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CORNELLA | My Big Fat Jewish Memorial

Everybody Loves Raymond Finale Taping 2005 in Los Angeles, CA

Anyone who has binge-watched Modern Family, Full House, or any other family based sit-com can admit to laughing loudly at situations, while simultaneously smirking and thinking “this would never actually happen…”

 I’ll admit, I once believed this too. The events in those shows seem too scripted to ever actually happen. The timing too perfect. The misunderstandings too construed. The setbacks too unlucky. But after spending a week at home mourning the loss of my beloved grandfather, I realized these sitcoms are not so far off from reality as I thought – you just need the perfect formula to set them into place:

1 – An extended family consisting of more than 20 members.

2 – Jewish roots.

3 – A significant occasion to join all these people together under one roof.

4 – Enough love to then keep all these people under one roof, no matter what.

 Luckily, my family contains all these components (with an abundance of #4) as well as a few divorces to make my very own family sitcom even more plausible.

 Now let me explain. When I say “a significant occasion”, I mean an event meaningful enough to bring back family from across the world and friends I haven’t heard from in years. My Grandpa meant something exceptional and personal to each person at the funeral that day. In fact, I don’t think the event could get more meaningful – he touched the heart and challenged the mind of anyone who came into contact with him. He was just that kind of man – an avid conversationalist, a caring person, and an intellectual beyond average curiosity. But, he was also brutally honest with a sharp sense of humor, always calling it as it was. My revelation that family sitcoms may not be so far off from my real life began when the funeral abruptly got put on hold because some forms still hadn’t been signed. What made this whole scene even better was knowing that my grandpa would have been there standing laughing louder than any of us at the irony. A large group of blank faces, blotchy and red from crying, now standing in awkward silence, not knowing how to proceed – well that could have been pulled straight out of an episode of Modern Family

 After the funeral was over, we all said our goodbyes. Then, came #2 came. You see, in Jewish tradition, the burial is the mere beginning. We then entered a week of mourning where my grandpa’s sons and wife sat on small chairs from sunrise to sunset as a flood of friends and family (and a few people none of us could name) came in to talk about all the amazing memories my grandpa left us to cherish.

 The tradition left me with stories I would have never known about my grandpa’s life and with pictures I never would have seen. But, the tradition also calls for a lot of encounters with a lot of different people (combined with a lot of food).  

 I can now admit I have seen my dad pretend to know so many names that I am now questioning if I’ve missed times he lied to my own face. But then again, he also had to spend the week waking up at 6am every morning, so I think I’ll let this one go.

 But what I won’t forget is the strange man who visited us every day and spoke for longer than well, socially acceptable. As people’s eyes wandered and feet tapped, you could basically hear them thinking “who is this?” and “why is he still talking?” Even with my family’s obvious confusion over his presence, the mysterious man continued to return day after day. Eventually, we accepted that we will never know who he is and have to just get really good at nodding along at his twenty-minute monologues – which we did. Again, a storyline I swear could have been pulled straight from the big screen.

 As I mentioned, there’s a long line of divorce in my family, but also a lot of shared loved – which basically just means family gatherings are left with really random combinations of people hanging out. And the cherry on top of my week was definitely my sister introducing her boyfriend to our step-dad’s ex-wife’s new husband… It’s okay, I’ll give you some time to think that through.

 By this point, I was convinced that family sitcoms are not just a complete sham resembling nothing close to real life. But, there was still one aspect about these shows that I was unsatisfied with – the perfect ending. Regardless of how bizarre or messed up an episode gets, it is always magically resolved within 35 to 40 minutes.

But no matter what parts of the funeral did not go as planned, who we had to pretend to know the name of, how many social cues people decided to throw out the window, or how many divorced couples were together again in one room, my Big Fat Jewish Memorial ended the way any good family sitcom would – with hugs, love, and even more hugs.

 Just the way my grandpa taught us.

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