mom.
And he was draped in the flag, although not in the actual grave. And yet, in life and in death, he was always cradled in the bosom of his family and his country.
I hope the same end for everyone in this country and, most especially, the members of our armed services who keep the rest of us safe.