This is day 11 of a New Year’s Resolution.
When I die, bury me in straight laced shoes,
A box backed suit and a Stetson hat
Put a 20 dollar gold piece on my watch chain;
So the boys’ll know I died standin’ pat.
-St. James Infirmary
The first time I heard Louis sing that song, I was 15, only a few years after my grandfather died. I was impressed by the upbeat, even cheerful melody in the face of the maudlin lyrics. And I was impressed by the idea of a man who wanted to be buried in his box-backed suit and Stetson hat because life, after he was gone, went on.
My grandfather was a very dapper man. My dad recalls that Gramps would’ve donned a fine suit to go to the zoo, a quirk of dandiness that I have preserved to this day, with slight variations.
After he died, sitting in his condo, I felt (besides terrible loss) a sense of togetherness and community I hardly knew how to identify. We were all there, eating and shmoozing and being sad-happy, and I discovered that I really liked the “Being Jewish On Purpose” thing. Twenty-five years later, looking at my life, my years of building intentional community and years of learning and then teaching Jewish studies, I see that Gramps left me a legacy in his dying.
Just as he lived in style, he went out in style.
My Uncle David was no dapper man. He preferred loose and comfortable polo shirts, work pants, and wore both suspenders and a belt (a look you should not try unless you are Cameron Frye).
But his funeral and shiva have brought about a few things that I appreciate in the face of this loss. One: an echo of that same togetherness I felt when Gramps passed away, twenty-five years ago.
Two, while the elders were at the funeral home making arrangements, David’s grandsons (my first cousins once removed) and I got to spend a rare day together. Brunch. Bowling. Shopping. Video games. Conversation.
David was not a stylish man, but like Gramps, he’s going out in style.