The first funeral. It was achingly hot. The crushed sand and shells that covered the drive of the funeral home glinted and sparkled in the sun and made soft squeaking noises beneath the feet of the mourners who filed into the open air chapel. I am hyper aware of my white undershirt beneath the blouse of my Girl Scout uniform. I don’t yet have anything sufficient to warrant wearing a bra so my mother still insisted on the undershirt even though I was twelve years old. The cotton was saturated with sweat and stuck to my back between my shoulder blades where I couldn’t reach to peel it off even if I tried. The stiff green polyester blend of the uniform shirt rubbed my skin raw beneath my arms and around my waist where it was tucked into the skirt.

We had come here together in a station wagon as a troop driven by someone else’s mother. We are minus one and our leader. I hadn’t even wanted to be a Girl Scout. I would have stopped at being a Brownie. But before we left New York I had walked over that bridge, looked into the reflecting pond and pledged to be someone better and that person became a Girl Scout. When we moved to Florida, my mother filled out the paperwork I reluctantly carried home from school. She thought it would help me make friends in a new town and it only served to make me incompetent. If there had been a badge for spending all your free time in the library reading books, I would have twenty. So far the only badges I had sewn on my sash were the ones we had earned as a troop. The other girls all had individual badges they had completed or were working on. Amy had accomplished the most of all of us, individually, although I imagined, unless there were Girl Scouts in Heaven, she wouldn’t be advancing much further.

In the car on the way over Jeannie, a girl who smelled like tuna fish every single day, had shared the way, way, back with me and she had whispered into my ear as we crouched in the open trunk that she had heard Amy was buried in her scout uniform. It made me want to rip mine off my body and hurl it out the window but instead I said nothing and concentrated on breathing through my mouth until we filed into the funeral home and took our seats in the row reserved for us, as if we were special guests or dignitaries, behind Amy’s large family.

When we were seated Amy’s mother, our troop leader, turned to us assembled neatly in a row. She smiled but didn’t really look at us individually. Her face was tracked with tiny cuts made darker and deeper by threads of dried blood that had already begun to scab. Glistening over the cuts was a layer of tears, the collar of her shirt was darker than the rest from the water that ran off her face and on the floppy lapel I saw the glint of her Girl Scout Leader pin. She would lead her daughter to Heaven, I supposed, if she could.

I was so taken by her face that it took me a moment to focus beyond Amy’s family, her four brothers, three steps below her and one above and her father, who owned the Snack Shack down at the town dock. He recognized all of us scouts in Amy’s troop and always gave a mound of chips with the hot dogs or free French fries if he had extra. Today he kept his face focused forward and he wore a short sleeve white dress shirt that strained across his back. His sweat stains echoed my own and the sight of them made me sit slightly off the back of the pew, leaning forward so that whatever air the fans pushed out above my head would circulate around my body.

That was when I saw the glossy white casket. Its lid was closed and on top was a framed picture of Amy. Her school picture, I guessed. Since it looked just like the one my mother had of me sitting on the shelf above the television. Amy smiled out at us, her blond hair waved around her face and disappearing way past her shoulders. Her chin was tiny and pointed and her eyes were a pale green that echoed the color of our uniforms.

There were flowers everywhere that had already begun to wilt from the heat, which just made them look like they had given up. Tulips, roses, and carnations the ruffled edges dipped in green, spread atop the casket and around Amy’s picture.

I squeezed my eyes shut tight when Amy’s mother began to cry. Her sobs quieted the entire congregation of mourners. Even the priest who was standing at the head of Amy’s casket seemed to know that God could offer no comfort at the sound of a mother’s anguished cries. Before I closed my eyes I saw Amy’s older brother look agitatedly around the chapel. His gaze angry, embarrassed, bewildered. His father put a hand on his shoulder to calm him and he not so much jerked as slid away from his father’s attempted embrace and sat as close to the aisle as possible – one foot ready poised for escape.

I knew more about the accident than most, but I kept it to myself. My mother was a nurse and a good friend was on the emergency crew first to get to the scene. I knew something was wrong right away when I came home from the library and found my mother and Paul huddled close together in the driveway of our house. My mother was still in her uniform even though her shift had ended at three and it was nearly five. Paul, also a fisherman, had brought a bucket of crabs for dinner and it was between them on the ground baking in the hot sun. I dropped my bike, not bothering with the kickstand, as my mother reached out to me. She pulled me to her side as I stared down into the crab bucket. I watched the bodies move listlessly as she told me the details of the accident.

Amy’s mother had been driving way out on Pine Ridge Road, a well-traveled trucking route from the Sugar Cane fields, to pick up one of the boys, when they were hit. The impact forced Amy through the windshield. Her body hung there, suspended by shards of glass, and her mother panicked. Maybe, had she not pulled Amy through the window, onto the hood of the old station wagon, Amy might have lived. By the time Paul got to the scene Amy had lost too much blood. They didn’t tell me this but I pictured it: Amy’s mother covered in her daughter’s blood as she held her in her arms and told her it would be alright. Although from our Red Cross and CPR badges she probably knew that Amy wouldn’t make it. Before the priest finds his voice, before Amy’s parents realize what has occurred, her older brother stands up and runs down the aisle. His fists are shoved into his pockets, his head is bowed, and his shoulders are moving up and down. His grief is so electric it is terrifying and no one, not even his parents’, move to go after him.


