Friends and family of the deceased… distinguished members of the staff of Mourning Joe’s House of Burials… persons who stepped in to get out of the cold and are hoping that there will be food after a very brief memorial service… if you don’t know me, I am the great nephew, by marriage, of the woman in the plain wooden box, to my left, and if you don’t know her, you’re lucky, because she was not a very nice woman at all. That said, I am reminded of the bit of conventional wisdom that if one has nothing kind to say about someone, then one should say nothing at all. Perhaps I have already said too much, but as it would now be extremely awkward if I were to say nothing further, I will continue my remarks, attempting to say nothing while still speaking actual words. You will understand, however, if I do not refer to the deceased—despite our technical relationship—as my “great aunt,” for the obvious reason.
The deceased was, until recently, alive, and, to her credit, she had managed to remain alive for a not inconsiderable number of years. Her accomplishments as of the time of her death were few, but having lived, in the simplest sense of the word, can be counted among those few accomplishments. Also, she died, which is something that none of the rest of us in this room today can say we’ve done, so in that regard the deceased is unique. When she is interred, she will be among others who have both lived and died, but for the moment she should be permitted to take pleasure in the knowledge that she’s done something none of us have.
When the deceased was alive, she was not blessed with children, but she was blessed with no children. The deceased was not fond of children, certainly not in the way she was fond of cigarettes. I have heard that in her later years—being those seventy-odd years after age thirty, she regretted having been a child herself, but I can’t say whether this is true or not. She never expressed to me any regret at ever having been anything other than an adult, but in her defense she did not speak to me much, being that when I was a child, I was not welcome in her home, and it was only this morning that I was informed that the deceased had not been dead for many years already. I was asked to say a few words about her only because no one else would, though I will let you draw your own conclusions about why that is.
The deceased was married to my great uncle, a man loved by all who knew him and who predeceased his wife because, as the old joke goes, he wanted to. I was going to tell a joke to lighten the mood this morning, but I thought better of it when I remembered that I once tried to tell the deceased a joke, when I was a boy, somewhere other than in her home, and she stopped me before I got to the punchline. “I don’t like jokes,” she told me, “or children.” I’m not saying anything disrespectful about her, because that was a direct quote.
Many people, I understand, assumed that the deceased was a so-called “cat lady.” This is not the case, however. She did not like cats. She also did not care for catalogs, catsup, or CAT scans, although she did submit to several of the last of these toward the end of her life, as I learned by skimming her substantial medical file, generously provided to me by her final attending physician, whom she did not like. And, as it happened, not only did a CAT scan confirm that the deceased did indeed have a heart, it revealed advanced cardiomyopathy.
Let me conclude by saying that the deceased was small in stature, but she was also not large in presence. She was usually content to sit in a chair and smoke, or to stand near a chair and smoke. When entertaining guests, she strove for brevity. She was not a good cook, a bad cook, or any kind of cook. She tended to plants until they expired or she tired of tending to them, at which point she threw them away. She was not extravagant, nor was she profligate, improvident, wasteful, prodigal, or lavish. She was a woman of few words. And now, if you will lower your heads and join me in a moment of silence in memory of my father’s mother’s brother’s wife, whose passing is a thing that happened….