Irish Wake

It's not customary to request a dance floor at the wake of a loved one but, in our family the word 'customary' is a term whose definition has been humorously rewritten so many times during the Dictionary game, that the standing definition is whatever summons a closed mouth smile. We arrive, fashionably late, to the pink and beige hall filled with well over fifty of my immediate and extended family. The bar is open, the food is Greek and we all spill out thru the open back doors and onto the lawn of a spacious backyard situated in the suburban sect of Bethesda. It takes the course of two hours to properly greet everyone but only a minute to corral the masses for a unposed group photo on the grassy hill. Uncle Johnny's photographer friend from England spins his camera like a ticking sprinkler system to capture the magic. It's natural, organic. There's too many of us not to be yourself. Later, my father's cousin, Happy, emcees the memorial speeches. We pass the microphone from second generation, to third and those who can muster the words, recant old stories and small, funny memories. At Noni's house, we continue the celebration, indulging in a few of her favorites: cucumber sandwiches, scones, coffee and good 'ol barbecue and slaw. Maneuvering the packed house is an unspoken symphony, weaving your body around each relative, or friend, or friend of friend, stabilizing yourself with a loving touch, or graceful pivot. A small group of fifteen, reposition wooden dining room chairs on the front lawn of the cul de sac, just as the sunset blues in to dusk. And if you can imagine it... Happy plays the accordion under the base of the cherry blossom tree as my family turns to chattering shadows, lighted by fireflies, rising in the dark. The wheezed notes of the black & white keys collect all sounds on a hum, mimicking a night on the streets of Paris. Happy sings in the darkness: "Smile, though your heart is breaking/Smile, though your heart is aching..." The notes fall on us like my grandmother's love: overflowing and in constant crescendo.

Katherine Dolan#Grief