I had attended funerals before. I am a middle-aged woman, and death, as they say, is a part of life. Ten years ago, when my husband's father passed away, we went to his memorial service in Germany. It was complicated -- long days of travel by family members from around the world, language barriers, jet-lag. When I was in my early 30s, I attended my grandmother's funeral. My mother was so sad. I remember her telling me, quietly, how she was an orphan now.
My father's funeral was surreal and heartbreaking. It was also healing. I saw friends and family members I had not seen in decades. I eulogized my father (that I managed to get through the eulogy was something of a miracle, I suppose), and this opened the door to others getting up and sharing their memories of my father. My husband and I held tight to each other; he comforted me as no one else would have been able to in that moment.
I had not realized until then how much of a role food plays in funeral customs. After the memorial service, the extended family went out to a long lunch at a restaurant. We ate and sat around talking and reminiscing. My father had played a pivotal role in the family: Sundays in our home involved inviting everyone over for his famous James Beard inspired marinated beef which he grilled on the BBQ, along with all sorts of vegetables. He always prepared a separate cut of beef for our pack of dogs, who had to be fed first (else no one would be able to eat 😂). He always made sure those doggies got to eat good steak, because he loved them so. Everyone remembered how he would BBQ a nice filet for the dogs alongside the beef for the family. That was my Daddy.
The burial of the ashes was difficult. We buried them in a columbarium in a chapel at my mother's alma mater. It was beautiful and serene, but oh . . . Afterwards, there was a reception at my cousin's. More food, all of it delicious, reminiscent of youth, of happy times with my family. I suppose food has that ability, to remind us of what was. As we sat at my cousin's house, talking about childhood and adolescence, talking about growing up and my father as the head of our clan, it felt so loving and normal to be around all of these people. I missed my father, but in the best of ways.
We had a very early (7:00 am) flight the next morning, so we got precious little sleep that night. We returned to our hotel, showered, packed almost everything, set the alarm for 2:45, and were ready to go long before sunrise.