Thursday, June 03, 2004

Funeral for a friend

This week, the excerpts-in-your-inbox book club I subscribe to is reading The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die by Katherine Ashenburg. It's an appropriate choice for a week during which I actually attended a wake and a funeral. But the book's suggestion that the traditions surrounding death and grieving are passed down in ways we aren't always aware of, so that even members of society who seem unaware or uninterested find themselves observing the same rituals, put me in mind of a second "funeral," one I was the sole witness to last Friday.

I've mentioned here that it's a springtime tradition for the high school next door to us to place a crashed-up car on its lawn to warn kids against driving drunk on prom night; and that my son, who's car-obsessed, visits the car daily, names it, talks to it, gets his picture taken with it, and generally treats it like a bosom buddy. I should also mention that he goes into mourning on the day the tow truck finally hauls it away. That day came last Friday for this year's wreck, a Lincoln Town Car he christened "Linc." When all that was left of Linc was a muddy gash in the ground strewn with bits of broken glass, my son cried and yelled at me for not coming home earlier from work so he could have seen his friend one last time. We found a few plastic pieces from the turn signal light that weren't too sharp to keep as a souvenir, and started to walk back home ... but then my guy paused, and said, "We have to have a funeral."

He ran over to a little bed of flowers by the high school sign and picked up a small chunk of dirt, then walked back to the hole in the ground where the car had been and started to say a few words. You couldn't ask for a better eulogy than the one he gave (although I could have skipped the part about "If my mom had come home earlier I could have seen you again"), and when he had finished his kind words of remembrance he tossed the little chunk of dirt into the "grave." Then he ran back to the flower bed, got another chunk of dirt, and gave another eulogy in the voice of his imaginary dog. When Invisible Scooby was through, I picked a dandelion, said a few words myself, and put the flower beside the chunks of dirt. And we went home, feeling that our work was done and our grieving well-respected.

How did he know to do that? I think he's only been to one funeral, and I don't think we threw dirt in the grave. Surely he was too young to remember, anyway. Was there a funeral on "Arthur" or "Dragontales" or something? Or is it just some sort of human imperative, coded into our genes? Whatever it is, that Town Car got a nice send-off. Too bad I got home too late for a wake.

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