Four years later. Another white casket. Mounds of flowers. At sixteen, mourning was something I clung to, stroked and feted like a beloved pet. For days I have barely slept, or eaten and only today have I showered and dressed in a white eyelet sundress to say goodbye to my beloved friend. In my fist I clutch a ball of tissues that have become slick with snot, but I am unable to contract the muscles in my hand to part with them. Had I gone with my friends as we had planned I would have been in the car that killed one of them and left the rest in the hospital, still so broken they are unable to attend the funeral. Instead of my friends I chose a boy who I won’t even allow to share in my grief. I blame him although he has nothing to do with it. I had been waiting a long time for him to notice me and when he finally did, I chose him. I. Chose. Him. I felt sick at the thought of what I was doing when she died. Of what, shamefully, I still want to do although I will not allow myself. His hands were all over my skin and I welcomed them. His mouth hot against my ear, my neck, the two of us twisted together on a blanket on the beach. I can still feel him all over me when there should be nothing left to feel.

When her mother and father see me they draw me to them and close their arms around me. They moan low and soft and we sway as a group before her casket. My dress swishes around my bare legs and brushes up against the metal stand. There is no air in our closed circle but I don’t struggle to get out. I deserve this, I think, turning their tragedy into mine. I have a hard time believing she is gone. I am swollen and sodden with grief and anger. I feel leaden, untouchable, as her mother whispers in my ear that she tucked all of our pictures into the casket. When I am able she wants me to come to their house to pick something out of Terri’s to remember her by. Even then I know it is something I will never bring myself to do.


When I extricate myself I look across the room crowded with teenagers in all states of distress. In the far corner I see him standing there. Unlike the first time he is not poised for escape. He knows what to expect. He has been here before. He has lost everything once and it is not impossible to imagine it won’t happen again. Our eyes meet across the room. He doesn’t need to say a word as he slowly begins to pick his way through the crowd to where I am standing. He knows all to well what happens next.





It had been more than a month of sitting by her bedside during the day and sleeping in a chair next to her in the nighttime. My mom was purposely starving herself to death. I was surprised just how long it takes to starve your self to death. My brother lived in France and in England and in Hawaii. He had visited a few months before. He told me that he wasn’t busy at the time and could stay and help, if I wanted. I jumped at his offer. I asked him to please stay because my mom really loved my brother to bits and didn’t like me at all. He stayed silent for a few moments and then he told me that he thought that it would actually be better for Mom if she had his next visit to look forward to. Then he went back to England or Hawaii or France.

My brother finally returned to Champaign in the nick of time to see my mom. He took my place at the bedside. I went home for a shower. My brother called and told me to hurry back. I hurried back and my mom was dead. Still warm, so I was close, but no cigar. My mom actually waited for my brother to arrive and for me to leave to finally die. She left me out of it entirely. Go, Mom!

When my mom was still coherent as she ever was, she had spoken to a minister and had him plan a eulogy. I paid for her funeral ahead of time and paid the donations to the church that had been expected. Also the wake was planned and paid for. No one was caught unawares with this particular death.

The wake was held right away in Champaign, IL, where my mom had lived with us for ten years. I picked out a casket. My brother hated it and picked out another. I didn’t care. My brother wanted an open coffin. I put my foot down. Closed coffin, I said, end of story. The compromise we reached is that he got to see her in the open coffin by himself and then the funeral guys closed the coffin and no one else had to look at her dead body, especially my kids.

After my brother went in to see my mom in the open coffin, he came back and told me that I made the right decision. He said that the funeral guys had put someone else’s glasses on her. She was going to be near-sighted for all of eternity. I had no problem with that, and I certainly was not going to go checking out all the other dead bodies in the funeral home and see who got her glasses and switch them.

The wake began. I had told Sara and Lonny just to stay at school and not to come to the wake or the funeral. She wouldn’t know they were there, and they had been with her when it counted. All my friends came. People I worked with when I taught school came. Teachers of my children came. Not one of the people my mom knew from her ritzy retirement home came. Want to know why? The people in retirement homes know that they are just a step away from the grave. They are as close as close can be to each other while they are healthy. As soon as one gets sick though, it is as if they never knew you. They never visit when you’re sick. They don’t attend the funerals. Too. Close. To. Home. I saw this before my mother got sick. Her very best friend ever in the world got sick, and nothing I did or said would move her to visit her. She no longer existed in my mom’s eyes.

Tim, Lenore and Ben came to the wake. The three of them sat on a divan together, giggling. I went over to speak to them several times and asked them to please maintain decorum. We were at their grandmother’s wake and they were attracting attention. They just kept on giggling. For over an hour I alternated shaking people’s hands and thanking them for coming and running over to the kids and begging them to behave. Finally, I just gave up and sent them home. Of course, years later I found out that Tim and Lenore were stoned out of their minds, and poor little Ben just got caught up in the giggling.

