Friday, September 21, 2007

A Funeral, A Wedding, A Rabbi, And A Cat

I got a request on Monday – after I went off on my family’s rabbi – to give the story of my grandmother’s funeral. As I said in the comments section that day, it isn’t exactly a funny story, but if you want it I’ll give it to you. So here goes:

OK, we actually have to go back to my brother’s wedding to lay the groundwork here. You see, my brother – in his infinite wisdom – chose to marry a woman who is strong, intelligent, beautiful, and funny. Oh, and she’s also Irish Catholic. My family, as many of you already know, is Jewish. But since we’re pretty relaxed Jews (and in fact never attend temple – except for my mother and sister on the high holy days), we certainly didn’t care that my brother was marrying outside our faith. (* snicker – no shit *) In fact, organized religion – for most of us, is more of a negative than a positive…but I digress.

Anyway, when my brother and my now sister-in-law chose to get married, they did so with very little interference from anyone else. We were thrilled for them, willing to help in planning the wedding, but unwilling to meddle and put unnecessary expectations on them. If they wanted a big wedding – fine. If they wanted a small wedding – fine. If they wanted to be married by a justice of the peace – fine. If they wanted to be married by a priest – fine. We…didn’t…care. God knows my brother probably didn’t care either.

But my sister-in-law did care. So, she made the (in my opinion incredibly prescient) decision to get married by both a priest and a rabbi. She chose this for several reasons, but I think one of them is that she knew how much it would mean to my grandmother – who was alive then and quite active with our temple. Now my grandmother…she was an exceptional woman. She know what – I’ll get more into her a little later. Let’s just say right now that we were all crazy about her, and since my sister-in-law wanted religion to be a part of the ceremony, she immediately wanted ALL religions to be represented. Cool, right?

Well, with that decision made, my brother and sister-in-law went to speak with our family’s rabbi about taking part in the ceremony. I considered this to be a slam dunk request since my grandmother’s second husband (her first one – my grandfather – died when my mother was young) had been president of our temple, and he had personally handpicked this rabbi just ten years before. He had interviewed the rabbi, had him over for dinner many times throughout the years, and had generally just treated him very kindly. And when my grandmother’s husband died, the rabbi gave a lovely speech at the funeral. My grandmother remained close with him after that.

Anyway long story short, the rabbi said no when asked to marry my brother and sister-in-law. Actually, he said he would marry them, but he would not perform the ceremony with a priest. Essentially, it was either his show or someone else’s. If my brother wanted to marry someone outside our religion, that was fine – but he would only officiate if they were married by just a rabbi. In other words, he revealed himself to be a complete and total dickhead.

My brother and sister-in-law took it in stride, finding another rabbi who would perform the ceremony alongside a priest (and who ended up being great – really funny, and he brought his girlfriend to the reception where he got drunk with my sister-in-law’s family members who’d just flown in from Ireland). Even the rest of my family took it in stride, saying that the rabbi had every right to say no. My grandmother was disappointed but said she understood.

I did not understand. I was (and still am) furious. After all my family had done for that asshole, he said no. In today’s day and age, where religion is getting so fucked up and younger people are becoming less and less religious, he chose to turn his back on a couple that wanted to include it in one of the most important days of their lives. And he didn’t even do it because my brother was marrying someone who wasn’t Jewish – he did it because he didn’t want to share the spotlight! That self-righteous piece of shit.

OK, I’m taking a deep breath and calming down. Now, as many of you know, I tend to not be very forgiving. I also tend to have strong feelings on things. So…yeah, I pretty much lost it over the whole wedding thing, proceeded to mock the rabbi every chance I got, and essentially ended up getting banned (by my mother) from going to temple.

Then my grandmother died.

My grandmother, she was…hell, I loved her (still do) so much. She spoke her mind – which of course I respected. She was loud (even though she was this tiny little thing). She drank martinis with lunch, took up smoking again when she hit 80, saying ‘What do I care now? What’s it going to do – kill me?’ and said outrageous things all the time; I’m talking things that came out of nowhere and made your jaw drop for a few seconds before you pulled yourself together long enough to start laughing uncontrollably. She also told the best stories. And she was fiercely loyal to her family; we knew she loved us and she wouldn’t have it any other way – she wasn’t one to hide her feelings.

