When last I saw him at my niece's sweet sixteen four months ago, he was dancing. I heard he had joyfully danced in the New Year, too. At his funeral on Saturday, his friend remembered how much he liked to dance and the whole church shook with appreciative laughter. His friend, eulogizing him, remembered his dancing moves as "one part calisthenics, one part gymnastics, with a touch of grand mal seizure thrown in." He went on: "Everyone would move out of the way, either to watch or for personal safety, and then we'd dry him off with a towel and send him back in like a prizefighter. How we all loved his exuberance."
I didn't know if I would go to the funeral. Friday was a late closing night at the magazine, but then I said, dear God, Michael didn't wake up on Tuesday morning. All that day the calls came into his emergency line, and his older daughter answered robotically, "The doctor won't be handling any emergencies today." Michael employed several people in his practice who woke up that morning and discovered they no longer had jobs. And there I was, considering missing his send-off on the altar of my job. I cut out of work by eight, my husband drove me to catch the 10 o'clock bus to DC and my cousin met me at Union Station at 2:15 a.m. It was simple in the end.
Michael's two daughters were in a daze, his wife alternated between crying and catatonic, going through the motions of greeting the mourners who crowded into church. People packed the aisles and spilled into an overflow room. After the service, the line of cars headed to the graveyard ran for miles. I looked back and couldn't see the end of it along the highway, just a train of vehicles, hazard lights blinking, moving at a solemn pace, orange cards with the word "funeral" hanging from rear view mirrors like flags of salute as far as the eye could see. I imagined Michael looking down, a humble man surprised by all the attention, and I was humbled to be there too.
At the repast in the church hall, people went up to the mic and shared their memories. An older man, who had been Michael's professor in medical school, offered a remembrance that left the room aching and sad, until another friend, a woman I don't know, went up to the mic and said, "Come on, people! Michael would not have wanted us to sit here brooding like this! He would want us to dance!" And somewhere in the room a sound system cranked up the Bob Marley tunes, and led by Jackie and her daughters, everyone moved to the dance floor. It was a dance party after that.
I got to spend time with family members I wish I saw more often, caught up with cherished friends, hugged my nephews, and reggaed with my 87-year-old aunt, who is battling cancer and the same heart condition that took Michael. I marvel at the young ones dying before the old ones, my mother and her five sisters, one of them bedridden, another cancer riddled, the others crippled by arthritis or faulty hearts, but hanging on. Yesterday, I was glad to be with family and friends, grooving to Bob Marley and saying a prayer for Michael as I imagined his carrot-top doing an energetic jig in heaven.
Dance on, my friend.
Dance on, my friend.