Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Traditional Way To Go by Margaret Ullrich

We also saw The Godfather last weekend.

What is there about a good old-fashioned Italian funeral that brings out the worst in people? I'm not talking about folks in the background arranging to kill anybody while the dearly departed is being lowered. Traditional funerals just seems to lead to problems.

The "Paulie's Mother's Funeral" segment of an episode of The Sopranos was a little too close to home. When Paulie was angry about the poor turnout and being stuck with a few hundred holy pictures, I felt like somebody had finally exposed one of my family's well kept secrets.

A funeral is a person's final popularity contest.

My Aunt Betty, by marriage, had a doozy of a memorial service. She was a second-generation American, with dozens of cousins, 2 married daughters, 3 married grandchildren, 2 single grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren. Along with in-laws, she had tons of friends. She also had a married brother with his own descendants, including great-grandchildren. There was lots of laughing as they reminisced about all the good times they'd had.

My parents thought it wasn't a proper way to conduct a funeral. Way too much fun.

Ma kept to herself all her life, no matter how much we tried to encourage her to make friends. In her final years we begged her to go to the Senior Centre which was a block away from her house. She and Grandma (her mother) had the attitude that nothing in America was as good as in Malta. My sister Rose and brother George took that into account and just planned for a one day wake with the funeral the next day. Since she kept to herself, there weren't many who knew her.

I had invited Ma to come up for a change of scenery in February after Pop died. She had come up for a few weeks after her mother had died in 1978. I had mentioned that other elderly people we knew spent part of the year with their children in different parts of the country. Ma always hated cold weather. I reminder her that Winnipeg does get nice weather from May to October and that she was welcome to spend summers here.

We also suggested she move to a seniors' residence - in College Point or Florida or Malta - when she complained about being lonely due to George's long work hours. At least there would've been people her age around whom she could visit. She insisted on living with George.

Because of her attitude, there wasn't anyone George could have called to check on Ma when she didn't answer his phonecall from work.

George said Ma's funeral went as well as could be expected. He didn't say how many holy pictures were left.

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