The next day it was on to the funeral. All my friends came. None of my mom’s friends came. Tim, Lenore and Ben were not invited. The minister gave a lovely eulogy. The only problem with it was that all of the facts my mother had given the minister were entirely fictional. She had invented a lovely life with lots of motherly love and family time. She had invented friends with fictitious names. She had invented adventures and hobbies she never had. She had invented a life full of good deeds done simply for the good feeling it gave her. The minister said she had been especially proud of her famous pot roast. A surprising number of people asked me for the recipe after the funeral. Unfortunately, I cannot remember my mom ever cooking a pot roast.

My brother wasn’t satisfied with the funeral. He felt there had to be a second funeral in Brooklyn. I told him that I had made my funeral and I was finished. If he wanted to fly her body to Brooklyn and have a second funeral, it was completely his choice. I would not be there.

My brother made the second funeral in Brooklyn. There were flowers galore at the second funeral. There were only a few roses on the coffin at mine. Jews don’t send flowers to funerals. My brother took rolls of pictures of the second funeral. There was virtually no one there. I believe it was just my brother and his wife, our Brooklyn cousin, and yet another minister who had never met my mom. My brother took pictures of all the flowers.

There were two limousines. My mom had one all to herself. She would have liked that. The mourners were in the other. They traveled from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to Greenwood Cemetery near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. My parents had a plot there. Brooklyn is a very crowded place. Each plot is designated for three dead people, stacked like cordwood. (Think of a sandwich.) My father’s father was at the bottom. My father was in the center and my mom was slated to be at the top. My brother took lots of pictures of the burial and the headstone and the flowers, oh, the flowers. My brother never misses a funeral, and this time he had one of his own to plan. He was in his element.


This is one of the photos of my brother’s funeral for my mom. You can see the headstone did not yet have my mom’s name engraved on it.



Comment by Keiko |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:16:42

I never knew people were stacked in threes in Brooklyn. I like driving by the cemetaries on my Cab rides to the airport and seeing all the crowded stones. It’s like a maze of dead people.

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:31:32

They’re short on space in Taiwan as well – I was amazed at the number of stones and shrines they could pack into one hillside. I’m also not sure how you can even hike up to some of them. Wow.

(Also, great post, Irene. I keep cringing when I try to write the 1000-word bit….)

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:29:26


Now you know it is more than a maze it is a maze in three dimensions!

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:40:04

In Sweden, you don’t own your grave plot, you only rent it. If your descendants don’t continue to pay for it, your headstone is removed, and a new person is put on top of you.

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:41:06

Actually, I have no idea how common this practice is in Sweden, but the graveyard where my relatives are buried use it. Maybe its only old graveyards, wherein the bodies in wooden caskets actually decay.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:44:55

Don’t they all decay?
Why would someone want their shriveled up rotten body in a casket that is impervious to the elements? Kind of unseemly, eh, Kate?

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Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:08:20

All that metal stuff on the modern ones doesn’t decay. It’s kind of creepy, the idea of not disintegrating. That’s why I’ll be cremated.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:36:00

Just so you know, you who are reading the comments, the comments are totally out of order here and that is why they don’t make any sense.
Think of it as a puzzle.
Which answer goes with which comment.
They say puzzles are good for your brain.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:42:27

Whoa, Kate, that’s cold!
On the other hand, if there’s no one left to give a shit, why not use the spot? You and your coffin are all rotted out to ashes anyhow. It’s pretty sensible, when you think about it.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:40:42

I understand in some places that they bury people vertically! I don’t see how that would work unless the bodies are all secured inside and tied up. Otherwise, wouldn’t they all fall to the bottom in a heap?
Lenore almost lost it with me last time she was home. I was busily trying to count every word and couldn’t get the same number twice. She showed me that you just click on tools and there is a word count button. Honestly, I’m so the last century!
I think that they cremate the bodies in Taiwan and China and Japan. This would call for much less space and make a small space able to accommodate many more former people.

Comment by Aaron Dietz |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:55:11

Oh, right – I think the sweetheart did tell me about cremation being more of a thing there, probably mostly because of the cost of a plot – they really do them up nice and most are like shrines.

I don’t know how they manage to keep hills from just crumbling into a mess of caskets at the bottom, but the Taiwanese can apparently do just about anything on a hillside. There just isn’t any flat land left.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 04:47:41

The Chinese and Taiwanese and Japanese have a great reverence for old people. Also their ancestors are very important to them and they are treated with reverence. Back here in the USA we too often just dump our old people in nursing homes and after a quick funeral we never visit the grave. It’s pretty sad, actually.

We’ve paid for perpetual care at my Grandfather’s/Father’s/Mother’s grave. My brother visits at least once a year. I’ve never been there. Those people are with me all the time, I don’t need to see where their bodies were placed. My psyche is fragile enough as it is.

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Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 15:51:50

I wanna get buried in New Orleans. The cemeteries there are unreal. That or shot into space, but that’s gonna cost my poor family, and who wants that?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:10:14

Phat B,

I think the above ground vaults in the cemeteries In New Orleans probably cost more than to send your ashes on a rocket into outer space. Those are some substantial, expensive structures.

They can’t hold a candle to the glorious structures in La Recoleta, in Buenos Aires. That cemetery is worth flying all the way to Argentina to see. If I could, I’d bury myself there for sure! You should Google it or something just to see what it is like!

