Local dispatch: Quiet little funeral offers opportunity to reflect upon life

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In retrospect, it was the best damn funeral I never attended.

There was no corpse at the mortuary, only a container of cremains on a table shared by a burning candle and two photographs.

No register to record my attendance. No take-away prayer cards with words of comfort.

Dick's widow and daughter were strangers to me, as was the deceased. I had never met this brother of a friend of mine, and my friend couldn't be there. But I was received warmly and escorted to two panels of snapshots that froze the family in happier days. And we talked about those times.

By today's funeral home standards, it was a modest affair. No mementos on a plush open casket, no endless loop of still photos converted into a video, no kneeler. And no flowers.

The burial was to be private, so there would be no lunch the next day, either. As a substitute, the two surviving family members had set out a table in an adjoining room. It was stocked with coffee, bottled water, juice, assorted crackers, cheese, meat and cookies from a well-known bakery. Plus, a fistful of cigars (the kind he smoked).

I have no problem with traditional funerals, having participated in many of them. For a while I even felt a little like the fictional "Handles" Messiah, the professional pallbearer. But a food table in a funeral home was new to me.

In the past, only water was permitted in Pennsylvania funeral homes. Then nonalcoholic beverages were allowed only if the State Board of Funeral Directors approved the location.

Last year, the ban against allowing food was overturned, but that action is being challenged by the state. Meanwhile, serving food tastefully in a part of the funeral home away from the viewing area is acceptable.

I sat alone with my coffee and refreshments, contemplating this anonymous family's life of which I had learned so much in such a short time. Four or five mourners in the next room kept their chatter at a respectful level. It was a peaceful interlude -- a time to be thoughtful and thankful.

Among my thoughts was the premature obituary I wrote for and about myself a year or so ago. It sums up a full, though not extraordinary, life. (See below.) It's something I think everyone should do to make it easier for the survivors. As a bonus, when you see your life spelled out, you'll know that there's still time and room for improvement.

The ashes of this man who died well before his time would be interred the next day, without fanfare, in a communal cemetery -- no crowd, no multi-car procession, no release of doves, no flag-folding or other military maneuvers.

I said my goodbyes and again faced the reality of a trip alongside the traffic cones and disruptions of perpetually perplexing Route 28. It seemed easier this time.

I bore no little memorial card to add to the inch-and-a-half stack I have acquired through the years, but it wasn't necessary. Because of his family, the memory of this total stranger will be with me always. May he rest in peace.

Edward D. Wintermantel Jr.

In Mount Washington, after a long (insert age) and comfortable life, I was called to judgment on (insert date).

Surviving are my loving, supportive, understanding and talented wife, Ann; a determined, generous and irreplaceable daughter, Cristin (Chris) Buckley; and a strong, thoughtful and optimistic sister, Dorothy Codori.

Avonworth High and Duquesne University occupied me for eight years. I worked briefly as a house painter and on or at a: farm, grocery store, department store, cab company, poultry outlet, post office, steel corporation, gas station, university, ad agency, political campaign and for 30 years as a writer and editor at The Pittsburgh Press.

When I joined the Navy I was cautioned never to volunteer for anything, and I found that advice to be helpful well beyond the military. I was a member of the Catholic Church, several tennis groups and the now-defunct Radio Shack (free) Battery Club.

I chose listening to radio over TV, enjoyed music and motorcycling and always liked warm weather (note to God: but not THAT warm). Also of interest: I once appeared in blackface in a minstrel show, for which I hereby apologize.


Ed Wintermantel of Mount Washington, a retired newspaperman, can be reached at edwintermantel@comcast.net.The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.


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