“Do you have exciting plans for today?” Avik, my hair dresser wanted to know as he started blowing my wet hair. “Going somewhere special?”
“I’m going to a funeral,” I answered, disappointing him. “When I was younger, I went to a hair salon before a wedding or a hot date, but now funerals are where friends and family come together.”
When I told Avik the deceased was 93 and had led a long and fulfilling life, he felt it was O.K. to tease me about meeting a younger man in his seventies, graveside.
“No, that’s not the place for G-dating, although I do remember sending a condolence note to Hank Lopez after his wife died. A very short time later he called to thank me and invite me to dinner.
When Hank died two years later after a passionate, sexy very close relationship, I brought information about his career to the LA Times Obituary editor. He asked me out on a date. Oh the good old days when I was in my foxy fifties and didn’t really need funerals for dating service. Memorials worked just as well.
I thought about Hank, and Lee, another deceased lover, as I made my way to Hillside Cemetery on a cool gray Sunday afternoon. It was a busy day for funerals. The star mourners and close family arrived early and were led to a special room while the rest of us waited outside. The departed was a well-respected judge. His second wife, a widow for the second time, was surrounded by her children, his children and grandchildren grown up since the first husband’s death. Her hair looked professionally styled and her dress was a flattering black knit from Bloomies, definitely not widow weeds.
After a long wait spent greeting old friends, all apologetic about only meeting at funerals these days, the religious Jewish ceremony began.
Ritual Hebrew prayers were chanted by the young gay rabbi. Eulogies were tearfully given by the middle-aged children and professional colleagues attesting to the heroic deeds of the kind father, husband and friend.
The widow, last to eulogize, talked of how she had met her beloved husband on a blind date and shocked everyone with her story about how he announced like a judgement in court, that he wanted to kiss her. “Do you have any mouthwash?” he asked.
“For you or for me?” she said and everyone smiled, even the portrait of the Judge. She ended tearfully saying she would love him forever.
After the eulogies and the Hebrew prayers, we set off for the internment in another part of the cemetery passing the Al Jolson waterfall and Jack Benny Mausoleum. Careful not to step over name plates,we arrived at grave with the waiting casket covered by an American flag.
I realized that the Judge was going to be laid to rest next to his first wife, the mother of his children, who departed first. Just as Nancy and Ronald Reagan would be next to each other facing the Pacific Ocean, the Judge and his first wife would be side by side facing the 405 Freeway while planes from LAX flew overhead.
His second wife, nine years younger, would when she eventually passed on, be installed in a drawer next to her first husband, at Forest Lawn facing the 134 Freeway and Disney Studios. Now for people of truly religious persuasion this has to present some questions that I have asked when significant gentlemen in my life have died or burial plans for the future come up over an early bird dinner at Marie Callenders.
My elderly gentlemen friend is very familiar with this cemetery. He goes there every Sunday to visit his late wife and mother and put flowers on their graves. He’s already arranged to be placed next to Florence when he dies. Being 94, he doesn’t expect too many people to be graveside, because all of his friends have died except young me.
When Lee, the director died, his two daughters gave me one-fourth of his ashes which I scattered at the beach on a rainy Valentine’s Day. They also invited me to a memorial held at his ex-wife’s house. They hired a bag-piper to play Danny Boy. I recited the Kaddish under my breath.
When Hank Lopez died, I asked his brother to read the first page of his auto biography. He refused. He said, “Hank wasn’t brought into this world by a curandera in Chihuahuah, as he often proclaimed to bilingual audiences. He was a born in a hospital in Denver.”
His children gave me two religious icons from a church in Cholula and invited me to scatter his ashes with them near Malibu. A week later a co-worker came up to me to express her sympathy for my loss. Tearfully, she told me not to grieve because Hank and I would meet again in heaven.
That was a comforting thought, but it got me thinking. What happens when I arrive in heaven and Hank’s not there, or if he is, he is re-united with his deceased wife? I shared this thought quietly with evangelical Hector Perez at the graveside after shoveling some soil over the pine casket. Hector moved away from his wife and whispered back, “You don’t have to be married there. That’s why it’s called heaven.”
When I told Avik about my new religious revelations, he said, “What about you arriving in Paradise and find the line-up of old dead lovers. How will you choose?
That’s another story.