The day of Gary's funeral dawned cold and blustery, with a driving rain. The leaves on the trees had changed in the week since Gary died, the ground now carpeted with yellow and red. Gary had a good turnout as they say. Shakuhachi flute music from his Legacy album played during the viewing, and Gary was also his own soloist, with a haunting recording that his wife cued up immediately after the eulogy, which my husband delivered with grace and heart, such love.
I could not bring myself to point my camera into the face of deepest grief, Gary's wife and her sisters, and her parents aching for their child, so I pointed it at my nephews and their mother instead. They had driven up from Virginia and Pennsylvania to be here. The boys were an impressive sight, all of them tall and dressed in black, two of them with Afros out to here, in contrast to my son's head which he shaved almost bald, his hairline resembling his father's at this age. He is 23, the age his father was when I met him. We all understand now how impossibly young that was, and yet here we are.
My cousin and her sons, and my son and other cousins waited during the viewing for the service to begin. The masons in full regalia stood guard around Gary at the back of the church, honoring one of their own. The diverse constituents of St. Mary's filed in, so many different varieties of humans, all there for their brother, cousin, friend. Even though Gary was a Zen Buddhist to the end, his wife said he "felt a complete sense of acceptance and belonging with the people of St. Mary's in the way they welcomed him and saw him as a whole person."
At the end of the service, after the pallbearers carried Gary out, his wife stood at the curb, telling him one last time how much she loved him, and that she would see him again, and to know that they would always be connected because love was stronger than death. I snapped one surreptitious photo of that moment, before I went down the stairs to stand next to her in case she broke, but she didn't. In fact, she had danced out the church behind him, holding her iPad as it played a round dance by the Native American group, the Black Lodge Singers, one of Gary's favorites. Her goal, she said, was that people should leave the church smiling, because Gary would have wanted that.
The repast was in the undercroft of the church, and people stood and gave spontaneous remembrances of Gary, including his best friend Kym, with whom he undertook so many construction projects at the church. "Gary was my brother," Kym said. "I will miss him, but I am grateful for the new family he has given me, his wife and her sisters who I bonded with at Gary's bedside, and the whole extended clan."
The back of the program had a photo of Gary and my cousin dancing at their wedding to the Bob Marley song, "This is love." The program included Buddhist, Jewish and Hindu prayers alongside Christian ones. And there was a moving letter that Gary wrote to one of our aunts, thanking her and her sisters for bringing him to St. Mary's and helping him find a deeper expression of his faith. Gary first came to St. Mary's in fact because my mother wanted to go to church one Sunday and I whined that I didn't want to go. Gary stepped up and said, "I'll take you." And he did. He accompanied her and my husband every Sunday after that, while I slept in and rose to the absolute peace of an empty house. Eventually, he joined the vestry and the choir and spent many hours fiercely debating social issues with his church family.
My son, who does not stand still for photos, allowed me to snap this one of him and his dad. Though he trimmed his hair neatly, he did not shave. He wants to see what his beard will do after two months of not shaving. Once, I would have beseeched him to shave for the service, but I give myself credit: I am learning a little bit of what is truly important.
I snapped this photo of my son with his cousins, the next generation. He was the big cousin, the older boy in this group by four years, which when they were growing up seemed like a large age span. Look at them now, all of them young men, suddenly peers, though my son is still the big cousin they look up to.
The family came back to our house after the repast, and we had some libations and our usual riotous telling of stories until late into the night, voices weaving and the laughter and paradoxical joy of being together even on such a solemn occasion. The funeral home gave us a substantial discount because we have been such good customers. My cousin Brian joked, "So long as they didn't say, 'Come again soon.'" We all laughed. But the truth is, we are a large family and a close one. One by one we will need to come together to say our goodbyes, first to our elders, all of them now in their eighties and nineties, and eventually to each other. As Gary's send-off reminded us yesterday, as heartbreaking as this is, it is also a gift every time.