Uncle Slappy arrived a couple of hours ago, sans Aunt Sylvie whose feet are swollen, so he can preside over the funeral of Aunt Louise who died Monday afternoon at five. Uncle Slappy, like the rest of us, truth be told, was none too fond of Aunt Louise, but he's a believer that when someone dies, you show up to their funeral. It's that simple, really. Unless you're sick yourself, you show up.
As the Rabbi of Beth Youiz Mywom Mannow, a small Upper East Side congregation for over 50 years, Uncle Slappy has attended more than his share of funerals. He's learned a thing or two about dying along the way.
"I never," he says "beat about the bush. I never use the phony language of antiseptic death. I never say, 'we're laying her to rest.' Or 'she's passed.' That language is room-freshener," he says. "Artificial crap that covers what's real. She's dead," he said, "And I'll say 'she's dead.'"
"The other thing I've learned," he told me as we sat in my small eat-in-kitchen over black coffee and a plate of three rugelach, "The other thing I learned is respect. Even your Aunt Louise, crazy as a man with bees in his beard, matters."
I nodded my head at that.
"They matter. They've made a difference. They count."
"Aunt Louise stayed with us for a week after Hurricane Sandy," I said, "when the power stayed out in Elizabeth for ten days. She fairly drove me crazy."
The old man picked up the final rugelach, broke it in half, then put both pieces in his mouth.
"See if there's anyone you don't drive crazy when you're 86," he said solemnly.
I nodded once again and refilled.
"No one wants to talk about," he said "how Aunt Louise got the way she got. Why she talks to silverware and crochets those asinine doilies."
"We probably have a dozen wafting around the apartment," I said.
"But let me tell you something, boychick. She never hurt anyone. She wasn't a genius. She wasn't the kindest person. But she never hurt anyone."
I had never thought about her like that, but the old man was right.
"I'll be delivering her urology tomorrow," he mangled.
"Ok," he serious-upped, "Her eulogy. She never hurt anyone. And that's her sine qua non. She never hurt anyone."
He rinsed his dishes and left for the guest room. Sleeping alone tonight without Aunt Sylvie. And without Aunt Louise.