A few years ago I wrote about my dear friend Jinous, the first woman who was ever allowed to wax my bikini line and then feed me figs, and how she died of lung cancer in 2008. I called that post My Big Fat Farsi Funeral – Part 1. But I never got around to writing any more parts.
Jinous’s funeral service was held at an Iranian American Muslim Association center in Culver City, which was a long, long haul from my home in Northridge. I had to get a sitter to watch the kids. I wondered about what to wear, and chose something conservative but not all black.
I arrived early because I had underestimated the traffic (of course – one is always either too early or too late when venturing “over the hill” in Los Angeles) and so I walked down the street to get some coffee. When the doors to the reception hall opened, I went in and took a seat near the back.
I was the most un-Iranian person there, by a long shot.
The reception hall eventually filled to the maximum capacity. People were dressed to the nines and wore cologne and perfume so the air was a mix of heavy fragrances. Jinous’s twenty-something daughter stood near the back at first, greeting mourners as they arrived. She was calm and graceful, reflecting her mother’s demeanor more than I had ever seen her do when Jinous was alive.
Jinous’s parents sat in the front row. I only saw the backs of their heads because, unlike others, I never gathered up the courage to walk up to the front and pay my respects. In fact, this being my first funeral in a long time – even before my beloved Uncle Steve died, and far before Lisa’s funeral in 2011 – I didn’t know what to do besides sit there and be sad.
And it just got stranger from there. After the hall filled, the service began. It was entirely in Farsi. I did not understand one word or phrase. Not one. I did, of course, feel the emotional impact of the speakers’ gestures, and I vaguely recall a woman giving a short speech in English at one point about how Jinous had inspired her cancer survivors’ group at UCLA. They even played a video of her speech to them…which was in Farsi.
Presumably because I couldn’t understand the language, the service seemed interminable to me. I fought to stay awake, wanting to be respectful, mesmerized by the strangeness of it all, intoxicated by the perfumes and the close heat of so many people. But I snapped awake when something happened that I never would have thought could happen at a funeral.
They started passing out food.
While the Farsi speakers droned on, people passed down the rows silver trays with tiny tea cups and little cubes of sugar. Bowls of exotic pastes, plates full of dates, and small blocks of a sugary substance whose name I can’t recall. It is what fudge would taste like if it was totally dry and made of almonds.
When the tray came to me I did not know what to do, so I made friends with the woman sitting next to me. I whispered to her for guidance, and she showed me how to eat the paste and the blocks and mix the tea. I did not like the taste of any of it. But of course I ate it all.
By the time the service was over and I made my way through the maze of hallways and back rooms out to the parking lot, the entire area had been filled and surrounded by cars. My car was completely blocked in with no hope of escape. It turns out another funeral was being held that day – for an Iranian rock star. I have been unable to identify the name of this person in the years since, but trust me, the dude was famous enough to shut down a block of Culver City traffic. I was trapped.
And so I walked down the street again, this time for lunch, and when I came back I settled in for 800 games of Minesweeper on my phone -a Palm Treo (so retro now!) – before I was able to get out of the parking lot.
I will never forget that day, even though I had no idea what the words were, I shared the feelings of everyone in the room. We all missed Jinous.
I still miss her, and I still hear her voice in my head sometimes as I am about to make a bad decision. “No,” she says, curtly, in her Persian accent, so that the “n” sound is long and the “o” sound comes out of a curled mouth, the sound cut off as abruptly as a knife cuts through a banana. She shakes her head as punctuation, quickly and subtly, and that is the end of that.