Sandra Tsing Loh says you better cry at her funeral.
I celebrated my birthday this year with funerals—three in four days. That’s sometimes how birthdays GO in midlife.
I’ve come to believe, being either a YOUNG Baby Boomer or OLD Gen X-er, that my generation is used to a certain type of funeral. I can’t recall when I last saw a coffin, for instance. The memorials I’ve attended as an adult have been in lovely places like churches or homes or overlooking the sea, with wonderfully moving speeches and photo collages and playing of the deceased’s favorite music, “You must remember this—a kiss is just a kiss.”
These are less funerals than affirmations of life.
The rituals would be more traditional, however, in honoring my Chinese grand-uncle, a wonderful man who died peacefully just one month short of his 95th birthday. These would be at Forest Lawn, in West Covina; Tuesday would be the viewing of the body, Wednesday the burial. I decided to spare my tween daughters the viewing and just take them to the burial, which was the ritual I thought my over-cosseted WESTERN kids could probably handle.
It was I who was thrown for a loop, though, so unfamiliar was I with the traditions of Forest Lawn. After driving up the customary gently rolling green hills in a convoy, we arranged ourselves in two rows of canvas chairs facing a square hole and a box of ashes on a table. We were courteously offered Forest Lawn brand bottled water and Forest Lawn brand tissues. We waited.
With a beeping sound, a truck pulled up and two men in Forest Lawn jumpsuits emerged with landscaping tools. As opposed to a speech, the funeral director politely provided us with technical information—how to read the plot numbers, which direction the box would face. He suggested we throw flowers into the hole, which we did. Crying, we took our seats again and watched as another truck drove up and, for about 15 minutes, slammed the dirt down hard with an incredibly loud hydraulic tamping tool. It was literally bang, bang, bang.
On the one hand, it was fairly jarring. There was no soft-pedaling the grim reality of the moment. On the other hand, it somehow made sense.
“You know that poem, ‘Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die’?” I asked my daughters, when back on L.A.’s congested freeways. “I say when you stand at MY grave you’d better cry, A LOT because I put a lot of effort INTO you guys! I want a full hour of crazy grief, and then you may go to the Cheesecake Factory.” Which we did. And had birthday cake.
So go in peace, Grand-Uncle Zhang. Enjoy the view from lot 6031A, you beautiful man.