the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: funerals

Vartan’s Passing

I only took a carry-on with me to LAX yesterday because going to BlogHer was a last minute decision.  The health of my father-in-law, Vartan, was still shaky.  He had just started with hospice.   I got my boarding pass from the Virgin America machine and went through security.  I was about to put my shoes back on, post security, when Sophia called me on the phone.  She was crying.  Vartan had passed away.   Sophia, who had dropped me off at the airport no longer than ten minutes ago, returned to pick me up. We drove to her parents’ home.   The hospice nurse came to pronounce Vartan dead.   The nurse was a very caring Filipino who hugged everyone he met.   Soon after, the same sober-looking, deep-voiced guy from the funeral home who came to pick up Sophia’s mother just a month and a half ago, now came for Vartan.

The caregiver, who only knew him a short time, was in tears.

Vartan was an uber-impressive man.  A cancer surgeon in Russia, a chess player, a cook, a cabinet maker; a devoted and patient husband to Fanya.  I bonded with Vartan in ways I didn’t with Fanya — we both had to deal with “dramatic women,” as wives, and we frequently gave each other knowing glances.

The last seven months have been a slow and painful decline for Vartan.  He and Fanya aged 20 years each in less than a year.  It was so very sad to watch.  I’ve seen and done things I would not have expected to encounter just a year ago.  In some ways, I think it is better now that Vartan is in a happier place, with his beloved Fanya.   Today is the funeral.  Vartan and Fanya will be buried in the same plot of land.

Sophia has now lost both parents in a short amount of time. The hospice MD sent Sophia this SMS: Tried to call you.  I’m sorry and my condolences.  God’s peace & comfort w u.  You are truly a wonderful person and one of the most caring I ever met.”

This has been one hard year for Sophia.  If you want her address or email, contact me at neilochka at yahoo dot com or @neilochka on Twitter.

Be of Good Cheer


During the summer, my father passed away.  My father’s funeral was very beautiful and dignified.  But I was disappointed.  I don’t think it captured my father’s quirky personality. Don’t get me wrong.  Everything went perfect.  Everyone was moved.   It just seemed more for the guests than my father.

After someone dies, everything is very chaotic.  There’s people to call.  Arrangements to make.  The person who died can get lost in the shuffle.

Jewish comedians always make fun of bar mitzvahs, saying that American kids treat them like jokes.  Kids make elaborate parties for their bar mitzvahs, some with crass themes, like baseball teams or Star Trek.   I used to mock these parties myself, but my view is changing.  At least these kids throw a party that reflects themselves.  Why are funerals always so drab.  Why aren’t there any funerals with exotic themes?  

I know this sounds a bit tasteless.  But my father loved the movie "Lawrence of Arabia."  Wouldn’t it be have been cool to have decorated the funeral home like a Arab sheik’s home?  Or an oasis in the Sahara desert?  I’m sure many of the guests would find it tacky and uncomfortable.  But who cares?  My father would have loved it! 

In the Jewish religion, you don’t put up the stone until a year after the death.  Today, my mother called me at home:

"On the way home from work, I bought your father’s stone."

"You did?  It’s only been five months."

"Well, I was in Flushing and I was passing the store. 

"You never can wait, can you?

"It’s going to be a very nice one.   "Kramer" in the middle, and then, "Devoted husband, father, and brother.""

"That’s all?"

"What do you want it to say?"

"I don’t know.  It’s just so… bleh.  It’s like me writing a post that says "Have a Nice Day.""

"We’re not talking about your blodge on the computer.  We’re talking about a stone in a cemetery." 

"How about at least, "Devoted husband, excellent father, and really cool brother?"  I think we can up up with something better for Dad."

"You’re the writer.  You think about it."

I met Sophia at the Coffee Bean.  We sat down to think.  Within thirty seconds, we came up with the exact same solution:

"Be of Good Cheer!"

Be of Good Cheer.  For some reason, my father always ended every phone conversation with that bizarre saying.  I have no idea where he got it from.  I’ve never heard anyone else say it.  It also sounded very 19th Century, like something Sherlock Holmes might say to Dr. Watson.  Maybe my father first heard it in an old movie as a child.

Arthur Kramer, devoted husband, father, and brother.  Be of Good Cheer.

So far, we haven’t sold the idea to my mother.

I know this is a depressing thought, but should we all start thinking about our funerals?  Do you want a traditional  ceremony?  Or something exotic?   Do you care what is written on your stone?  Would you like a certain song to be played?

I always liked "American Pie" from Don McLean:

They were singing,
"bye-bye, miss american pie."
Drove my chevy to the levee,
But the levee was dry.
Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singin’, "this’ll be the day that I die."

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