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:31:50

You weren’t lying. That place is beautiful. A bit far south for a Parris though. Never go further south than Paraguay. It’s been the family motto for generations.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:35:01

I could spend a week in that place. It has actual streets and everything. It’s still a working cemetery too. Several years ago, our friends couldn’t get in because Eva Peron’s sister was being buried. Most beautiful statuary on earth all mushed together in one spot.

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Comment by Greg Olear |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:20:54

The writing-her-own eulogy thing is priceless. Three generations of funny, talented ladies, this means. That I know of. There were almost certainly more.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:25:10

May have been, Greg, but they may not have been in English, so what do I know?

Now that I’m aware of the fact that you can totally fabricate your life for your eulogy, I’m going to start writing it right now. Gotta get some sort of clergy person to write it verbatim. Of course, it can’t be anyone who actually KNOWS me….

Comment by Phat B |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:35:29

I never thought of that! I’m gonna proposition the Coen Brothers to write mine.

Best. Funeral. Ever.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-10 16:37:44

You were such a GREAT man, Phat B!
Who knew how great before?

Comment by oksana marafioti |Edit This
2009-07-10 17:23:02

Parents just don’t realize the impact they leave on their kids…or do they?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 04:52:57

Hi Oksana!

Parenting is really a difficult thing to do well. I think most people try their best. It’s just that sometimes their best really sucks and can warp their kids into shadows of what they could have been.

Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
2009-07-10 17:54:46

when i die, i want my body cremated. IMMEDIATELY, right there and then on the spot. burn down the building, too, what the hell. burn the world, who gives a fuck.

pot roast always sounds so delicious. doesn’t it? pot… roast. and yet i can’t remember the last time i had it. maybe never.

i think my dad’s grandparents are buried in greenwood cemetery. it sounds familiar. definitely somewhere in brooklyn. i remember going to it a couple of times when i was little. we stood there and then left them some stones.

stories about your mom always make me laugh. even as i’m shaking my head and saying “oh god, oh god.” where do people like that come from? the world is a very strange place.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:05:41

Hi Ben,

I used to think I wanted to be buried as a whole body, you know. But I’ve changed my mind. I’d like to be cremated in a paper bag or something that doesn’t cost money after the docs take everything off of me that they can use on a living person. Then I want someone to put me in a baggie in a safe deposit box and wait for Victor to die. Then I want them to do the same thing with him and then mix up our ashes and bury them somewhere pretty. They could put a nice rock down, if they wanted.

Did it look like a city of the dead? You actually need directions to get to the plot you’re looking for. You get them at the gate, when you tell them the plot number or the person’s name, if your lucky.

A beat/hippy poet named Lawrence Ferlinghetti (you probably already know this.) has a poem that starts:
“The world is a wonderful place to be born into
If you don’t mind happiness not always being so very much fun.”
It’s been years, that may well be a paraphrasing.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:07:10

If you cook, I could send you a recipe too. Zara wanted one. I got it from Cook’s Magazine though, not my Mother, obviously.

Comment by Elizabeth Collins |Edit This
2009-07-10 18:04:04

interesting story of your always-fascinating family dynamics!

I especially like your insight into the retirement home fair-weather friend syndrome. I saw some of that with my older relatives.

The funeral home also put glasses on my grandmother when she was lying in the coffin…I didn’t understand that. Who wears glasses when the eyes are closed? Plus, she rarely wore glasses. But I don’t think they were the wrong pair.

Your mother’s fictional eulogy (and I didn’t know people even could write their own–what a concept!) is priceless.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:10:49

All of my relatives wore glasses and all of them that have died were buried wearing glasses. My Mom’s was the first time it wasn’t an open-coffin funeral.

I think the theory behind it is that people look different without their glasses. They look different enough being dead and all, so the funeral guys put the glasses on so they look more familiar.

I was so appalled at the way they shunned the sick that they used to eat dinner with and play bridge with. I think it was fear, though. Fear of looking into their own futures and not being strong enough to do it.

My Mom only got away with that because the minister who sat and talked with her for hours didn’t know her from Adam. She got to totally concoct the life she wished she had. It was quite a surprise to hear, I’ll tell you that!

Comment by sara k |Edit This
2009-07-10 18:18:46

interesting. i’ve never understood why caskets are so expensive and fancy. kate’s comment reminded me of that recent story in chicago. did you hear about what happened?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:14:50

I have no idea! You can’t leave me hanging like this. Please comment again and tell me what happened?

I just saw “Departures” yesterday. It’s the movie I wanted to see when Lenore and Victor dragged me to “Drag Me to Hell.” In it they talk about the beauty of the carving and the smell of the fine wood that go into an expensive coffin. Then they say, but the cheap coffins and the expensive ones all make the same ash after they are burned.

(Great movie, by the way. Victor went to Bruno at the same time. Victor isn’t the sensitive type.)

Comment by Kate |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:10:50

I didn’t realize that was getting national coverage!


