“What’s happened over these four years? I really thought Harry’s funeral, at this particular funeral home, would be a truly terrible event for me; all but impossible to get through. Unbearable. I look around at the room, and it’s all so familiar. But—I realize: the great extra emotional weight I expected is missing because . . . I can hardly remember, hardly conjure up in mind or memory, a single moment of being here at Rhona’s funeral.”—Jerry Zimmerman
Squibs and Blurbs
By Jerry Zimmerman
What I really can’t believe is that this service is being held in the same room in the same funeral home that we used for the service of my late wife Rhona, almost four years ago.
This could be bad.
Surprisingly, though, besides being a little sick to my stomach, I seem to be experiencing no cataclysmic effects; no inundating waves of grief; no dams-have-burst torrents falling from my eyes—all of which I was expecting and for all of which I was bracing.
What’s happened to me over these four years? I really thought Harry’s funeral, at this particular funeral home, would be a truly terrible event for me; all but impossible to get through. Unbearable. I look around at the room, and it’s all so familiar. But—I realize, with some shock—the great extra emotional weight I expected is missing because . . . I can hardly remember, hardly conjure up in mind or memory, a single moment of being here at Rhona’s funeral.
To say that Rhona’s funeral occurred within a dream would be misstating fact. But, truly, I have recollections of only three separate moments of that awful event, each just a brief camera-flash/snapshot in my brain: seeing an old student and her husband and not being able even to comprehend how they’d shown up; hearing my oldest son speak one sentence of a eulogy about his beloved step-mother that surprised and floored me; and, as I walked out of the building, seeing a friend who had also recently lost his wife and was too devastated actually to attend the service but who’d needed “to show me his face,” if only on the doorstep.
Just three fragments. Disembodied. Floating outside time and space.
The rest of it? I recall close to nothing.
OK. I’m alive here at Harry’s service and not suicidal; pinching myself in disbelief. So, back to this funeral.
As I said, I lived next door to Harry, his wife Eleanor, and their kids for 18 years. Back then, I was married to my first wife, and those 18 years involved being part of a family and watching my kids grow from infancy to adulthood: they were important and very, very happy years.
We all lived on a fairy-tale street, only one block long, old maple trees lining both sides of the road, in summer, creating a canopy of interlaced branches—like protective hands—over the entire thoroughfare. As beautiful and old fashion-y as it was, this block’s main charm derived from the people who populated it, and the gang of kids who swarmed across the front sidewalks and back yards, populating all the playrooms and kitchens in between.
The families on that block were wonderful and a whole story unto themselves.
But . . . let’s talk about Harry.
Harry was 55 when we moved in next to him and his family; I was 26. Harry and Eleanor were my parents’ contemporaries, but they became great friends to me as opposed to parental surrogates. Harry was quiet and unassuming, athletic and healthy, hard working and as kind as could be. It was only at his funeral that I discovered he had been exceptionally brave and heroic during World War II; he had never really talked about it until pressed by his children later in life.
Beth, one of Harry’s daughters, got up during the service to deliver what would be a very short eulogy. Her first words were, simply: “Harry Simon was a good man.”
Beth went just on a bit further, but nothing she said after that opening statement was more true or more of a tribute to her dad than her first words.
Harry Simon was a good man.
Later, the rabbi, a cousin of Eleanor, also spoke simply and fittingly about Harry. He mentioned Harry’s “mitzvahs,” his acts of kindness and honorable deeds.
Since the death of my wife, Rhona, I’ve had this all-consuming question stuck right in my gut: “What am I, as a human being, as a man, doing on this earth?” Why am I here? When all the underpinnings of your life are swept away in a moment, you’re pretty much left facing the essential mysteries of life with not many “extras” to mull over or distract you.
You’re up against . . . it.
Life has a particular shape to it, and that shape seems (to me) to be a circle: a flowing, humming, immutable line that is always being drawn through our lives; eventually guiding us back to a new place where we’ve always been.
So, here I am, sitting in this pew, in this room where, four years ago, my old life was abruptly altered forever, spinning me out into space, initiating my new search for solid hand-holds to keep me anchored in life, to put me back on the planet.
Four years on, after four years of thinking and searching and questioning and being and accepting, I sit here in this pew, in this room, in this funeral home, and my old neighbor and friend is here to say good-bye and to remind us all (through me, here and now, as I write to you) about what I have discovered in life: Be a Good Man and Do Good Things.
Note: For more about the Jewish tradition of mitzvahs, read this from the indispensible Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitzvah. The image accompanying this column, “Many Menorahs,” may be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/allesok/2350132132/ and was contributed by “allesok.”