As for my grandmother and I…we had a very special relationship. We were always close, but I guess it was when I was in high school that our relationship changed. You see, my parents decided one year to take her with us on vacation. Since my brother and sister couldn’t go, I ended up having to share a room with her. For 2 weeks. In the middle of the ocean (we were on a cruise). Now, (as many of you know) I don’t share space well, and it turns out there’s a limit to how long the whole ‘be nice to your grandmother’ thing can work when you have to share a small space with her. Turns out our limit was about 3 days. After that, the gloves came off. We jumped from grandmother and granddaughter to roommates in no time, and after that my parents just stepped back and watched (probably a bit nervously) while we settled in. And settle in we did, as we bickered AND bonded for 2 weeks.

Honestly, it was the best thing that could have happened. My grandmother became more than just a grandmother on that trip – she became my friend. And when she died…

It hurt. It still hurts.

I held it together (mostly) when she was in the hospital, and when she passed away I kept busy helping to entertain family members and plan the funeral and the shiva – a kind of period of grieving where people come to your house to pay their respects after someone died (there’s lots of food and drinking). Obviously, my mother wanted our rabbi to be there for the funeral – I did not argue this fact as my grandmother would have wanted it too. But my mother was smart enough (and I think sad and therefore crazy enough) to warn the rabbi that I had…a few problems with him. He told her not to worry – that he would be glad to talk to me and discuss my issues with him. My mother was not so far gone at that point as to think that was a good idea (she knows me well), and told him so. She then came home and warned me to be prepared. I sort of listened. Sort of.

Anyway, the day of the funeral finally came, we all gathered at the funeral home before the service, and I…I lost it. I could not stop crying. I wasn’t loud about it, I didn’t want to be a distraction or take away from the meaning of the day (which was rightfully a celebration of life), but the tears flowed for hours. I was, quite simply, devastated. I missed my grandmother already, and I knew – just as I know today – that I was going to miss her forever.

But after the funeral and the burial, we all went back to my parents’ house for shiva. I began to drink, and tell stories about my grandmother, and laugh, and just as I was finally starting to relax, the rabbi approached me (I’d handily avoided him until then). Making an effort to be friendly, he walked up as I talked with someone about the kitten I had just gotten, and jumped in with “Ah, you have a cat. What kind is it?”

Turning and looking at him like he was the village idiot, I flatly replied, “It’s a house cat,” before shaking my head and walking away. One of my best friends witnessed this exchange and scurried after me to whisper, “What was that about? You were so rude!”

“He’s an asshole,” I replied – remember, I don’t forgive or forget – and then dismissed the incident. But that rabbi…he’s a moron. He actually came back for more, saying something along the lines of “If there’s anything you would like to talk to me about, I’m more than willing to listen.”

Again having to break off a good conversation to acknowledge him, I turned and said, quite simply, “No.” Now was it a mature reaction? Not really. But I was understandably upset that day, and I won’t apologize for reacting honestly toward him. I won’t apologize for not pretending to feel something I didn’t.

I didn’t like him, and I didn’t want to talk to him. Easy, clear, and straightforward – pretty much pure, undiluted Redhead. (I will admit that I usually have a bit more tact than that though.)

And that’s it really – the story of the rabbi. Why I hate him, and how – even in times of extreme pain – I will always hate him. Agree or disagree, I don’t care. You don’t fuck with my family, and in my eyes this guy fucked with my family. Period. The end.

Damn I’m coming across as a nice person lately. OK, Monday – something funny.


Jack Cobra said...

Thanks for obliging my request. Great story. I was wishing you had yelled at the Rabbi in the end since he's a dick.

I like to hold grudges from time to time. I'm not very good at it though. Very well played.

TK said...

That's tough. I don't blame you... it's not my style to hold a grudge, but I'd never judge you for it, especially in those circumstances. Plus - family is different. You're right... you don't fuck with family.