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:37:34

Jesus, Kate,
Thanks for letting us know what Sara K. was referring to.
That is so beyond horrible!
The same kind of thing happened here in Miami a few years ago, but it was Jews who were supposed to be buried, but they weren’t in their plots and apparently they were warehoused somewhere just rotting away.
I also believe something like that involving an old Black cemetery happened here a couple of weeks ago.
What is going on? eh?

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Comment by sara k |Edit This
2009-07-15 10:47:23

oh yea thats a link about what i was talking about. sry for the delayed response. yea apparently a manager and three employee (who were all afr amer) were scheming to try to make hundreds of thousands of $s.

Comment by Zara Potts |Edit This
2009-07-10 20:44:57

Good god! She made up her own life? Complete with fictional friends?? Your mother was a piece of work, Irene. What the hell is pot roast anyway?? I don’t think we have it down here…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:41:45

Hey Zara!

Now that you know you can, isn’t it tempting?
Pot Roast is a way to cook meat that would be ordinarily tough and make it tender and delicious. There are lots of root vegetables involved and wine and broth.
I e mailed you a good recipe.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-10 20:54:03

“She was going to be nearsighted for all of eternity.”

I don’t know how you Zions did it. I laughed out loud at the above line, and I laughed out loud at your mother’s fictitious eulogy, and I laughed out loud (for quite some time) at Lenore and Tim and Ben giggling at the wake.

I’m glad now that I didn’t write about death, as I’d been planning, for my thousand words. You, and a few others, including Lenore, did it so much better than I would have managed. My pitiful punk-rock thing is going to be especially pitiful in the book, should it become one, alongside the likes of this.

Comment by D.R. Haney |Edit This
2009-07-10 21:17:22

Um, my first line was supposed to read: “I don’t know how you Zions DO it.” Just wanted to clear that up.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:48:42


I just started “Banned for Life” and I find it comical to think that you wouldn’t write a better death story any day! But I thank you for the fabulous compliment!
And double thanks for laughing!

(Glad you cleared that up, I was afraid we were done for!)

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Comment by Lenore |Edit This
2009-07-10 21:09:43

i’m glad you didn’t go to the second funeral. you were there for the whole damn death song. you didn’t need to be there for both encores.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:49:32

Well said, my lovely one, well said.

Comment by Jude |Edit This
2009-07-10 22:23:42

Hi Irene
I have heard it said that the dying wait for the one they are emotionally connected with, to leave the room (or house… or wherever) before they die… so they can die. Maybe she loved you more than you knew…

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:52:14


Thank you for that. It would be great to think that she actually did appreciate my being with her and caring for her for her last 10 years. It would also feel sort of great in a creepy mean way to think she died on his two second watch to get back at him for never being there.
(Sorry. That was creepy and mean of me.)

2009-07-11 00:48:10

The story of the falsified eulogy is so strangely endearing. And I never knew that about Brooklyn cemeteries, either. As sad as the story and the circumstances were, I love that you wrote this, Irene.

My grandmother died about four years back; due to some inter-familial conflicts and arrangements made by people who shall remain nameless, the service was a bit left of centre. At the point when the minister cracked out his ukelele, things began to border on the absurd.

Unfortunately, this happened to me:


It wasn’t out of a lack of respect, or anything like that. It was just the combination of everything that was happening. So I just put my face in my hands and rode it out, feeling like an awful human being all the way.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:01:08

A UKELELE! Holy Shit, Simon! You HAVE to tell us about this. Heck, I named names and, BOYS, am I going to pay for it. In the end I hope it’s worth it. (HA! in the END!)

I cannot imagine how you could have NOT have been caught up in the giggle loop in this situation!

Everyone has to watch that video. It’s really wonderful. Thanks, Simon.

2009-07-11 13:57:18

Now that’s a long, long story – family conflict, strange beliefs, manipulation, deceit, death, lies, senility… Good times, good times. I’ll have to put it on my list of things to blog about.

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2009-07-11 14:01:41

Oh, and Robin – they actually made a US version of Coupling, but I don’t think it lasted more than a couple of episodes.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 15:09:17

Get started on it, Simon!
I want to know ALL of it!
TNB requests it formally.

Comment by Robin Slick |Edit This
2009-07-11 03:48:49

Oh God to all of this…

The fake eulogy is brilliant — if I believed in funerals, and I don’t, I’d begin writing mine now.

“New York Times best selling author Robin Slick…”

He he – I love that Lenore was stoned – there really is no other way to attend something as barbaric as a funeral so good on her.

Awesome essay, Irene! I really was laughing out loud.

And Simon, every time BBC America runs the Coupling series, I watch it…so much better than its American counterpart, Friends. I was in the giggle loop every year at family holiday dinners and was forced to sit at the kiddie table until I was 18. And in the beginning, I wasn’t even stoned.


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:06:51

Thanks, Robin,

Now that I know it’s name I’ll have to buy the “Coupling” series. I want to see more of these people.

I would remind you that Tim was 17 and Lenore was a mere 15 when they decided it was a good idea to be stoned for their grandmother’s Wake. Seriously, isn’t that a bit young and a bit irresponsible to be stoned at that age and at that function?

Ben was only 12. Now I know he was caught up in the giggle loop!

Comment by Robin Slick |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:14:58

Nope, sad to say, I was even younger and I personally think it’s highly appropriate since funerals are always such circuses.

