January 06, 2008

Pushed and pulled

I feel a bit stuck, whipsawed by life this weekend. On Friday, on a piercingly, achingly cold and beautiful day, I spoke to a group of some thirty people gathered together to witness the burial of my cousin, Don. I called him Donny, actually. I was the only one there who called him Donny. Donny was 69 years old when he was struck down by terminal bone cancer. I miss him, already.

I stood at the grave and remembered how when I was a senior in college, or just before senior year, my grandfather and Donny took me out to visit the two cemeteries where our families are buried. We had lunch in between the visits. We went to the first one, where my grandfather now rests, buried next to my grandmother, which is where my grandfather and his family line are buried. The second cemetery holds the remains of the family of my maternal grandmother's relatives, the branch Donny was part of. Actually, since Donny had no children, the family name of my maternal grandmother has disappeared. Anyway, Donny and my grandfather told me that they wanted me to know where the family graves were because one day it would be my responsibility to make certain that the graves were cared for, to make sure that those who came after me would know something about the people who were buried in these places.

I had not been back to my grandmother's family's graves since that visit, some 18 years ago. It seemed to me that it was too soon to be back now. 18 years? That would have put Donny at just over 50, only 10 years older than I am now. Donny seemed to young to die and too close to me in age for me to feel that it was ok for him to die, that it was part of the natural order of things for him to leave this earth. But, of course, he has.

I spent Saturday morning and afternoon consumed by the Girl Child's birthday party. She will be 7 quite soon and we held her party yesterday. As per custom, we went to a local gymnastics place and ran around before she had her cake. Her cake, per her request, was an ice cream cake with a picture of her dressed in her horse show clothes and sitting on one of her favorite horses. It came out pretty darn cool, actually. As for the party, I won't ask you to guess who was the only parent there who threw himself into all the games, chasing the kids around, being chased around, having balls thrown at him and throwing them back, and generally wringing every second of fun from the party that he could. Yup, that was me. The Girl Child, the Boy Child and the Baby all had an excellent time, as did I.

My father turned 65 yesterday, the same day we celebrated the Girl Child's birthday.

That evening, before we took my father out for dinner, we drove into the city for a packed house memorial service for Donny. Seriously, it was standing room only. That was quite a tribute for my cousin. All of the speakers who spoke about him spoke of qualities that spoke of another man, although they did not know this. See, Donny's father died so terribly young, in his 40's, of a heart attack. Donny's father, Sam, my grandmother's oldest brother, actually put my grandmother through college during the Great Depression. Donny kind of grew up in my grandfather's house and, as Donny himself told me, my grandfather, his uncle, became a father to him. Donny did his best to emulate my grandfather -- he looked up to him so much. The qualities they spoke of in Donny at the memorial service, those qualities were learned from my grandfather. It would have made my grandfather so proud to hear people speak of his nephew like that last night. Just the same, it would have devastated my grandfather to watch his nephew die from this horrible disease.

After the service, we took my father out for his birthday. It was generally quite nice, albeit quiet and even a bit subdued due to the circumstances.

And so, I feel a bit whipsawed. Pulled between the too early death of my cousin and the celebrations of the lives of my father and my daughter.

I cannot quite figure out where or how to end this. I am not sure I even started this post with a destination in mind. So, maybe, I will just stop here.

Rest in peace, Donny. If its ok, and I know from the memorial service that everyone else called you Don, I am going to keep calling you Donny. After all, and since you kept my father company in the hospital some 40 years ago waiting with him while I was born, I have only called you Donny. It isn't a bad thing to have people call you by the name you were known as a child, even when you are dead, is it?

Posted by Random Penseur at January 6, 2008 10:37 AM | TrackBack

It's moments like those when you really come to understand the phrase "life goes on", I guess.

My condolences on your loss.

Posted by: caltechgirl at January 6, 2008 09:11 PM

I'm so sorry for your loss, RP. Donny sounds like he was a good man.

Posted by: Kathy at January 9, 2008 02:19 PM

RP, I am so sorry. :( {{{{hugs}}}}

Posted by: Amber at January 10, 2008 11:22 AM

My condolences RP. It's always difficult to lose those we love most. This past year I lost my dad and step-dad within 5 months of each other so I do know how you feel.

The juxtaposition of life and death is perhaps the hardest thing to contend with, especially in this day and age when we are really not given time to grieve. I'm really grateful that upon the 2nd death my firm insisted I take bereavement leave. That time was extremely necessary for me to mourn profoundly and be able to return as a very effective person, not only at work but also in my life and that of my community.

I hope you are able to take time to mourn and emerge with the solace of wonderful loving memories like you described in your post.

A virtual hug is sent your way.

Posted by: michele (of letters from nyc) at January 16, 2008 02:51 PM

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