Yesterday we attended the funeral service for great aunt Sonia at the Russian Orthodox church of which she'd been a member for most of her adult life. The building was onion-domed on the outside; inside, it was all gold, crystal and the most ornate of wood paneling. There were shimmer paintings of the saints on walls and images of them on stained glass. The air was so thick from incense that it reminded everyone just how tenuous the connection is between properly functioning lungs and this mortal earth. I sat in the back, closest to the doors, where I hoped to gasp in some of the morning's fresh, rain-bedazzled air.
The casket at a Russian Orthodox funeral is traditionally open. That's what I assume, anyway, based on the sight of aunt Sonia's pancaked features turned up toward the ceiling as she rested on a pillow beneath a cloud of incense for the duration of the ceremony. "Give rest to your servant fallen asleep," the priest repeated as he swung the golden canister of burning ash in sweeping arcs around the casket, like a yo-yo in the hands of the most experienced entertainer. Everything was in threes. "Fallen asleep. Your servant fallen asleep." Our Father, who art in heaven. And again, and again.
I don't know that we cried, any of us. I know we looked at aunt Sonia in repose and thought how strange was this quiet. We tugged at our skirt hem, or adjusted our pants, or patted our hair. She would not have been impressed. We knew that. That's why her silence was so odd--the voice was still in our heads.
During the eulogy, the priest told us that aunt Sonia had trouble accepting the world for what it is. She had trouble accepting people for what they are. Flawed. And I thought that this priest hit the coffin nail on the head. He also told us she was the church's second oldest parishioner. She knew so much and she shared that knowledge. It was true, too. She was not all good or bad. When she was part of this world she was flawed just like the rest of us.
Afterward, our family lingered together in the game of catch-up we play only upon death. It's so good to see you. I'm sorry it had to be under these circumstances. We ate together. We exchanged email addresses and promises.
Even as we talked about someday having a real family reunion (it's not too late, said cousin Cindy, optimistically) we all knew that the next funeral would come first.
And we are scared, lazy and helpless, knowing there will be one less soul in attendance.