March 28, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Every funeral is unhappy in its own way. In the case of a second cousin of mine, this way was unexpected. There was grief, yes, and remembering, and laughing, and subterranean tensions, and tearful reunions, and the occasional old score to be settled. None of this is what I mean.
The funeral had proceeded along the normal lines. She had lived a long and full life. Children and old friends had spoken. There had been a brief, ecumenical homily, as suited her unreligious nature. The master of ceremonies, an old friend who happened to be a rabbi, gave instructions as to the next steps in the proceedings—a trip to the cemetery, for those who were going, and later an open house at a son’s apartment. There was the general rustling that accompanies imminent departure.
And then, a woman rushed in from the back of the room. Or maybe she hadn’t been in the back of the room; we were in a large funeral home with a number of chapels on different floors. She could have been lurking anywhere, really; a pew, the hallway, another funeral.
The woman, who was middle-aged and clad in a colorful, flowing skirt, took her place behind the recently vacated lectern. “I want to share something with all of you,” she said, and launched into an a cappella rendition of the Elizabethan ballad “Trees They Do Grow High.”
No one knew quite what to do. I think we all must have assumed that someone else knew who she was. We did not meet one another’s eyes. The singing was very loud, and noticeably off-key. There were endless verses, some maybe invented. She was visibly moved by the act of singing, and several times had to choke back tears.
Then, her song finished, the woman stalked out. Still, I guess, afraid that she was connected to another guest in some way, we all lowered our eyes, and once again gathered our belongings to leave. Afterward, of course, we learned that everyone was equally mystified as to her identity. I think we all felt we had shared something special, and I don’t, in fact, think the feeling was inappropriate.