Friday, July 8, 2011


I went to the funeral yesterday of a cousin-in-law. He passed completely unexpectedly after a hard day's work and commute (he was a lawyer working on a complicated project with people close to two hours away with no traffic and there's always traffic) while watching a Yankees game.

His wife, my cousin, is a few years younger than me and grew up on the same street in our Irish immigrant grandparents house where she lived with her parents and big sister. Her big sister was there along with another cousin who grew up next door to me, the oldest of another one of my father's brothers (still others lived in the neighborhood when we were all little).

My cousin didn't have any children, but her big sister had a bunch who were there with their own grown or almost grown children and they all obviously were heartbroken by the sudden death of a favorite uncle. The stories that they shared at the repast were moving, funny, enlightening and unique.

That's the thing about a life, each one is unique when you start describing the specifics. The general outlines are often familiar or can even seem generic. But the specifics are always unique. There are plenty of lawyers in the world, I've worked for some, hired some, have some for good friends and, like my late cousin-in-law, had some in the extended family. But none of them had the unique personality, or life experiences, let alone work experiences, of my cousin-in-law.

I was moved seeing and being with these three cousins I'd grown up around. The other two are a few years older than me, and back when we all were kids it seemed like we were all ten years apart instead of two or three. Now we're the oldest of the ones we all grew up on the same street with. Except for my last surviving sibling, an older sister closer in age to the two older cousins I saw yesterday, the rest are all gone (though all the ones younger than us are still around thankfully).

But I got to thinking about how the connection between us remains so strong, even though we all have entirely different personalities and have had entirely different lifestyles. My cousin who lost her husband has no children, her husband's family are Jewish, though he converted to Catholicism, I think in order to marry her, and he was an influential and important part of the Republican Party in New Jersey (my cousin's father, like mine, was a stalwart FDR Democrat who worked for the party right up through the 1960s and '70s).

Her big sister, one of the most beautiful women I've ever known (she still has the most beautiful violet colored eyes, like the ones Elizabeth Taylor was always being praised for)  married a fellow Irish-American and moved to Connecticut and had a lot of kids and became a writer, among other accomplishments. The kids went to college and the whole family pretty much embodies "the American dream."

My other cousin who was there married his childhood sweetheart while they were still in a sense children (legally minors they were kicked out of ninth and tenth grade) and went to work while they had another big bunch of kids, also mostly sons, who all grew up to be hard working men and women, a lot of the men in the trades, and had their own big families. That cousin even has at least one great grandchild.

His wife passed many years ago and he remarried, and his new wife and he lived in an RV for a long time (now they have something else I forget the name of, but it's a big trailer they pull around in a big pick up truck) and they travel around (been to all forty-nine continental states in it and used to spend a lot of time in Mexico before the drug violence became too threatening) and see the sights and enjoy the leisurely life.

Then there's me. None of us are alike in almost any way, except for our common ancestry and the bond of spending a lot of time in each other's homes sharing holidays and family events and inside jokes about family history and characters, of which I am obviously one as in their ways are they.

We're all gray-haired senior members of the clan now, but when I look into their faces I see the kids I grew up with and around and am profoundly touched by the preciousness of our common history. Including my younger cousin's husband's place in that for over thirty years. My heart aches for her loss but was full of gratitude and delight to be with her and her big sister and our other cousin for a few hours yesterday to relieve her grief with the stories and laughter and just plain physical presence of the four of us who share so much no matter how different our lives have turned out.


Elisabeth said...

This is a lovely tribute to your cousin in law and a salutary reminder of the precariousness of life. Best of all though, it's a celebration of life, diversity and family relationships. Thanks, Michael.

Jamie Rose said...

Oh man, I relate to this post. As you know,I'm feeling very aware of the preciousness of life and family these days. Love you Lals.

Lally said...

thanks E and J.