Relatively Speaking

I took some time yesterday to meet with relatives and mourn my aunt’s passing. I can’t say she was my favorite aunt, but she certainly was a firecracker as her son described her in the eulogy he gave. When I think of her, I don’t think of her in her older years, her mind addled by Alzheimer’s and her body relegated to a wheelchair. I think of her in her small house that was always getting flooded in suburban Chicago close to O’Hare Airport with planes overhead constantly. I can see her now, plain as day, a mixed drink (probably a Manhattan) in one hand and a cigarette in the other, talking loudly and irreverently as she was prone to do after a drink or two or more. No, she wasn’t my favorite aunt, but she was my most spirited aunt. Even in her last few years in nursing care, she was still full of piss and vinegar. I heard that she regularly plotted escapes from the home, and once called 9-1-1 to report that she was being held there against her will. She raised two families – her four boys and then three grandchildren from one of her boys. She buried a husband, an infant daughter, and two of her sons. It was a full life but a hard life. However, I think she was happy that she lived it in her sometimes soggy house in the Chicago suburbs after escaping from Chicago’s harsh east side where she grew up.

This was a seminal funeral for me as it marked the passing of my last surviving aunt or uncle. My generation now becomes the next to die off, not that we haven’t already started. I have already lost eight cousins, five from one family alone. Anyway, the funeral was an opportunity to see some of my surviving relatives, and if I may use a painfully obvious pun, it was a relatively good day.

I knew my sister-cousins would be there. No, my family is not from Mississippi, and they are not legally both my sisters and cousins. They are my older cousins that became my big sisters as they looked after me and my mother through the years after my father passed away when I was just a young kid. It is always good to see them. One edited my award-winning book of short stories. How’s that for working in a book plug?

I was taken aback a bit by how happy two other cousins were to see me. I had seen one just before Covid shut down the world, but the other I hadn’t seen in many years. Why anyone is happy to see me puzzles me at times. And then I thought back a few decades and remembered that we lived together as siblings for a year. My parents and I moved into my uncle’s house for a year after my aunt had passed away until my uncle steadied himself mentally and emotionally. I went from only child to having three cousin siblings overnight. Family ties run deep and remain strong despite the passage of time. We all talked about seeing each other more often, just like we always do but never get around to actually doing. Maybe I’ll just organize it this time and make sure it happens.

The funeral service was a Catholic mass, and I played a game to pass the time. I tried to see how many words the priest said I could understand. I swear when he first came out wearing a facemask, I thought it was a foreign language mass. I understood nothing. He took off his mask once he was by himself up on the altar, and I’m guessing I comprehended about 50% through what I think was a heavy eastern European or Russian accent.

During the mass, I was a bit distracted by what sounded like a steam engine sitting behind me. There were hisses and pops and hydraulic sounds. When everyone was going up for communion, I finally saw it was a woman on oxygen … who looked exactly like my deceased aunt! Had my aunt faked her own death to finally escape the nursing home? After the service, we confronted her and discovered she was my aunt’s look-alike cousin. Or was she?

After the mass, I decided to mend a fence and speak with a wife of one of my deceased cousins. She is a strong MAGA Trumper, and I made the difficult decision a few years back to unfriend her on Facebook. But she is also the daughter-in-law of my deceased aunt, so I made an effort yesterday to be nice, which can be hard for me at times. Having seen my two youngest daughters both struggle a bit with Covid and having just heard that another cousin’s husband had almost died from Covid, I bit my tongue as my former Facebook friend opined on how minor an illness Covid is. She supposedly had it twice, although she admitted she never got tested, probably because of the conspiracy theory that the testing messes with your DNA. She did mention that she took ivermectin for her Covid. If you have read this blog before, you know how I feel about ivermectin, but I will admit she was alive and did not look at all wormy.

Funerals are times of mourning the loss of a loved one, but they are also times where we can once again gather as families for better or worse. Yesterday, it was for the better.

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