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Waiting for the rabbi

The longer I live, the stranger this life becomes. Yesterday afternoon, I couldn't help but think about how strange our journeys in this world are, as I helped carry Lana's coffin out into the cemetery, to the place where her physical journey would end.

The wind was whipping cold across the hi-desert, and icy rain began to blow as I joined Alan, Lana's estranged husband, Shawn Mafia, Lana's brother, and two others, carrying her coffin. It was so light, with six of us bearing the load. Lana was physically small in stature, with a personality and spirit that proved one could have a far larger presence than what your flesh and bones indicated.

Most everything about Lana's funeral felt wrong. Even the presiding rabbi got stuck in traffic coming from Los Angeles, leaving Lana's brother to manage family members coming up to the podium to speak. He did his best, but the underlying anger from her family simmered, and boiled over when Alan stood in front of them and tried to both remember the woman he loved for nearly three decades, and explain to her overtly hostile siblings who blamed him for her death. Lana's casket sat closed and still as one of Lana's sisters shouted angrily at Alan as he spoke. She stormed out of the room, followed by other family. The violence that ended Lana's life was still reverberating around her.

The palpable anger coming from many of Lana's family members was overbearing and difficult to accept. There seemed to be no acceptance of her death, as if somehow if they all summoned their rage, her coffin lid would open and she would return to life with that goofy endearing smile of hers on her face, ready for the party to begin. Alan was to blame. He killed Lana by leaving her. And they were going to make sure he paid for his crime. It was agonizing to see, anger fueled by grief and the powerlessness of being unable to do a damned thing about Lana's autopsied body laying in that closed casket. I pass no judgment on them, I just don't think the anger serves them well in coming to terms with her death on any spiritual level.

And that was made clear by others, who rose to speak without anger, in remembrance of Lana. In the midst of the stumbling proceedings at the funeral home, waiting on the rabbi, there were bright spots. Patti, Lana's best friend and partner in crime (the fun kind), remembered her friend with the crazy, chaotic, fun memories that evoked Lana's spirit the way many of us knew her - indomitable, loving, and fun - a big party in a small wrapper, with bright eyes and a smile true and welcoming.

Lana's niece spoke of her dreams of Lana, and I know from experience, those dreams are real. One thing that is also real is that focusing on anger can interfere with that kind of connection with a loved one who has walked on. Her niece was trying to make sense of Lana's death, and the horror of her final moments, rather than fixing blame and feeding anger. I reassured her that what she had experienced in her dreams of Lana, the rainbow, the desert scene, and the baby she carried, and other people who joined her in the dreams was all real communication. I have had these dreams. I have had them asleep and awake. I know their power and purpose.

Of course, there is plenty of anger and blame to go around when it comes to Lana's death. I'm still not entirely clear on everything that happened that sad January night, but the end result is Lana was mauled to death by four pitbulls. Alan, was not there, of course, as their marriage had come apart a couple of years earlier. He was back in Toronto, while she continued to live in their hi-desert house. There was a housemate, Joe, a former band member of Alan's in Mojave Wind, who reportedly did not, or could not, return back to the house fast enough when Lana asked him for help with the dogs. It was supposedly Joe who had convinced Lana to allow a couple, their children, and their four pitbulls, to park their bus on the property for a few days. A few weeks later, they were still there, and Lana wanted them and their pitbulls gone. The story was that she was going to force them to leave the next day.

There are questions I don't have answers for, about that night. And I understand Lana's family wanting those answers. Where were the people from the bus that night? How did their dogs get out? Why did their dogs attack Lana? Where was Joe?

Being a longtime journalist, you have to ask the question, was it coincidence she was attacked the night before she was going to tell them they had to leave? Lana's siblings were asking that question as well, and that was something the police needed to investigate. Whether law enforcement did a proper investigation is something I can't say, but the general belief of those who have much more information about the background to Lana's death is that it was a tragic accident, and it is entirely plausible that Lana went to put the pitbulls back in their bus and things just went incredibly wrong. With her small, slight stature, she didn't stand a chance against four attacking pitbulls. Lana had always had dogs around and was used to dealing with them. When these dogs attacked, the terror that must have ensued, is horrifying to contemplate, her alone, with no help, surrounded by killer dogs.

Waiting for the rabbi in the drab funeral home auditorium, my own personal history swirled around. This was the same room where in 2000, we had gathered for my Grandma Pearl's funeral. Not long after, our family all gathered again for my Uncle Bill's funeral. I had stood up front and sung his favorite song, "16 Tons," during his memorial service. Aunt Vickie's death followed, but by then my cousins had had enough of memorial services and funerals. She was cremated, everything in their home was given away or thrown away, the house was sold, and my cousins vanished from our lives. I heard from one later, when my mother died five years to the day from when her mother died, on the date which is my mother's sister's wedding anniversary. She said something along the lines of, "Now you know how it feels." She went on to lose weight and dump her husband. Other than that, I've never seen nor heard from either of those two cousins again.

There was more history present in the room as well. After all, we knew Lana because I played drums in Shawn Mafia's 10 Cent Thrills. Shawn's full time job is funeral director. Alan was the guitarist, and a damned good one. Shelley, the wife of our bass player, Kerry, sat behind us in the pews. We would play sometimes over at Alan and Lana's place and the women of the band would go into the living room to binge watch Sex in the City at Lana's behest. It sometimes seemed the women had more fun than we did.

We had some New Year's Eves together, and other gatherings, including one where Alan introduced me to Joel, a fellow journalist and author who I felt a real kinship with. Joel wrote a fascinating book, but died far too soon afterwards.

All those connections, those memories, those good times and laughter and friendship and love, joined with all the loss and sorrow and death and grief while we sat in those pews waiting for the rabbi.

When he arrived, the funeral service was hastily conducted and we all drove to the cemetery in Joshua Tree for Lana's burial. We carried her coffin out onto the grounds where everything was ready and waiting. The wind blew hard and cold, the dark clouds scudded our direction, and raindrops, driven by the wind, began flying our direction. The rabbi was missing. My wife and I walked out into the graveyard to find my grandmother's grave, and we spent a moment there before returning to the group.

The rabbi arrived, last again, and ancient prayers were said for Lana's peace and eternal place with God. We each picked up a handful of earth and dropped it onto Lana's coffin, down in its hole. A boy stood on a tombstone as he watched. It was grim. My wife said she thought, Lana, you can do better than this. She did. A rainbow appeared to the north as the storm approached from the southwest over the mountains.

I kept thinking of how Lana's coffin had been so light. I wondered who would carry mine one day. The storm was almost upon us. We hugged Alan and said our goodbyes.

May her memory be a blessing. May her soul be at peace. May those who love her find peace.

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