I meant to comment on one very moving part of your piece — where the elderly ignore their friends in sickness and death. That was actually very true and resonating…and very sad. It also brought up one of my demons which is sort of similar. When I was 30, I had a close friend, age 40, who was prematurely going through menopause. She felt compelled to share every detail with me, and she freaked me out and made me so scared to age I ended the friendship…I just didn’t want to know what awaited me in the future.

I should have just told her to shut the hell up, huh.

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Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:23:03


I think it’s just being human. Give yourself a break. No one wants to look into the eyes of illness or death and see himself reflected back. It’s horrible. It seems to be inexcusable, but there you are–it’s human.

I think all we can do is try hard to remember and overcome the fear the next time it comes around.

Comment by Sung J. Woo |Edit This
2009-07-11 05:11:58

“A surprising number of people asked me for the recipe after the funeral. Unfortunately, my mom never cooked pot roast once in her entire life.”

This isn’t sort of funny — it is funny! At a time like this, you just gotta love death. What else can you do?

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 06:07:41

Right on the head, Sung. You hit that one right on the head!

Comment by mary |Edit This
2009-07-11 07:41:43

so, i have wondered, why don’t jews send flowers to funerals and why did a minister give your mom’s service and not a rabbi?

where do you think your mom’s soul is now?


Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:11:56

Okay, No one who can answer the phone on Saturday seems to know for sure. I will try again on Sunday to find out. Basically what everyone who can answer the phone on Saturday thinks is that Jew think a person who dies should live on in people’s memories. One way to achieve this is to send donations in their name to charities, or to plant a tree in their honor. it’s not that flowers are bad. it’s just sort of a waste of money which could go to a cause that is worthy and which would make people think of the deceased loved one.

My Mom was nominally Protestant. But not so good a one as to actually know a minister herself.

I think that G-d fixed her crazy and she is up in heaven with my father and she got to take her foot along, just like in the painting.

Comment by Sara Zion |Edit This
2009-07-17 02:01:34

When Nana was in the hospital for her amputation, she told them she was Episcopalian, so the *astonishingly kind* minister from the local Episcopalian church tended to her during and after the hospitalization. Pastor Phil? Maybe not; it was so long ago. He was about 40, as I remember, white with tidy light brown hair. He was peaceful and warm and welcoming and altogether calming in a ridiculous and awful situation.

Even though he only knew Nana when she was demented and delirious (as if being just plain wacko isn’t enough), there’s no one else who thought of her the same paternalistic way and it had to be comforting to her to believe that someone else was “in charge.” I can’t think of a better person to do the funeral, even if she scripted it herself.

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-21 13:41:45

Yup, Sara, that was the Saint! She had never even attended his church. He and his church were complete strangers to her. Yet she said “Episcopal’” and there he was.
He really was the person you would want in such a situation.
I can’t imagine the stress the job entails.
Not for me. Oh, no. Not for me.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-07-11 08:09:07

Another story well written and you definitely should not have gone to the second funeral, you needed closure after all you went through not prolonging the agony. As to people being buried on top of each other to safe space I have heard about.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:43:17

Thanks, Ursula,
I really could not have taken it.
I simply couldn’t do it again, especially my brother’s way.
I was on my last shredded nerve.
Have you heard of the vertical burials? I only recently heard or read of it and I can’t for the life of me remember where.

Comment by Ursula |Edit This
2009-07-11 17:11:24

I think I mentioned vertical burials to you when I saw you recently. My understanding is that at the VA cemetery in Santa Fe, N.M. they practice this because of the space issue.

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Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:51:19

Thank you Ursula! I was going nuts trying to remember where I heard this.

I did some research on this but I can’t come up with the way the burials are arranged in the ground. Vertical is certainly another way to save space. Weird, though, eh?

Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
2009-07-11 09:04:32

Excellent call on the closed coffin.

(You’ve forgiven me haven’t you?)

When my grandpa died, it was awful seeing him there. It just wasn’t him. And now that’s the last memory I have of him.

(I swear I TRIED to tell you.)

And then when Dad died – oof. I hate open coffins. They didn’t get his hair right – and that sort of pissed me off. And his regular sized suit didn’t fit him anymore, as he had died a cancer victim.

(It’s all there in the comments. Truly. It was a birth in real TNB time!)

And what’s worse, we forgot to send underwear with his suit. So he’s buried in that starchy suit without any underpants.

(Baby boy sends love! And he really is cute. Really.)

No underpants forever and ever.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:55:56

I really can’t understand why anyone would want an open coffin.

(I’ve forgiven you, but the next time you have a baby you better tell me before you tell your own mother!)

That’s the point! The person does NOT look like they used to when they are dead. Why make that your last memory of him? You can never get it out of your head!

(I know you tried, it’s probably my own fault cause I missed something VITAL in the comments. Actually, I think I DID see it, but I thought you were kidding!)

They never get the hair right. Also they stuff their mouths up for some reason so that the very shape of their faces is off! The funeral guys should have tucked his suit in the back so it didn’t appear so loose!

(It just never occurred to me that you would keep writing your post while in labor and delivery. What, did you carry your laptop with you while delivering? Therefore, I thought you were kidding.)

