We took Kina to my Uncle Chris’ funeral yesterday, figuring she was old enough to reason with what was going on, and assuming that a kid her age both could and should be able to see others grieve.
Kina had met Chris only one time that she could remember—at my cousin Matt’s wedding, after Chris had already grown relatively frail. Still, I was pleased to see how entertained he was by Kina, both of them funny and sharp; they were good for each other, and they got along swimmingly.
I had assumed the service—in a Brooklyn church that Chris and my Aunt Mary have attended for the last several years—would be closed-casket, but it wasn’t, and so Kina and I found ourselves a few rows from Uncle Chris, and she struggled occasionally to get on her tiptoes so she could see his face, to no avail.
Chris was a great dad and a solid uncle. He gave me my lifelong nickname—“Gee gee gee” (pronounced “ghee”, like clarified butter)—when I was still a little kid, and I’m not sure he ever called me by my actual name after that.
He took me to the Met to see an opera with him every year after I graduated from college—a very special gift, since his seats were in the sixth row orchestra. This is not the best place to actually listen to opera, but it is absolutely the best place to watch it from: You can hear the movement of the singers, see the conductor, feel the lights. At the time, I still thought I might make a living as an opera singer, and seeing the craft in action was amazing.
Chris was ferociously passionate about everything he liked—opera, Gilbert and Sullivan, Giants baseball (despite their having uprooted and abandoned him for San Francisco), my Aunt Mary, and his three amazing sons, Matt, Mike, and Greg.
The man loomed large in every way. Taller than anybody else I knew well into my adulthood, he ate like a horse, drove like a banshee, and took countless people under his formidable wing. There are aspects of how I have positioned myself as a New Yorker that emerge directly from him; while we did not see each other very often after the first several years of my life here in the city, I was always well aware of the mark he made on me—and the institutions he believed in.
At the end of the service, Kina asked when she’d be able to walk up and see Chris. We nudged our way through the crowd and towards the front of the sanctuary, but by the time we’d gotten there, they’d closed the casket. I asked Kina if she wanted them to open it, and she said yes. I talked to the funeral director, who opened the casket as I lifted Kina up to my chest. She looked at him calmly, noted that he was wearing his glasses, and said goodbye to this man she’d really only known for a little while, very sweetly.
Later, at dinner (a gargantuan red-sauce feast that Chris would have considered “a good snack”), Kina drew little pictures for many of the guests between bites of penne alla vodka. The pastor, Aunt Mary, Chris’ boys, and a family friend with a freakishly-encyclopedic memory of Yankees games all received portraits of themselves with Chris. For a kid with few memories of the man, she depicted him well—passionately devoted and fully present for the people who loved him, as many did: Kina and I included.
The Parade, as expected, has little to do with yesterday’s events, depicting a series of magical jewels underneath a freakishly-tall rainbow and a sky full of stars. The field below is “a grand garden”. There are two suns. It is all very comforting.