THE BLUE SUIT
I’ve given the Blue Suit the week off.
I wanted to tell a family story this week.
It is about my family – not my direct family – but about a cousin who was a great pal of mine.
I was a close friend of hers for many many years.
We shared a great deal. She was ten years older than me. When I was a little boy she used to babysit for me.
I remained close with my cousin until my mother, her aunt, got sick four years ago.
She never came to visit my mother, her aunt.
She always told me how much she loved my mother and I always wondered…why hasn’t she gone to visit my mother in the assisted living?
“I can’t go to see her. It bothers me too much. I can’t do it,” she told me time and again.
My mother died at 97.
I visited my mother every day at the assisted living until the day she died. This wasn’t about guilt. I loved my mother. She was my best pal on this earth. She loved me. For all my faults and excesses and inadequacies she believed in me. All my triumphs she took as her own.
Enough about my mother.
Every time I came into my mother’s unit during her last years she’d ask me: “Where’s June? Why won’t she come see me?”
And I had to answer my mother back that cousin June was simply too put off by the assisted living to be able to come to visit her there.
My mother didn’t understand this. Neither did I.
The time came to pass when I stopped visiting June.
I avoided Panera Bread, June’s favorite haunt, because I knew she’d be there. I didn’t want to get in an argument with her. I didn’t want to chastise her for not visiting my mother.
Cousin June had a twist.
I think she was depressed.
Not just depressed but very depressed and angry. She had a bit of jealousy in her and she could say the worst things at times about me and my wife right to my face.
All of this added up to me not seeing June for the past two years.
Yesterday, I was walking my dog on the beach. I ran into another cousin, Mike.
“After we embraced, as I hadn’t seen him in a year, he said to me: “Did you know June died?”
I was taken aback.
“No. When did she die?” I asked Mike.
“I think two or three days ago,” he said to me.
Mind you, June was my first cousin.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said to Mike.
The news was shocking. It took me aback and quite by surprise. “What happened?” I asked Mike.
“She had uterine cancer. She died at the Lahey Clinic. Her last weeks were terrible,” he added.
“How do you know this, Mike? Who told you?”
“Cousin Rachel called me earlier today and blurted out the news. She was pretty broken up,” Mike said.
June had been like a mother to Mike and Mike had acted with the love and affection of a son to June.
Rachel called him but didn’t she call me?
Why did I have to learn about the death of my cousin June – she was 83 – from cousin Mike on the beach while I’m walking my dog?
Good question, isn’t it.
Anyway, I finished walking my dog and drove home. I thought about June all the way home. I felt bad that I had deserted her but then I was still upset she never came to visit my mother in the last years of her life.
It was one of those moments when I get a bit confused.
I was June’s friend but I wasn’t June’s friend. She was my friend but she wasn’t my friend.
We were family but we were estranged.
Families are complicated. All families are complicated.
Now the funeral is coming on Sunday.
I will attend with my wife.
I will be surrounded by my cousins and other family members.
At 72, I hate being at the cemetery. I hate the service. I hate watching the coffin being lowered into the ground.
All of it upsets me. Death upsets me. Obviously. How could it be otherwise?
Which brings me to myself and how I want to be treated when I’ve stopped breathing.
I’ve instructed my four children to drag me by the ankles from wherever I took my last breath, put me into a car and to drive me to the nearest crematorium.
I’ve told them I want no obituary, no service, no funeral, no nothing.
I’ve instructed them: “Get me cremated and then get on with your lives. Don’t waste a day mourning my death when it comes.”
Back to cousin June – she wanted a full burial at the cemetery, a full service in front of the open hole and then a reception for everyone attending from the local synagogue where she was a member, but never attended, over the decades.
Sunday will be a big day for June’s complicated family.
Her sister, my cousin, will be there. Her children, two daughters, my cousins, will stand in front of the open hole with their children by their side.
I will be there watching all of this and frankly wishing I was someplace else.
My cousins may be wishing under their breath that I was someplace else!
That’s a joke.
They know I was good to their mother. They know I put up with her depression until it was impossible to be around her.
They know how lonely their mother was, how empty and alone June was during the past five years.
One of her daughters took her dog. Her dog was the love of her life in her final years.
Her car and her home, which she lived in for about 60 years, will be sold.
Everything inside will be thrown away or emptied into a dumpster.
June’s presence on this earth will have been entirely erased by the end of Sunday afternoon.
Such is life.