NOW READING: None To Accompany Me by Nadine Gordimer
Oupa, the young man who worked with Vera at the Foundation, has died. First he and Vera were both shot when attacked by the side of the road while out straying from their Foundation work although not straying like that. Oupa may be the one man in this book Vera hasn't slept with. OK, I exaggerate. Anyway, Oupa slept with someone else; he's the one who got the teenage daughter of the other couple pregnant. But now he dies from his wounds, after everyone thought they were both going to be OK.
Oupa had a wife and two children who live way out in the middle of nowhere with no phone or anything, and he never sees them as he is in the city working at the Foundation. So as Oupa lies in a coma in intensive care and Vera and other co-workers visit the hospital daily, his family members have no idea. Only when he dies does "the Soweto grape-vine" kick in and get the message to the wife. And his body is brought "home" for a funeral.
The other day my sister and I were talking about flying versus driving from Phoenix to Payson, Utah. Our mother always drives and never flies. My sister joked that my mom may never get on a plane again, that she would not even do so to go to my funeral. Well for starters, I don't think that's true. But it did make me start thinking about, among other things, how we all scramble and do what it takes to get to funerals. Example: I just went to my grandmother's wake and funeral in the middle of my first-year law school finals. Seriously? Sometimes I wonder why I did that. Wasn't the trip I made in April with my uncle, to visit my grandmother alive, actually the more important one?
I'll tell you another one. My grandfather died in the summer of 2002. It just so happened I was on a road trip from L.A. to Boston. The person with whom I road tripped and I attempted to drive from Boston out to see my grandparents in western Mass. and got lost amid a ferocious summer rain and didn't take the shortest route anyway and in the end never made it. Then a day or two later, the morning I was preparing to fly back from Boston to L.A., he died. And at that point I changed my flight home, called work, stayed an extra week in Massachusetts, and attended the funeral.
"She gets his body back. And that seems so important. The dead body?...But someone came specially--from her--to arrange the transport, the money for the funeral. All the things that distance and poverty and ---I don't know--acquiescence in the state of things? --couldn't manage before become possible when there's so little purpose left."
- p. 215
On top of my not being religious and not really needing my soul consecrated to some godlike thing, I often muse about the need for a funeral at all. I know that they are a great way for the family to gather together to comfort one another and you often see people you haven't seen in a while. But wouldn't even that be lovelier if done while we're all still alive?