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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My Neighbor's Big Fat Soap Opera Funeral

ferncohen.com

My Neighbor’s Big Fat Jewish Soap Opera Funeral

Now normally I would not write about some funeral attended. But this one had a certain significance, both because of its soap opera quality and because of the many lessons to be learned from it.

I am going to use initials and pseudonyms only because I don’t want anyone googling the deceased husband and finding this story. So here goes.

Mr. and Mrs. G have lived in my building for about thirty years. They had one daughter J. who had virtually grown up under our noses. I have to say in all honesty that I don’t think that I have said more than three words to any of them in the twenty-three years I have been living here because they really were not very friendly and I never knew if they had something against me, or they thought their poop did not stink, or they were just plain introverted. But I guess with so many other neighbors and my own life, it was not important enough to try to find out, Fast forward to three years and my fight to make the building put an automatic door for handicapped accessibility, which I only won with the help of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, twenty-one months later. There are people who look at something like this and view it as an unnecessary expense to only benefit one resident, never thinking it could be them at some point. As it turns out, there are other residents of the building who are thankful that the automatic door is there because they use walkers and wheelchairs. It takes one persistent big-mouth like me.

So fast forward to our annual Christmas party r annual Christmas party, last December. Instead of taking place in the lobby, as was customary, it was in the basement board room. As a by-product of my battle, the building now has to make every building event accessible to all. Well within earshot of Ellita and me, Mrs. G. asks the board president why the party isn’t in the lobby and the board president nods over in my direction and tells her the venue had to be changed because of accessibility, and Mrs G. looks in my direction and scrunches up her nose. And they continued to turn their noses up when they ran into me.

So when there was a sign posted in the hallway that Mr. G suddenly died of a heart attack, and gave details of the funeral I must admit that my first reaction was “oh well” .
But then I thought it would be a nice gesture to go. So we booked the Access-a-ride van to the funeral I home, which was on the other side of Forest Hills, and off we went on Sunday morning. There were only six other neighbors there, which surprised me because Mr. and Mrs. G have lived in the building for thirty years. However a lot of the old-timers have either died or moved to Florida.

I think everyone was a little shocked to see me there and the widow said that she really appreciated my coming. We watched everybody pay their respects and then we filed into the chapel. There, beside the casket, the rabbi gave his benediction and turned the microphone to the widow Mrs G, who gave a very emotional and moving about her deceased husband. She told of how he was a “renaissance man”, how he loved the fine arts, music, and good books. She went on to speak about the deep love and admiration they had for one another, what a devoted husband and dedicated father he was, and how she would normally be spending Sunday morning eating scones and reading the New York Times. Lastly, she said how much she would miss this wonderful man, with whom she was – in her words – “joined at the hip”.

Then the daughter gave her speech about her devoted father who was not only loving to his wife, but always there to love and support his daughter. We were left with a warm feeling about a man who seemed to be the perfect family man, if not the friendliest neighbor,

Now, the whole time we were listening to these eulogies, we noticed a group of about twenty people sitting all together near the back of the chapel, away from everybody else. and in front of us. At the end of the daughter’s speech, one of the women in the group in front of me rose and walked up to the front. She asked for the microphone and I noticed a small altercation, and then I heard the mystery woman say “I’m his daughter too”.

She introduced herself as “R;’s first daughter” and pointed to the group sitting toward the back. She continued to introduce her husband, four other siblings and their spouses and children. She ended by saying “I wanted you all to meet us, because we are all R’s family too. We are the children and the grandchildren that R hasn’t bothered to contact in twenty-five years

You can imagine the shock around the chapel. I was even more shocked by the rabbi, who concluded the service with a final blessing and announcement of the burial and address of the shiva, which would be observed by, in his words” C. and R. ‘s only daughter, J. “

Sice I don’t mingle much anymore with the neighbors, and there is nowhere to sit by my building, I have really heard no commentary. I am sure there is more to this story, but I thought it was a great reminder that the past can come back to haunt us. Furthermore we can have friends and neighbors we think we know, but they can have all kinds of skeletons in their closets. And lasly, someone can seem like a perfect saint, and be anything but.
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