I don’t feel like I write enough on here about anything that’s really worth anything to anyone. I’m sure by what I write I pretty much sound petty and boy crazy. Well, for those of you who know me, you can make that decision on your own. Today when I was walking back to my internship from class, however, I decided that it’s high time I write about something that matters…something meaningful (to me). I’m going to start with my family(ish).
Yesterday I was talking to a friend and telling her about a friend of mine who recently went to a funeral and what the circumstances of the situation (which is awful) were. She said no one close to her had ever died. In a way that makes me sad for her because she hasn’t fully experienced all that is to come in life, and if you don’t experience death I think it can be harder to accept when it finally does happen, if that makes sense. On the other hand, it made me sad for me and for my family because grief and loss have been such a part of my life. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be this age and never have been to a funeral. That concept is so foreign to me. What it must be like for all of your family to be alive. But then again, if all my family were alive, I don’t think I would cherish them like I do.
Before I moved to Texas (so before I was 13) I had been to 2 funerals. My cousin died when he was about 6 months old because his heart just quit. They called it SIDS but then decided it wasn’t. The next death I experienced was my mom’s brother. He had an aneurism the night the OJ Simpson chase was on tv. I remember standing in the kitchen with my parents, my dad’s youngest brother and his then girlfriend (now wife), and my dad’s younger brother, Scott, who was in town visiting. Someone from my mom’s family, I’m not sure who, called and Mom and Dad were off to the hospital, 2 hours away to where he had been airlifted. I assume they kept him on life supports until the family all got there and said a rosary (that’s what we always do). We were left with Uncle Scott for the night.
In August of 1995, my family packed up and moved to Houston. 3 days, driven across the country. Let me tell you, you get to know your family really well on road trips. In October, Nana and Papa (mom’s parents) were visiting when one of my aunts called. I answered the phone and they asked to talk to Papa. You can just hear in someone’s voice when something is wrong. That was the call we got telling us that my mom’s youngest brother and my 5 year old cousin had been in a car accident late the night before and found early that morning. My cousin had died on impact, my uncle was in the hospital on life support. They suspected he’d been drunk that night. We forced Papa onto a plane (he refuses to fly), packed up the car, and headed to Michigan. They kept my uncle on life support until we got there. Joint funeral.
When I was in eight grade, I don’t remember the call, my dad’s brother, Scott, and his father in law, crashed the small plane that they flew regularly into a lake. It was a big deal, national news. It was really, really hard on my Dad’s family, because unlike my mom’s family, everyone (except my baby cousin) in that family lives to be old. Again, joint funeral.
The summer after my freshman year of high school Dad was living in Germany and we went to visit him. We spent 3 weeks traveling Germany. When we got back mom pestered and pestered me to unpack my suitcase. After about a week, I finally did. She would call me around lunch time every day and ask me if I had unpacked it. That day when she asked I was annoyed and told her not to ask because I had done it. Her response to that was, well, pack it again, we have to go to Michigan. My mom’s oldest living sister (her oldest died from complications of diabetes when my mom was a teenager) had slipped into a diabetic coma and was on life support. My family was waiting for mom to get there before they took her off. We packed and were on a plane to Bay City, Michigan that afternoon. That was difficult.
I don’t think anyone died my junior year and I remember it being odd, like something wasn’t right. Then, senior year, again, no family members died. It was weird to me when I had come to expect a funeral almost every year. Although no on in my family died, a boy who I knew, remotely, from school was killed in a car accident and I knew the boy who was driving well enough. It happened late on a Thursday and we all found out on a Friday. I have never experienced a more surreal day in my life. The school was almost eerie. No one laughed, no one joked, almost everyone knew him. Everyone cried. Some of my good friends were the ones most affected. Later that year, a boy I worked with was thrown from a car and killed. 4 days before his death we were talking about religion and why I go to church. I asked him, “what if you die tomorrow?” He said he didn’t have to worry about that and he would take care of religion when he was older. I will never ask anyone that question ever again.
Freshman year of college, no one died. It was weird. I can remember it actually worrying me a little. 3 years and no one in my family had died. I was worried whatever happened when it did was going to be really bad. Then, Christmas break of sophomore year, a guy I had been good friends with in high school through band and church fell asleep driving. His car crossed into oncoming traffic and hit a semi. It burned and he died. I had seen him on campus 3 days before, walking to class. He was far away and I thought to say hi, but didn’t because I figured I would just see him at home over break. I never saw him again. I regret that all the time. I’ve never been to a more crowded funeral, ever. It was so tragic.
Junior year, I had started to accept that maybe my family wouldn’t all die premature deaths. No funerals for me. Then, fall of my senior year of college, my great grandma (my dad’s grandma) who was 91, unexpectedly died. Finally, someone in my family had died of old age. It was sad, but nothing like the others. This was ok. She was old and happy and healthy and had lived her life. It was just her time. It was also the middle of the semester and I couldn’t/didn’t go home. I regret that too. I didn’t get to go to her funeral; I didn’t get to mourn with my family. I didn’t get to sit around and talk about everyone’s memories of her or hear all the stories about what an amazing woman she was. She was the stronghold of our family. I wish I had been there.
This year, I was confronted with the hardest death in my family I have had to deal with. My Mom’s last living sister, her best friend, who had been sick with ovarian cancer on and off for 11 years died (update: more than 6 years after this was written,I have been corrected that she battled cancer for 6 years, not 11. I must have been misinformed somewhere along the way). She’d been told 2 years before that she had 6 months. She beat that. Mom called me early on a Sunday morning, noticeably upset and told me they had given my aunt 48 hours. She lived for another 7 days. Mom immediately left to go be with her. She was her best friend. She kept me updated every day. This time, I didn’t care what was going on in school; I was going to be there. Mom stayed with my aunt in the hospital and then when she decided she wanted to go home and have her final time there, with her family and the hospital said they didn’t know if they could do that, mom was the one who made it possible for her to go home. I can’t imagine watching your sister die exactly the same way as you had watched your mom die. She was with her the night she died, at home, just as she was going to bed. She was in bed, mom asked her if she was ok, she said yes, took a breath, turned her head and that was it. My uncle, my mom, and my cousin were there with her, holding her. I can’t imagine being them; it’s so hard for me even now. It’s making me cry and it has been 3 months. The funeral was so hard. I think the hardest part is that my mom is the only girl left now and it’s like it’s her turn.
I hope it’s a long, long time before I have to go to another funeral. If you’ve never been, be glad, but I hope that you can appreciate your family the way I appreciate mine. They’re all you’ve got and that can change in a second. Cherish them, and love them…even their faults and shortcomings.