As the only atheist in a large family of born-again protestants I’m no stranger to uncomfortable gatherings where “getting saved” is a predominant topic (and even a requirement for attending). So it was that I endured the 2 hour journey through rural Christendom that was my aunt’s funeral with acquired composure and a shrug [where the proselytizing was concerned]. Unlike most people of her faith, though, this woman was a good Christian in most of her values and deeds–the kind that give the faith a positive light while most members seem to work tirelessly to achieve the opposite. While the persistent attempts at converting people wasn’t an admirable quality, absolutely everything else about her was–she didn’t see race, nationality, or gender, and offered kindness and generosity to all those she met. My praise for her, though, is simply a backdrop to this post and is unrelated sentiment I felt obligated to share since my story occurs at her memorial service.
As my cousin finally got up to give the ultimate in personal reactions to his mother’s death and began with a shaky voice and glossy eyes, my dad silently left to “take his turn” watching Sean (his 18 mo. grandson, who my brother was corralling for the majority of the ceremony). My dad returned about 20 minutes later, long enough to be assured that the most emotional speech of the ceremony, the one succeeding in its threats to provoke tears, would be long since over. He leaned in and nonchalantly droned, “Did I miss anything?”, of course referring to the 9th iteration of spiritual testimonials currently transpiring. At that moment when dad made a joke it hit me. This is where I get it from. My entire life has been a journey to remain emotionally aloof in public, living the mantra “Keep It Together” even when no one expects me to and perhaps no one around me is either…. to push through moments where I feel my face burning, my stomach lurching, and my eyes stinging just so no one will witness my being moved before an audience. This often leads people to think I don’t care. Ironically enough, my dad takes the role of my persecutor at these times–he, the king of this tactic. For example, I remember when our dog died when I was 16. I chose to mourn alone and not interact with the family or watch the burial. Because I didn’t burst into tears [publicly] like a good nancy woman-folk, I caught him twaddling to the rest of the family that I was some “callous” kid who didn’t have respect for life or who didn’t love the dog or [fill in other phrases for “valuable human being” here]. Not a tear did he shed, by the way… but as a woman I was expected to build a wailing wall and subsist on the vapors to validate the family’s sense of loss.
Blatantly sexist anecdote aside, though, I never realized before today at the funeral from whom or where I got this feature. My father’s and my shared trait of grief secrecy (i.e., wearing a cool face at all times) has the downside of assuring presumptuous assholes that I’m inhuman because I don’t mourn or carry on in public. But our trait also has an upside: when a born-again devotee whips out an enormous, 4 foot long shofar and tries to bring down the walls of Jericho at the reception, my father is the only person in the room to whom I could have leaned over and whispered, “This is some Planet of the Apes shit right here” and who would then laugh hysterically.