Abiding by Last Rites

  • Drucilla Cornell


On the last day of her life, my grandmother called me at ten in the morning. The purpose of the call was to review with me the last rites she wished to have carried out. She explained that her dead husband’s spirit was waiting for her at the end of the bed and that she would be leaving with him that evening. So we had to go over the rites right then. After she died, I was to take her rings off her fingers, put them on mine, and then put the rings that she had given me years before on her fingers. She also wanted my first three published articles to be buried with her. At her sister’s insistence, when she was in her eighties, she had an audience with the pope and received a paper that exculpated her from the sin of having married a divorced man. She asked me to put the document under my articles: “God will have to read you before he gets to the decision of the Catholic Church.” We went over all the details of her funeral: the kind of coffin she wanted, what she was to wear, and how I was to perfume the petals that were to be gently scattered over her body. I was to give the eulogy and make it as powerful as one of Eva Perón’s speeches. She wanted her favorite Broadway tunes playing at the moment when the mourners started to gather so that they would not be sad. She entrusted my mother and me to choose the right tunes for the tape. The service was to be held outside the mausoleum she had built for her husband when he died, and where she, too, was to be buried. She wanted to make it clear that this was not our last goodbye.


Eastern Standard Time Generation Abiding Jazz Musician Longtime Friend Water Spirit 
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  1. 5.
    Alicia Ostriker, “A Birthday Suite,” Green Age ( Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989 ), p. 20.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    See Marta Moreno Vega, The Altar of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santería ( New York: Ballantine Books, 2000 ), pp. 265–266.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Alicia Ostriker, “Mother/Child,” The Mother/Child Papers ( Santa Monica, CA: Momentum Press, 1980 ), p. 23.Google Scholar
  4. 14.
    Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory: A Novel (New York: Vintage Books, 1998 [1994]), p. 81.Google Scholar

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© Drucilla Cornell 2002

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  • Drucilla Cornell

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