Losing a parent is a rite of passage that comes to all of us, hopefully. After all, the alternative- kicking the bucket before your parents- is supposedly the most inconsiderate, if not downright cruel, thing one can do. "Nobody lives forever," my mother told me time after time. And this past March, she made good on her words of wisdom. "I'm so sorry for your loss," gets told to me by well-meaning folks. But I'm not the least bit sorry. My fabulous mother lived an extraordinary life. If I can manage to squeeze in half as much as she did, I'll be satisfied with that.
Every family deals with death and loss differently. I have vivid memories of the gruesome rituals Judaism imposed back in the day... the covered mirrors, the hard little wooden stools brought into the house by the funeral home, the morning and evening prayer services, and the restrictions on behavior. No leaving the house for seven days, no music for a month, no dancing at parties for a year. I remember asking an old aunt to dance at some wedding or Bar Mitzvah, and she wagged a finger at me and whispered, "No, no... I'm in mourning." At the time, I didn't truly understand and blurted out, "It's not morning, it's night!" I had another aunt, who lived a rather fancy life in New York City. She invited me to dinner at her Upper East Side apartment, and when I attempted to take a seat at the lavishly set table, she scolded me, "Not THAT seat. That's Uncle Charlie's place!" Uncle Charlie had been dead for years.
So the question is, what is too soon? What's appropriate and what's not? I think the correct answer depends on how one feels about death. I know one thing for sure, as a gay male who lived in New York City in the 1980s- I had way too many friends who met their ends much too soon. It's an awful statistic, but I am one of the few surviving male members of my graduating class at Parsons. So I have learned to not postpone one ounce of joy.
When my time comes though, I do have it all figured out. I remember reading about how Babe Paley so exquisitely planned her own funeral and reception, down to the tablecloths and napkins and the menu and the wine that was served, that "It was as if she were there!" trilled Women's Wear Daily. My inspiration moment came from seeing the Lanford Wilson play, "Fifth of July." Sally Talley, a wistful widow played by Helen Stenborg, kept her husband's ashes in a Whitman's Sampler box in the back of the refrigerator. I absolutely loved that idea, only to have it reinforced when discovering that my Wisconsin family has a tradition of polishing off a Whitman's Sampler every Christmas eve. Suffice to say, I'm good to go, even if it means giving up space in the produce bin. And just like I have 2 sets of clothes, fat and not so fat, I have 2 different sized candy boxes. One can never be too prepared.
Now to just choose the wine...