Oh your poor Dad getting all chafed for all eternity. That is just not right!

(I would love to see a picture of baby boy. Please tell him I love him back bigger than the humpback whale!)

Maybe you could get some underpants and go to his grave and dig a hole and put them above his coffin and cover them up so he can potentially get them whenever he wants.

Comment by Reno |Edit This
2009-07-11 10:40:28


you tell great stories. i love you! i get some many laughs (and this is a sad story!) but you…you…i dunno. it’s a style. it’s a tone. it’s so you.

there were too many great lines in this one. but the passage about your mom making up her “life” killed me and i will tell you right now that i will be stealing the “idea” of this. life, people have always been crazier than any writer could muster up in his head. i believe people say: stranger than fiction.

in this case funnier.

i adore you. and your family. and to know that you had to keep going back to your kids to tell them to pipe down floors me. heh. stoned out of their minds. shit. love it. i read this twice.

“She was going to be nearsighted for all of eternity.”

oh, effin, no!

i’m gonna walk around all day with that one in my head.

bye, irene. you and victor have a great weekend.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:18:30

Hi Reno!

I love you back!
You’re pretty famous for writing great stories, so I take that as a high compliment!

I sure wish I could be at the TNB reading in LA to see you and Lenore and the rest! I’ll expect a full accounting. (a REAL one!)

Remember, Ben wasn’t stoned. He was just caught up in the giggle loop!

Can you just imagine me in the dead people room, lifting up coffin lid after coffin lid looking for my Mom’s glasses on other dead people’s faces? I would have done it for my father. Seriously. But not my mother. Let her be nearsighted. Not my worry anymore.

Comment by George |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:20:27

After we die, we all go to the undiscovered country, from where we never return. The funeral is really for the living, not the dead, who have better things to do.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 11:32:58


You believe such beautiful things. If only I could just get injected with that! What a comfort it would be.

Comment by Ben |Edit This
2009-07-11 12:07:19


Just be glad you didn’t have to do any of this in Chicago, Mom. We can’t even get those right in this Goddamn city.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 13:21:52


I’m glad too. When it comes to me and Dad, do what I said above. You don’t need to buy a bogus burial plot, There’s not much left as ashes, Just dig a little hole in a pretty park that can’t be changed into high rises and shake the ashes in and cover them up. Simple. No money involved. Put a pretty rock there. Probably won’t stay, but that’s okay too.

Besides, who wants to spend eternity in Chicago? Too hot in the Summer and too cold in the Winter!

Comment by jmblaine |Edit This
2009-07-11 12:29:21

Sturdy are the gates of Zion.

Are you an absurdist like me?
You seem to be at times.

I’m hoping my the time I expire the US
has the Sweden freezing thing.
Freeze me, shatter me.

Comment by Irene Zion (Lenore’s Mom) |Edit This
2009-07-11 13:25:30

That’s a great idea, jmb!

They could lower us into liquid nitrogen, or liquid oxygen or liquid helium and we’d freeze in an instant. Then the designated hammerer could give us a good whack! There we’d be in a zillion pieces to blow over the universe!

Comment by Marni Grossman |Edit This
2009-07-11 18:26:55

Like Reno, I have decided to adopt your mother’s practice of making up a fictitious life in death. This is sort of an extension of my idea to start exciting rumors about myself.

It must have been awful that your mother’s death came as such a relief, though.

Much love-

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:55:36


It really was a shame that her death was a relief to me. But I have no guilt. I did everything that could be expected of a daughter and more. It just was never enough for her.

You see this is all a great idea in principle, but in reality most of us will actually have friends and family who know the truth about us. It really doesn’t work unless you have cut yourself off from society and you don’t even give a thought to what family you have left.

Fun idea, but hard to pull off.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:51:23

I hate stories about death.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 07:56:51

Okay, ksw, give me a topic.
You are a tough cookie to please.
But I’m game.
Tell me what you DO like to read about.

Comment by ksw |Edit This
2009-07-12 11:49:34

people usually get religion as they get closer to death. As you know when I was little I had lots of death in the family, and my grandfather used to say about death..” it’s a release, it’s an adventure,everyone is doing it” caw ( Being the baby i soo will object to your fictional history}

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 14:21:40


I’m sorry, but I could totally get away with a fictional history with you. You’d go along with it because you love me.

“It’s a release, it’s an adventure, everyone is doing it?” Damn, you had one screwed up abnormal childhood, kiddo!

Besides being the “baby” gives you NO points with me. It just makes me envious.

Comment by Tim |Edit This
2009-07-12 15:35:42

Jesus, Ma.

Always lifting spirits.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-12 16:11:33

That’s always been your problem, Tim.
You just can’t look on the bright side of death.
Lighten up.

2009-07-12 20:09:11

Hey Irene:

Sorry I’m so late in posting here. I was out of town for a few days.

Wonderful post…

My hat thinks so, too.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 05:37:00

Thanks, Rich!
Thanks, Rich’s hat!

Comment by cecile lebenson |Edit This
2009-07-13 04:15:45

Thank goodness you finally told me about Jews and flowers. That is one ritual I never understood except I did have a clue. My Mom hated receiving flowers from my Dad or anyone; thought it was a total waste of money since they died so soon after given. What is the message there??? Anyway, I was at your Mom’s funeral in Champaign and my recollection was that it was quite dignified. No rowdy kids in my memory (but who can count on that??)

