Friday, October 23, 2009

WHEN FAMILY MATTERS MOST

For all our differences, and for all my youthful rebellion and rejection of so much I grew up with (while at the same time carrying with me so much, trying to make it only the parts I thought worthwhile or important or "good" etc.), I love my family, my extended family of cousins and nieces and nephews and my siblings' in-laws I've known since I was a boy...

Just back from my niece Cathy's funeral, I love them more than ever. To see nieces and nephews now grown with kids of their own and cousins once and twice removed and all the other designations most of us just shorten to "cousin" and then "cuz" etc., my niece's aunts and uncles from her mother's family I've know for decades, was so comforting.

To share our grief at the passing of someone so beloved the church she went to in Frederick, Maryland, was crowded with hundreds of people, some who flew in from great distances. To relieve, as much as possible, the deep loss of her sister Linda she talked with on the phone five times a day, by sharing stories that made us all laugh and remember the good times or turn the terrible times into stories whose sadness is trumped by humor and in turn become classics to be retold at future gatherings of the tribe, hopefully for reasons other than another death (as my a nephew said to my daughter he hadn't seen since his father's funeral: "We have to stop meeting like this."

So grateful for the Irish tradition, at least among my clan, of turning funerals into celebrations of the deceased, of family, of living connections and of life. There were tears, of course, but much laughter, and music—including group singing of Irish classics like my clan's anthem "The Fields of Athenry" (the town in County Galway my father's father came from, or a crossroads nearby actually).

PS: I didn't include in my earlier post on my niece's passing the fact she had battled breast cancer for fifteen years with humor, grace, determination, stoicism and an unbelievable capacity to not let it get in the way of her natural sweetness and drive to be of service to her family, her friends, and herself. She went back to school and earned a business degree that led to promotion after promotion in the corporation she worked for (Hallmark) that contributed to the well being of her family and served as an example as one of her sons and one of her nieces made clear in their elegies. Her niece Mary read a poem that was clear and direct, a litany of what "Cathy was" including"Cathy was a mother" and "Cathy was a goddess" and an example it was implied and more, and her son Steven read a eulogy that included another poem-like litany when he talked about how despite the cancer his mother still did so much—including getting that degree, going to work every day, being there for her family and friends every day, never losing her sense of humor or love of life—which he started with the admonition that "when you wake up with a frog in your throat and don't feel like going to work, just remember Cathy did" and went on with a list of more excuses most of us use every day to avoid responsibilities or following through on our ambitions and dreams or just being there for others, just remember despite the cancer she battled daily "Cathy did."

Happy to contribute, to respond to my sisters-in-law requests (all of our generation, what's left, there to represent) for me to play the piano, first with another dead brother's oldest son on guitar, a musical whiz since he was a kid, able to find whatever key anyone else is playing in and play foundation chords or beautiful licks over an improvisation, then with some old standards and family favorites (despite some problems with my usually better hand (my right)) then sing-alongs, one lead by one of my departed niece's sons' Irish-born girlfriend ("I'll Tell Me Ma" when I get home etc.), some hokey, most sentimental, a trait too many "intellectuals" I know disparage (see some of the critical reactions to BRIGHT STAR among some poets for instance), and even juvenile songs learned in elementary school, like that unicorn song where the chorus starts with "green alligators and long neck geese" and the adults were free enough (and some without any drink in them) to make the hand and arm figures of snapping alligators and long-necked geese and unicorns etc.) until everyone has ate enough and drank enough and cried and laughed and sang and hugged and talked enough to be exhausted enough to have gotten over the hurdle of one more day when a loss is still fresh, making it never okay but at least a little more acceptable.

In my niece Cathy's case, the gathering was in the late hours perhaps dominated by the Irish side of the family and its ways of dealing with loss, but the Italian side of her own heritage and the Portuguese side of her husband's were also duly represented. It was another good example of those times in life when family matters most. And I mean that to include the friends who become another branch of our personal families and in turn of the extended family I am grateful for.

5 comments:

harryn said...

bittersweet and beautiful ...
my condolences ...
"love is all you need" ...

Jamie Rose said...

Beautiful post Lals. I'm so glad you went.

xo
Jame

JIm said...

An Irish wake and funeral almost makes the dying worth it, particuarly after a full, if shortened life. My sympathies to the family.

tom said...

Sorrow and joy. Prayers are with all of you.

Tore Claesson said...

Very thoughtful. Written by someone who's matured and been through much. If there was a way our younger generation could actually learn from their elders, a lot of unnecessary pain on the way may be avoided. But I guess that can't be avoided.
Even the hardest moments can serve as inspiration. I often think you give us that.
Even though so many of your closest and most beloved ones have left the last few years.....
My deepest sympathies.