Afterlife, Ashes…and a Kickline for Al Diamond

Today as I stepped out of the shower, my mind turned, in that untraceable-to-first-thought, how-did-I-get-here way that minds work, to the subject of cremation.

If I could tell you why I was thinking about this, I would. But let’s just start here.

Would I be cremated? I asked myself. There are a couple considerations. First, there’s the afterlife. I mean, what if there is a there there, and what if we really do need all our parts — what happens if I’m all dust and gone? I wouldn’t have a hand or a forehead to smack it against, no mouth to say “Doh! Mistake!” I wonder, would I be able to get a loaner? Could pick a different body type? Could I be taller?

But if, as I suspect, there’s no need for the body once we’ve expired, what reason is there not to return to the cosmos all dust and ash? The only other reason I came up with was so that whoever’s left behind has a place to visit.

In my family, that kind of visiting does not happen. It’s not our thing. But boy do we remember. I think about my late grandparents often. I think about them when my son’s expression reminds me of my dad’s dad; or a word my mom says sounds just like her mom; or when a terrible joke with no punchline reminds me of my mom’s dad; I think of them at every Bar Mitzvah, Shabbat and Torah study when Kaddish is said.

And I think of them at anniversaries. Today is the fifteenth anniversary of my grandfather’s death, his Yartzheit. I was lucky to have him as long as I did. And though I do not visit the cemetery where he was buried, he visits me quite often.

Like today. I went to a dance class, and the teacher chose a campy, Vaudevillian routine. I thought, my grandfather would love this. Under the music, I said to myself and him, “This is for you, Grandpa.”

Then, I decided to say it louder. So often I live in my mind, not sharing the good thoughts I am having about others, whether it is how much I admire them, or how they have inspired me, or how beautiful or kind they are. Lately I’ve been trying not to keep those thoughts so private. Besides, since I’d already invoked his presence, I thought it would be polite to let my fellow dancers know someone was watching. So I shared what had been silently percolating in my brain, “Today is fifteen years since my grandfather died, and he would have loved this number.”

“What was his name?” a friend generously asked.

“Al Diamond.”

“This one’s for Al,” she said.

The teacher cued the music, turned up the volume, and shouted “Sell it!” It was stunningly easy to feel him there as we danced and hammed it up, with a kick line to bring it home.

I don’t have any answers about an afterlife, whether spirits roam or visit us, whether we will be able to come back and visit once we’re gone – believe what you want, I say – but I do know that for those 8 bars of 8, he was there with me.

5 thoughts on “Afterlife, Ashes…and a Kickline for Al Diamond

    • You bring up a good point — not only to share that we are thinking of our loved ones who are gone, but telling the stories about them — funny, absurd, inspiring — the stories that tell us who they were and what they valued, so that they and their memories outlive even us.

  1. A wonderful piece, Laura! And as one who recently lost both parents, a sentiment I wholly adhere to. The people we love really are kept alive by our memories, but because all too often people think referring to the deceased is a sad thing, we keep them alive silently. I like the idea of expressing one’s unending connection.
    My mom suffered from dementia in her last years, and I would always make dance videos of myself to send her (she lived with my sister) to help her remember. She would sometimes forget who my sisters were, but she always remembered me because she had this library of dance performances that she would ask my sister to put on the computer. “Piccadilly” was one of the last ones I made for her, and the desire to do it was born of her love of this kind of old-fashioned music and dance.
    Thanks for calling my attention to this post!

    • Ken, thank you so much for sharing this beautiful memory, and the ways we stay connected to those we still love after they are gone. It’s amazing how your mother knew you through dance and music. My grandfather had been sinking into Alzheimers for a decade, but there was always something in music that could reach him, and my grandmother could sing a tune to him that would — ever so briefly — lift the cloud. Next time we dance Picadilly, or another piece she particularly loved, I hope you shout out, “This one’s for you, Mom!”

  2. Reblogged this on Laura Nicole Diamond and commented:

    If memories are painted in watercolor, susceptible to fading or being painted over by brighter colors of fresh experience, then telling them as stories are the Sharpies that outline them in bold.

    My memories of my grandfather, whose Yartzheit (anniversary of his death) is today, are warm but faded. So when I tell my sons stories about him – clinging piggy back to him in the swimming pool, or the funny way he danced, or that he was present at my wedding despite his illness — I bring him to life.

    In fact, the stories I love most are from before I knew him: the 5-year-old boy who immigrated to America; the talented young baseball player who dropped out of school to support his family; the winning amateur boxer; the bold, successful entrepreneur; the handsome devil who followed a red-headed beauty home one day, then married her, putting the rest of our story in motion.

    Stories keep my husband’s grandfathers alive, too. Though he was a baby when they died, the family lore gets passed down so that even our children feel like they have known these men. Stories are more important than memories. Or rather, stories pass memories to those of us who were not eye witnesses.

    My grandfather was not a religious man, but at his funeral, his nephew, Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, gave him a tribute inspired by a Hebrew name that came closest to “Al,” the American name my grandfather took as a boy. The name “A’lon,” Peretz said, means oak tree. Al Diamond was an oak tree. That sums up some of his truest qualities – strong, sheltering limbs to protect his loved ones, deep roots. Permanence.

    One year and four days after my grandfather left his body behind, our first child was born, a boy. We named him Aaron for my husband’s grandfather. And, in the Jewish custom of giving babies a Hebrew name different from their given names, we named him A’lon for my grandfather. In their names and in the stories we tell, we keep our grandfathersever present, even decades after their touch is gone.

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