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Alexandra

Dancing for the Dead

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This is an article on this week's DanceView Times about funerals, wakes, and what's happened to our ceremonies for the dead:

No One Danced At My Mother’s Wake

No one danced at my mother’s wake. Not a single person found the screwdriver that might have removed the front door so that that door could be stretched out in the parlor to let an uncle tap out a jig or a reel as another relative fiddled. No one kept awake all night by her side to usher her spirit on, dancing about the room with her tiny body to help her get to the next world.

It’s not a surprise.

There was no Derry County front door, no parlor, not a stitch of food nor a drop to drink at this sanitized wake in the New England suburbs for this Irish American woman who could never fully embrace nor escape her origins. And anyway, the uncles that might have danced were dead, and no one knew a reel or jig to play.

Twenty years ago my first generation Irish father was put to rest with a river of drink and a delirium of food. After visiting him at the funeral parlor, dozens of us came back to the house to darkly, raucously celebrate our aliveness in the face of the stone cold mystery of death. We didn’t dance but we had a fine party. Warm bodies ranged from pillar to post that cold November night. We drank ourselves silly, ate cold cuts, laughed and cried till stupor overtook us. Before he was put in the ground, the Italian American priest inadvertently added a bit of Joycean humor to the proceedings, concluding the prayers for the dead with this: "And may he rest in peat and lice." Indeed.

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