So Strange to Say Good-bye

An old friend I haven’t seen since my father’s funeral ten years ago called last night from Fresno with some sad news. Last week, his father died. If I were still living in the San Joaquin Valley, I would have known sooner and been able to attend the funeral. It was held in an Armenian church in the countryside near the Sierra Nevada foothills, in a heavy-clay district fifteen or so miles southeast of where we used to live. Had I been there, I could have witnessed a touching gesture made by a friend of the deceased. For the journey ahead, he slipped a cigar into the dead man’s coat pocket. My friend’s father was a farmer who had loved cigars and smoked them for years. When I picture him lying there with a cigar in his pocket, his face warms in the candlelight. For a divine moment he is no longer a stranger to himself.

I recall another funeral that took place about twenty years ago. It was for a friend of my father, a very nice farmer who grew so many varieties of plums that he told people he was “plum crazy.” I remember well his pleasant, low voice and relaxed manner of speech. The man had many friends. At the end of the funeral, one with whom he had been very close paused at the casket and rapped gently upon the lid. This act was done so innocently and naturally that one almost expected a reply, a grateful echo of the departed man’s life.

In 1976, at the funeral of yet another family friend, I watched as my grandfather, my father’s Uncle Archie, and Archie’s cousin, Willie, walked together up the center aisle of the funeral home before the service began. When they reached the open casket, they started a warm conversation with and about the deceased. This was fitting, because the dearly departed, leveled by a heart attack shortly after his sixty-second birthday, was famous for being one of the greatest talkers for miles around. It was a beautiful scene — touching, I believe, even to Death, who must have been wondering if he had made a mistake.

And so it goes. One can only hope to be remembered so fondly at his own funeral. That depends, of course, upon what we say and do today.

August 29, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

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