Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Goodbye Girl

Today was a sad day for all of New Orleans, but especially for those in the theatrical and cabaret communities. Today we laid to rest one of our most cherished children, a little girl who grew into a woman with talent brimming from every pore. Today Cynthia Owen was eulogized as a wonderful singer and actress and the outpouring of grief inside Trinity Episcopal Church where hundreds gathered to remember her was palpable. There were moments of levity because wherever Cindy (as oldtimers recalled her original name) went, she brought laughter. There were few dry eyes inside the church as a choir sang a collection of many of the Broadway and cabaret songs she made popular in her powerful, yet brief career. I thought about Cynthia a lot as I comforted her family members, most notably her mother, Lyla Hay Owen, a noted local playwright, director, actress and singer herself and her sister Robin, who also had tread the boards as a child. The Christian rites associated with burial differ from those found within Judaism in several ways. Jews are every bit as much in mourning as their Christian brothers, but the deceased is never put on display for people to see. It is more important to recall the loved ones through the veil of memory rather than to see their remains through the prisms of our eyes. It is felt that this is a respectful gesture of love and a fitting way to ease the transition for friends and family. I wish this were the case for Cynthia because there were video tributes playing on monitors and beautiful posters and pictures on display at the same time as the mourners had to pass in review and witness the now lifeless body confined to its final resting place. How better for me would it been to have had the glowing tributes to my dear friend heard aloud without the image of her corpse burned into my psyche. When I had first heard that Cynthia had died and a memorial service was discussed, I had been told that her body had been cremated by her grief-stricken mother. I bemoaned the fact that I would not have closure; that it were as if a page in a treasured book was removed without my knowing it. But when I found out Thursday night that the memorial service was a funeral service complete with an intact body and a wake, I began to think that my original complaint may have been in error. I wanted to mourn the loss of my friend without having to view her remains. I wanted to remember Sally Bowles, Annie Oakley, Charity Hope Valentine, and the chanteuse who could make you laugh or cry with her amazing singing abilities and stage persona. In Orthodox Judaism there is a tender ritual of burial that many outsiders and less observant Jews find troublesome. Out of reverence for the deceased member, the body is lowered to the ground in a plain coffin without nails. Once deposited into the grave, the casket is covered with dirt until it is no longer seen in any way. Some think this as heartless, but the opposite is the case. It is intended that the deceased be covered by loving family and friends as a child would be clothed by any parent. It is an act of extreme love and it also symbolically separates the period of loss when prayers become a necessary part of paying tribute to the dead. It is then that a special prayer called Kaddish is first uttered and the period of mourning known as sitting shiva begins as family members exit the cemetery. Mirrors in a house of mourning are covered so that we keep our thoughts away from being self-centered and to help us cope with the final separation. Cynthia was a lady of deep faith and a former teacher at Trinity Episcopal. I know that the service prepared for her was in keeping with the dictates of her religious background. I am certain for most it was a deeply moving experience. For me, though, I wished it were more in keeping with my faith and that I would have been able to say goodbye to one of the loves of my life in a less visible manner and keep those memories inviolate in my heart.

1 comment:

whalechaser said...

It must be very difficult for you. This is the third loss in the recent past that you are dealing with. My heartfelt wishes go out to you. It is sad that the older we get the more of these we must face. Yours though are people who seem to be taken away earlier than most. That makes it all the more difficult.

I stumbled onto your blog about a month or so ago and so appreciate the quality of your writing and variety of content.