Comment by christine w. |Edit This
2009-07-23 13:41:20

I love to send a plant, preferrably a flowering one, to funerals just so the family psycho will snatch it and plant it in their yard, thus pissing off everyone else who wanted it. It then forms a bone of contention for future family meltdowns and serves as a living monument. I’m the electron of doom in a family fission moment. No flowers, just plants.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 05:42:11


There were no giggling kids at the funeral because they were not there.
They were banned from the funeral because of their unseemly behavior at the Wake!

I agree with you about the flowers. I don’t like getting them. I hear the same message you do.
“Here’s something beautiful and sweet-smelling which will slowly die and stink, just like you will.”

It was a dignified sham. If you’re going to run a sham, you should really run a dignified one.

Comment by Amy |Edit This
2009-07-13 08:44:07

I don’t like open caskets either. My grandmother didn’t look like my grandmother. They did a horrible job. I too want to be cremated. Don’t understand why you’d want to rot slowly in the ground when you could be instant fertilizer. Spread my ashes and just remember me, I don’t need a stone to tell people I was alive.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 10:03:57

I’m with you there, Amy!

All the funerals I’ve been to also have one person after another talking about how GOOD the dead person looks.
Not only are they DEAD, but they don’t even resemble the person they were when they were alive.

I just don’t get it.

I’ve changed camps to the cremation method, myself. That surprised me. It just has never been done in either of our families.

Breaking new ground. Always breaking new ground, we Zions!

Comment by Marcia (former next-door neighbor in Illinois and frequent visitor to Florida) |Edit This
2009-07-13 10:38:31

It’s a good idea to hang onto your old friends, no matter how old you get. When my mother was dying in the ICU, her best friend from first grade came and sat with her every day and didn’t seem to find it depressing– just sad. She’s still alive at 94, and I don’t think she’s at all scared of dying. She’s been able to live in her own home, though, which might be the key. I think retirement homes make people crazy. It’s not right to be sitting around waiting to see who will die next. I had 3 elderly cats, and two of them died in the past year or so. It freaked me out to be sitting around waiting for the last one (Patrick is the one left in case the Zion siblings are wondering) to die so I got another, younger cat, and now I don’t feel weird at all even though I know Patrick won’t last much more than another year or two at most. It’s funny how that changed my perspective. It’s not a replacement cat but a reminder not to get obsessed by the inevitability of death.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-13 12:58:40

I think it must have helped that your mom stayed in the same general area her whole life. Most people nowadays are moving from place to place so that old friends don’t stick. Your mother was lucky to have such a friend and to have such a daughter.
I agree that living in your own home makes a huge difference.
Ben and Kate just did what you said so eloquently in your last sentence. Wrigley died at five unexpecetedly and they just got a kitty, not as a replacement of Wrigley, but as a reminder not to get obsessed by the inevitability of death.

2009-07-13 19:20:48

Wow. This is sort of a comedy that I wasn’t expecting.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-14 02:52:18

WEll, Nick,
I DID warn you in the title….

2009-07-15 08:56:32

God Irene, the stories about your mother never cease to amaze me. She made up a life for herself? From afar it’s really funny to read, but good lord, how you survived her so well is one of the great testaments to “that which doesn’t kill you” thinking.

Really wonderful and I’m sorry all at once.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-16 03:16:10

Thanks for reading, Colleen,

Some of us survive better than others. Turns out I was the lucky one.

2009-07-20 08:54:25


Lovely stuff. Beautiful details. Human and hilarious, and, and, and. A wake in Champaign: can things be more depressing? At least there was the option of the Custard Cup afterward– that seasonal pumpkin pie smoothie…

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-21 13:45:55

Matthew Gavin!

If only I had had my wits about me! Everyone would have been invited to the Custard Cup!
Lord, but they have good stuff there!
My brother was busy carting away my mother’s corpse at the time, hurrying to get to the airport. Had plans for her corpse in Brooklyn, he did.
Sort of diverted my wits, so to speak.

Comment by christine w. |Edit This
2009-07-23 13:47:15

I plan to be cremated. I want a Japanese style family ash crypt. I think it’s kinda cool how if someone dies in Japan, everyone in your family congregates on the “family meeting home” and all the ashes go to the same place. I have pictures of my mother on the very same porch of the FMH that I went to when SHE died. I stood in her footsteps to celebrate her life and she actually DID make some delicious pot roast.

Irene, you may have had the most jacked up mother of all time and space, but you have made up for it tenfold with these hilarious stories. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

Comment by Irene Zion |Edit This
2009-07-26 08:14:42


Unknowingly, we have a Japanese style ash crypt for our pets. My dog, Lenore’s cat, Lonny’s cat and perhaps soon Ben and Kate will decide to bring their cat’s ashes to be with the family of beloved pets.

I like that idea. I sort of told the kids to save my ashes somewhere in the closet or something and then bury them with those of Victor when he kicks. I want to be together forever.

Hehehe, “Jacked-up mother.” I like that term!