March 7, 1924 – February 19, 2012
my mother read this poem at my grandmother’s funeral today:
The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
There were no nails in my grandmother’s coffin. The pine box was put together with pegs, perhaps yesterday, sawdust still lit on the edges. There was no service. We stood in the first few pews of the funeral home, just immediate family, talked quietly, looked at some pictures.
I was on the phone with my mother when she got the call on Sunday, had called her after a week or two of not being in touch. There was no better way for her or I to get the news.
When I first thought about the funeral, I didn’t think about the actual act of putting the loved into the ground, didn’t think of it at all until my dad mentioned that I should bring a coat to Pittsburgh. We buried my grandmother, truly, at least half of the coffin, my family and I. It’s Jewish custom. All of us shoveled. At first hesitant scoops, trading off the shovels, then with greater muscle, acceptance, a job to do, digging into the cold dirt with force, pushing our feet onto the shovel’s head so that it broke more earth for us to heave into the coffin. It became something more communal than standing beside the grave. I don’t think any of us knew we’d be burying her like that. In funerals on TV, at other funerals I’ve been to, sometimes there is a handful of dirt cast down, a flower thrown in. This was shared grief in action, as we literally buried our dead. A blessing to take part in that type of closure.