You Can’t Call Out Sick From a Funeral

Cousin Don's Brochure cover

Another cousin passed away, and I was at home getting ready for his memorial service in a kind of draggy-emotionally-off-kilter haze.  It was the first cold-enough-for-a-coat day of fall, ideal for soup-making, fire gazing, putting a good dent in a novel, or bundling up in a sweater and boots to kick about leaves instead of watching them fall off my family tree.

Funerals are that way. Run-from-not-towards events.  Fortunately, obligation and a promise of dark chocolate after overrode my stalling.

I put on the plainest black dress I owned and then stared at myself in the mirror like Who are you? The invite said “celebration,” I rationalized seconds later and smoothed on some red lipstick, and added a polka dot coat and a pair of edgy black ankle boots.

Felt more like me, except I still wanted to play hooky, but how could I call out sick? Sorry, I don’t do funerals. They turn my stomach, not to mention my heart. Want to meet for Pho after? Cancer had come for Cousin Don and now Cousin Dick needed us to come for him while he said goodbye to his last brother.

Don’t know if I was having hot flashes or I-don’t-want-to-go-flashes on the drive over, but I left the back windows rolled down despite the frigid air. Neither the fluctuating temperatures nor the funky R & B booming from my car stereo distracted me from the mental slide show of people I’ve lost—father, mother, baby brother, aunts, uncles, Cousin Anna.

Funerals are that way. Triggers for cumulative, off-subject grief.

I got out of the car, steeled myself against the cold and my own queasiness and once inside, I quickly found Cousin Dick who looked frailer than a six-footer should. Still, gratitude showed in his eyes. Play your position, I reminded myself, before giving him a solid hug and sitting down.

Due to some potent, late-life sex, my mom was the baby of nine children and her siblings had twenty-plus years on her, so with my first cousins and their friends old enough to be my parents, it felt like a throw-back fifty’s party. Women in pastel skirts and cashmere sweaters. Men in buttoned-up shirts and cardigans.

I’m grateful at times like these that we are the cremation type, forgoing gloomy caskets for simple urns, and on display behind Cousin Don’s was a large “Pinterest” sort of poster board featuring him with his parents, brothers and best friend.

As people rose to speak, I sunk into the treasured, deliberately funny, stories until the minister walked to the front and things took a somber turn.

I hovered by Cousin Dick, ate, shared pictures with second cousins, and got an earful of memories from the watery, blue-eyed man who called my childless Cousin Don “Dad”.

After, I saw my car from the distance, partially covered in plastic and when I got closer, discovered that in my haste to get to the service, I’d left the back windows down, and, lucky for me, that while I was inside trying to be there for my cousin, some good Samaritan had been there for me. The plastic (from who knows where) was carefully threaded under one door, through the driver’s side back window, over the roof of my car and back down through the other back window.

Because of some kind stranger with perfect timing, I drove home in a dry car grinning like a fool, no chocolate necessary.

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