The Happy Funeral

The Happy Funeral

The Happy FuneralThe Happy Funeral

Bunting, E.





The rightness of death for the deceased, the painfulness for the survivors–conveyed with exceptional directness in the context of an unfamiliar culture. The reader will immediately wonder, with small narrator Laura, how Grandfather can have a “happy funeral”; as older sister May-May protests, “It’s like saying a sad party. Or hot snow. It doesn’t make sense.” But as the Chinese-American leave-taking unfolds, each custom falls into meaningful place. At the funeral parlor, relatives lay gifts in the casket. Mom’s is food “for Grandfather’s journey”: soy beans, lichee nuts, and, at Laura’s suggestion, chocolate chip cookies. Play money, burned, “will be real when it turns into smoke and rises to the spirit world.” May-May and Laura have drawn pictures to alight–Laura of Chang, “a dog my grandfather had when he was a boy.” (When Chang turns to flame, Laura cries–first, ashamedly, for Chang; then for Grandfather himself.) The funeral brings speeches, recollections, tears; the funeral procession is a fanfare: two cars of flowers, with Grandfather’s picture atop the first; a marching, tootling band. (“You’d never guess it was hymns, all jazzed up like this!”) But at the cemetery: “Tears are running down Mom’s face.” The band stops playing. And at the graveside, Laura links her Grandfather’s smiling visage with her mother’s baffling words. “She never said it was happy for us to have him go.” The light-fingered, gray-toned pencil-and-wash drawings display the same combination of sensitivity, economy, and finesse.