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  • Writer's pictureRosie Forster

A Funeral

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

“We are here today,” said Father Avag, “Not to mourn, but to celebrate the life of Vasrik Najarian.”

I saw Lusine click her tongue at that. Her black funeral clothing was somewhat offset by the mounds of gold necklaces she had amassed. I know she would’ve preferred to be allowed to sob over the casket while onlookers watched.

What remained of my father was sitting in a casket covered in flowers sitting above a ditch. Lying next to him (albeit at a significantly lower level) was (and presumably still is) the body of my mother. They were surrounded by other headstones which were sinking into the dirt. The air was crisp. It smelled of roses and autumn and made me feel alive. I also felt alive because I was one of the few not-dead people in the cemetery.

I’m not good at sentimentality. I never have been. Over the years I’ve found it best to show as little emotion as possible. The issue is, if you show emotion once in public, you find it acceptable to continue doing so and then you find yourself wailing, inconsolable, at Costco because the cinnamon rolls are sold out. My dog had been hit by a car earlier that week, but the rest of the Costco shoppers didn’t know that. Since then, repression has been my dearest friend.

“Vasrik will be laid to rest next to the dear love of his life, his adoring wife and mother of two, Vanouhi.”

I thought it would be nice that Dad would be next to Mom. Mom had been gone for over twenty years. No one in the family had visited the grave since that funeral, because Mom had been the family peacemaker, and no one wanted to bother her eternal spirit with petty family drama. Also, my parents had matching names. That was pretty sweet.

Dad met Mom on a street in Jerusalem. He stood on a street corner for two weeks and, in a way that we might describe today as stalking, watched her take the bus to work. Eventually, the bus crashed, and didn’t make it to that fateful street corner. This made her wait for the next bus, which gave him the time to psych himself up to ask her out. When god closes one door, he crashes a bus.

I locked eyes with my brother Sevan. He had been born in Jerusalem, before my parents came to California in 1965. I always ask him what he remembers, and he says, “Mom used to take me to the Wailing Wall when I was a baby and scream when I screamed. At least then it was appropriate.” Sevan and I stared at each other until a loud sniff from Lusine demanded his attention.

Father Avag began singing aggressively in Armenian. It was a resonant voice that demanded attention. I kind of thought the attention should be on the huge casket covered in flowers and sitting on wooden planks above a ditch, but I didn’t want to say anything. Lusine took off her huge sunglasses so that everyone could see the tears flow freely.

Sevan reached over and hugged Lusine. He put his beefy arm around her shoulders and pressed her to him. Her face was mashed into his collarbone for no more than a second before she leaned back and gasped as if drawing in air for the first time. Her eye makeup was impressively smeared.

After the singing, Father Avag beckoned me to speak.

“My father,” I began, “was the kindest man I ever knew.” I spoke well. I didn’t cry, I didn’t get upset. I spoke in a monotone, which was likely off-putting for some, but Sevan knew me well enough not to be bothered, and he was the only one that mattered.

As I was telling the classic “Dad buys a house in Glendale without telling Mom” anecdote, I saw Lusine turn her head and whisper something into Sevan’s ear. He shook his head, and she nodded, insistent. He sighed and led her away from the gravesite, and back down to their car.

“Excuse me,” I said, unable to help myself. Sevan turned back to me, pleading in his eyes. I ignored my brother, who was stupid enough to marry Lusine in the first place. “Where do you think you’re going?”

My brother said, “Talin, please don’t.”

Lusine said, “I’m sorry, this is too much for me.” My decrepit Uncle Narek smiled at her, sympathetic.

“No,” I said. “Absolutely not. You came along two years ago. You are not equal here. This is my father we’re talking about.”

“Talin,” Lusine said. “I understand that you’re grieving. I understand that. But I’m grieving too. I loved your father like he was –“

I shut her up right then with three swift strides to where she stood and a sharp slap across her face.

Everyone stood in place. Father Avag looked appropriately aghast. Lusine’s face was blank, with a small red mark on her cheek. Sevan stared at me, his arms hanging by his side.

Uncle Narek started giggling. He filled his sagging cheeks with air and howled with laughter, his spine already curved over. He hunched over his walking stick, wheezing.

Sevan was in no position to laugh, so he glared at me instead.

Lusine didn’t move for a few moments, then nodded, and came back to her side of the grave. Her eyes were swollen with unshed tears and I knew she would be making a passive aggressive post about this event in the family group chat later, but for now she was silent. Father Avag’s phone rang, and a tinny rendition of some obscure pop song blared out. He fumbled with his phone, but it only made Uncle Narek laugh harder. Now Sevan was beginning to smile too, and I grinned.

There was lightness around the casket, which lasted until the tractor came over, rolling over other headstones, to dump my Dad into his ditch.

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