You want me to call a couple guys, have him tossed down a flight of stairs? Say the word.

Anonymous said...


You definitely handled it well. The rabbi was trying to stick to his weak guns by not sharing the ceremony but seems to have failed across the board.

There are other ways he could have communicated with you once he knew you were upset and he had been warned. A short letter would have done wonders. Personal but not intruding.

Don't worry about needing to have comical stories. We learn our life lessons through hardship, heartbreaks, and crazy situations. I salute you and all bloggers who put it out there for comment. It is therapy for you just like my personal lyrics and poems are for me.

Have a great weekend. It's beautiful down here in Virginia.


Anonymous said...

Screw that douche. It's amazing to me that people act like that and then want to "talk about it" like they have the authority, or that it is their place. Shit, I don't talk to half of my close family members. And thus, why I have such a problem with psychologists.

And I'm sorry about your grandmother. She sounds like an amazing woman; the kind of woman I aspire to be. How wonderful it must be to have the cruise memories of her.

Bruce Paine said...

You were in the right. he knew what was wrong, and from a psychological tactic point of view, decided to confront you about in a place with other people at a point when you were clearly fragile emotionally so he could force your hand and appear to be the good guy. You didn't bite and kudos to you for it.

Redhead said...

jack: No problem - I'm here to please...wait, that's not true. (Oh, and I hold grudges with the best of them; it's not that hard.)

tk: I appreciate the offer,

Dave: You're so nice - thanks.

boo: She really was awesome - I lucked out family wise (which is a miracle when I look around at the world and see that it's mostly populated with douchebags). Thanks for the kind words - it's not the easiest story to tell, so it's sort of amazing that you guys are being so nice about it.

paine: Wait...did you just AGREE with me on something? Did you just say something nice? WTF is going on? I don't have any idea how to respond right now.

Bruce Paine said...

bruce Paine is an onion, get near me and i will make you cry with my horrendous musk. Put me in soup, and i make evrything better. fo sho

onthevirg said...

I see nothing wrong with your reaction whatsoever. The dude's obviously got a gigantic ego (a recurring theme w/ clergy imo) and wanted to be the bell of the ball. Screw him. Touching stuff about your Grams btw.

We'll now return to our normally scheduled ridicule and sarcasm.

MCBias said...

Oh, no way. The rabbi doesn't want to play religion potluck soup for the wedding, and that makes him a bad guy? See, this concept that the rabbi should stay bought and all and give up his standards just because your family was nice to can I say this nicely? It's a very Western and modern concept, let's put it that way. Ethics should trump people, most of the time.

And then the poor rabbi hears that you hate his guts, wants to make nice (albeit with poor sense of timing), and is rebuffed, of course. Personally, all I see a guy who took a stand for what he thought was true to his standards. Sure, you have the right to dislike the choice, but I dislike how you sound so SHOCKED! that he won't just drop that whole "I'm another religion" thing at a drop of a hat. Of course, maybe this means that I can easily convert you to Christianity, since you have such a flexible view of the issues, ha. (ducks)

Redhead said...

paine: You're so weird.

onthevirg: Thanks dude - I'll surely be back to myself on Monday, don't worry.

I'm not going to respond to mcbias' comment - I'm sorry, I'm just not.

Bella said...

Are you sure you're not Italian???

By the way, your grandmother reminds me a lot of mine...I miss mine too.

Bruce Paine said...

McBias is full of crap. Ehtics, in organized religion? You have got to be kidding me? It wasn't about staying bought, and it wasn't about ethics. Judaism is an ethnic religion, it does not seek converts, so there was no need for him to take a stance on his principle with a non-jew. I saw Seinfeld,I know there is a word for a non-jewish woman but I forget. Crap i say. he was trying to put somebody on the spot and got caught. As matter of PRINCIPLE he should have been jumping at the chance to participate in the marriage to help the nation (as in a tribal nation of people political or racially divergent from other around it) grow. you were just looking for a chance to play devil's advocate. principles...thats a load of crap.

Redhead said...

bella: Ha ha. Yeah, people like our grandmother's really are special. Got to love them.

paine: Thanks for the backup dude.