Sasha Frere-Jones contemplates war memorials and Spalding Gray’s death.

I’m not well-versed in war monuments, so when I first looked at his photograph I thought Sasha or someone else had constructed an impromptu memorial at the Kent Street docks in Greenpoint, where Gray’s body was found. The site is just a few blocks from my house. I keep trying to decide whether it’s creepy and exploitative, or respectful, to walk down there and pay my respects to the water.

After my grandmother died, my mom made sure she was closed up in her casket before my sister and I flew down to North Carolina for the graveside service. Mom’s an evangelical Christian, and in her view the body doesn’t matter since the soul’s already in heaven. The main problem with this perspective in my grandmother’s case is that Granny was an atheist.

I was 27 when she died but had never before been to a funeral. After the service, I stayed to watch the casket being lowered into the ground. I didn’t know what to say when Mom asked why I wanted to be “so morbid.”

She and my stepdad and all the other mourners except my sister and Mr. Maud went to their cars. They were all wringing their hands and shaking their heads, clearly mortified at our behavior. People just don’t watch the lowering of the casket in Baptist cemeteries in Bumcombe County, I guess.

That’s what the men dealing with the casket told me, anyway, but I didn’t care. I just stood there and cried, figuring that was as close as I’d ever get to my grandmother again.

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