Today I experienced an inevitable life event; the funeral of a dear cousin whose mother and my grandmother were sisters; two of the thirteen Bernstein siblings who grew up in Philadelphia in the last century. Ron and my mother were first cousins and although they lived in the Overbrook Park section of Philadelphia and we lived in suburban Willingboro, NJ, I have many fond memories of summer visits that brought them to our house. My generation cousins, Ricky, Steve and Teddy were fun playmates and as adults, we have remained in touch, but not nearly as much as our parents’ generation did and only on ‘occasions’ such as weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and on days such as this. The misty chill in the air felt appropriate to our collective emotional state; a palpable sadness that enveloped the gathering of those who loved Ron; this octogenarian who was viewed by all there as a man with a profound devotion to family, a delightful sense of humor and as I discovered when his grandson Eric shared, a connection with nature and a talent for creating finger/shadow puppets on the wall. We laughed and cried together in recollection. His wife Gladys passed in 1996 and I remember having this thought at her service that as much as I wanted to take away the emotional pain that the family was feeling, I couldn’t and truthfully, had no right to, since grief is personal and ours to experience in our own unique manner. This time, more than 16 years later, I had a different feeling. I watched as their sons, daughters in law, significant others, grandchildren, friends and extended family shed tears that symbolize the abiding connection he had with them and I (and this may sound totally off the wall), felt warmed by it in a way that took the chill away. Noses red from tears and 40 some degree temps, were part of the tribute to the love that wasn’t going anywhere.
I was honored to be asked to be a pall bearer, feeling as if I was standing in for my parents who passed in 2008 (my father) and 2010 (my mother). As we were carrying the casket to the gravesite, I felt as if they were standing beside me. After we said Kaddish, standing with her and her parents; two of the few remaining from my parents’ generation, Len and Joyce, my cousin Diane reached out her arm for comfort and I put my head on her shoulder as we watched the casket being lowered down, recalling all too well, the same scene twice in a cemetary in South Florida where my parents’ bodies found their final resting place. She turned my drippy tears into laughter by saying that she fully expected to see my father hanging around Mt. Sharon cemetary, since “It wouldn’t be a party without Moish.”
When my cousin Rick had called me a few days ago to tell me that his dad was now with his mom, I reminded him that there would definitely be a wild and wonderful Cousins’ Club reunion in Heaven. How grateful I feel to be part of a family in which roots go deep, branches reach high and wide and new buds are always blossoming.
This is the song I played at both my parents’ services at which I officiated (my mom actually asked for it) and I offer it Ron and all who love him.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMTKb-pgxGI Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile- Warren Zevon