Jay’s aunt Leona Cohen passed this week. She was 91. The end was expected, but then it didn’t come for awhile. She rallied and had a good period. It felt like a surprise when she died on Sunday, but I guess death always feels like a surprise, unbelieveable even as it is unavoidable.
The funeral was at Mount Sinai in Simi Valley, the western annex of the Hollywood Hills Jewish cemetery where Jay’s mom Avah and his grandparents are buried. It was a bright, warm southern California day, the hills greener than usual from the rains. The family told of Leona’s early leftist politics, her education and determination to have a career, her love of her daughters, her frozen cookies. She was quite short, but cast a long shadow, matriarch of an extended LA family that included my husband’s parents. Leona and Harold Cohen have 2 daughters (the cousins my husband and his brother grew up with), 4 granddaughters, and 7 great-grandchildren. She did a lot in her life. She’s been a lifelong protector and ally of my father-in-law Mel, her little brother, and since her husband’s death has lived at the same retirement place with him.
I wanted my kids to be there. I remember my grandmother’s funeral, when I was 6 or 7, the many relatives so sorry for the reason of our visit, but delighted to see me, hard candies from so many purses. Grandma’s casket was open, her face powdery in the pink funeral home lights, and resting just like sleep. Now that Mad Men has reminded us how fantastic those outfits were, I wish I remembered the dress she was wearing, or those of the mourners, but I don’t. Something in me responded to the seriousness of the moment, even if I didn’t take everything in. I’ve always been grateful I was there.
Leona’s casket was closed, and in the Jewish tradition it was a lovely, unadorned and unfinished pine box. When Jay got up to speak, our youngest stood up and started down the aisle. I braced for an escape or an outburst, but Jaden settled between his Grandpa Mel and his uncle Robert. He held Mel’s hand. Later he told me he didn’t want Grandpa to be sad.
When the service moved to the gravesite, I feared the kids would get restless, but the casket going into the ground, the mourners taking turns to shovel dirt onto it (“like tucking her in,” Jay said to the kids) was so real and immediate, I felt they got it, as much as they could.
She was buried next to Harold, who died four years ago. She’ll be so missed.
The day after the funeral we went to the other Mount Sinai, on Forest Lawn Drive in LA, to visit Jay’s mom and grandparents. Despite being right in LA, it’s also a gorgeous hilly spot, the other side of the hills from Griffith Park, with a view north to the mountains.
It made me wish my mom had been buried, to have something so definite to visit, a place where the body rests, though it’s not what my mother wanted. She was cremated, and spread at meaningful spots by many loved ones from Northern California to Texas and far beyond. At the viewpoint just before the lighthouse on Point Reyes I have as specific a place to visit her as Jay has to visit his mom. She can hear the seals barking and watch the crazy fog. But still, there’s something so real about a gravestone.
At Mount Sinai Jaden got to see the gravestone for his namesake, his grandma Avah. His middle name is Avram. He and Shayla were mostly bored with this cemetary visit, just the dads and them, not much going on. They were briefly interested in placing the pebbles on the stones, but soon complained and ended up back in the rental car, though I’m glad we took them. I hope they’ll be glad as well.