I’ve been to a few funerals in my life. Everyone’s dipped in black, everything’s somber, dark, sad. It practically drains the life out of you, sitting around all that death.
So when my uncle passed and my aunt informed us that we’d be celebrating his life — not mourning his death — in New Orleans, I had no idea what to expect. The concept of a second line parade to announce his “homecoming,” followed by a memorial celebration with friends and family, actually sounded…nice. I found myself actually looking forward to it, and wondering, like I would for a wedding, what to wear. After all, what does one wear to a second line parade and life celebration?
I immediately tossed the concept of wearing black. I was determined to wear something bright and colorful, maybe red, maybe a vibrant pattern…but absolutely NO BLACK.
So, of course I fell in love with a black dress.
But the moment I put it on, it was obvious it was the right dress. Like a Say Yes To The Dress episode, it was an instantaneous decision — I knew it was “the one.”
Besides the obvious things that one desires in a dress (like it actually fitting and looking beautiful), I was struck by the sporadic star embroidery. After all, we’re all made of star stuff, and as my uncle Stew had shuffled off his mortal coil, he truly was even more star stuff than the rest of us.
Being back in New Orleans was a head trip…being back at the place of my birth, where I spent many Jazz Fests grooving with my parents, where I swam in the lagoon-like pool in the backyard of my aunt and uncle’s house (never daring to venture into the darker-painted deep-end)…I hadn’t been back since Katrina hit, and had never been there as an adult. All my memories of ‘Nawlins were fuzzy and childlike, like a skipping VHS that someone had taped over half-way through.
Before meeting at the Bourbon Orleans, I wandered through the French Quarter, wondering if I had even trod through before. Would my parents have brought their child into this amalgamation of spontaneous jazz performances, creole food, and daiquiri-stained streets? Probably.
After a not-so-quick drink at the Bourbon Orleans (no, seriously, it took 6 minutes to shake my Ramos Gin Fizz in a special machine), we gathered outside, trying to compose ourselves for the walk ahead.
The band tuned up, as 30+ people gathered around us, all friends, family, and students that my aunt and uncle had been close with. I was completely struck by how many had turned up, traveling all over the country to participate in this unique memorial moment. It was a reminder of how our existence can make such an impact in the lives of others, for better or for worse.
Then police sirens rang out, the band began playing “Iko Iko,” and we whipped our Stewart Altman handkerchiefs in the air. It was simultaneously happy and sad; I couldn’t help but smile, even though tears threatened to spill over the entire time.
The parade was amazing, and the memorial afterwards at the Napoleon House was equally as bittersweet. The klezmer band who performed at my aunt and uncle’s wedding kicked off the night, followed by stories from friends and family (including yours truly – managed to actually get through it without breaking down), but the last thing that was said truly stuck with me.
When it comes to your tombstone, you can’t choose the date of your birth or the date of your death, but what you do with that dash between is up to you.
Jacket: All 67 (Use code PSITS10 for 10% off any All 67 jackets!)
Ankle Boots: Sam Edelman
Sunglasses: Street vendor