I vote we reinstate the last century’s bereavement customs

No one ‘s draping the mirrors, no one’s dropping casseroles, no one’s hurrying the children out the door to stay at Auntie Neighbor’s for a few days, no one’s letting me put the world on hold.

One of my closest relatives passed away on Friday.

As children, my brother and I spent the summer with my father in Ohio, and a few of those weeks were always Connecticut, visiting with his sister. She and my uncle lived on thirty acres, in a farmhouse overlooking a steep, winding path to a pond where deer went through salt licks like there was tequila on tap. We rarely saw them—oops! There he goes—but we knew by the licks and the trampled grass that they spent a lot of time on the far shore.

They had cats and cats and cats: Mow Mow, Minuscule, Max, Nellie Blue, Paulo, Stray—I swear Stray was half-bobcat; he left long scars on my hands and forearms when we wrestled and he weighed at least twenty lbs. The hills were riddled with dens. The road they lived on was called Cathole Road. I’m sure I’m missing at least five cats. They rescued so many. Most of my crawling skills were honed following them in and out of screen doors, them trying to find a quiet place to curl up away from the baby frantically slapping Mexican tiles just behind them.

They liked to spoil their cats, feeding them delicacies, mostly giblets and kidneys (always accompanied by the old joke where a man walks into a butcher’s and says, “I’d like some kiddledees.” “Don’t you mean kidneys?” “I said kiddledees, diddle I?”). They trimmed the fat and gave us the scraps to offer to the circling birds at sunset.

My aunt passed away on Friday, and no one called me until this morning. When she had the stroke, her friend at the hospital, convinced she wasn’t going to make it, asked if she should call me. “No, no, don’t bother her.” If she weren’t already gone, I’d strangle her. Stubborn woman.

My aunt was like a another parent to me, my closest confidant behind Mom, Dad, and my step-dad. Uncle Mike, who passed away 17 years ago, was my hero, my knight. He played us Bach at night as we went to sleep, taught us to dive and climb trees, and how to offer scraps to the vultures without being carried off. He hooked me on “Claire de lune” and “What I Did for Love.”

She was a Ford model mid-century, and I feel fortunate to also have met with Eileen Ford, if only so that she could eliminate me in person for the “Face of the 80’s” nationwide modeling search. Michael was an actor, appearing once to his chagrin in a Howard Stern special. He was made of much better stuff; an Olympic-class diver and classical pianist.

I never laughed so hard in public at so many inappropriate moments as we did together. They are largely responsible for my cultural upbringing.

They took us a one Broadway play each summer. Once is was the revival of “The King and I” with Yul Brynner. Another it was “Annie” with Sarah Jessica Parker. Our favorite, by far, was “The Wiz” with Stephanie Mills—the original Broadway production, not the Michael Jackson film remake. We knew every word to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” We spent hours playing the LPs and dancing around the living room.

Sometimes we’d stay up late playing Monopoly. Side note: they had a very liberal policy concerning the local wildlife. We named the raccoons and even the skunk babies. One night the game went well past midnight, and as we were arguing over the rent on some property or another, Ricky the raccoon pushed through the kitty door and ambled into the kitchen. Pat grabbed a pear from the bowl of fruit on the table and tossed it to him. He picked it up and shuffled back out the kitty door.

Anyway, I didn’t get to see her before she passed away, and I won’t be there when they scatter her ashes on the shore of the old pond to join Michael’s ashes put there seventeen years earlier. It’s my birthday tomorrow and there’s no question of traveling to the East Coast in time for Tuesday.

I have here a photo book of all our ancestor’s photographs from the outskirts of Glasgow, where her mother and stepfather lived before crossing to America. I never did get the chance to send her one to make sure I’d gotten all the labels correct.

I love you very much, Aunt Pat, and I miss you and Michael every day.

Love,

Niece Mindy

15 Responses to I vote we reinstate the last century’s bereavement customs

  1. Bobbi August 15, 2010 at 10:12 pm #

    I’m sorry for your loss but what a beautiful testament to your Aunt. What joy it must have given her to know that she was loved so well.

  2. Ooty August 16, 2010 at 2:49 am #

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  3. pharmgirl August 16, 2010 at 6:39 am #

    Lovely tribute. You honor her.

  4. Jeanne August 16, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    I am very sorry for your loss.
    Please accept my love and prayers
    Love you
    Jeanne

  5. Sangita August 16, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    Feeling sorry for the loss! Moved by the strong bond that kept you both so closer.
    I will pray for her.

  6. Tari August 16, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    Sorry to hear of your loss. You’ve provided a lovely tribute to her.

  7. jMom August 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    I am so sorry for your loss. That was a wonderful tribute.

  8. Malcolm Lorimer August 16, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Mindy:  Thank you for being you and remembering our precious Pat.  Your remarks were eloquent and captured the spirit of one special lady. I too, owe any proclivity to culture to Pat and Mike and will cherish their memories forever.

  9. Debbie August 16, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    I knew there was a greater reason why I was thinking of her on Friday as I drove around the wooded hills near Litchfield. It is such a beautiful place, now I can more fully put together all of the wonderful stories about Aunt Pat and Uncle Mikes place.  I know you deeply miss her, you were so fortunate to have an Aunt like that in your life. Wish I could be there to help out and let you have some moments.  Our thoughts are with you and the family. XO, love D.

  10. Renee August 17, 2010 at 6:21 am #

    Mindy, I am so sorry. Thank you so much for sharing those sweet memories with me.

  11. Wendy Tule August 18, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    I know this is kind of obvious, but I am surprised you would vote to “reinstate last century’s bereavement customs.” 

    What do you think mourners in the last century would have to say about sharing something so personal as a death in the family via a blog, for all the anonymous internet to gawk at? 

    I bet they would find it very distasteful.  Of course, they would also find the idea of blogging vulgar as well.

  12. Mindy August 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    Wendy, alert the newspapers. I’m sure they’d want to consider shutting down the obituary section immediately based upon your moral observations. Let’s nip that in the bud before it catches on.

    Oh wait, we’ve been doing that for centuries.

  13. Greg August 21, 2010 at 6:53 pm #

    Sad story, but all too relatable…

  14. Cheap SEO August 22, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    I am really very sorry to hear your loss.I must say that you have given an sweet tribute by writing this post.Good to know about your relatives and sweet memories of your.

  15. Wendy August 24, 2010 at 11:03 pm #

    I’m sorry for your loss, your Auntie sounds like a gorgeous, sweet, kind woman. Peace to her memory.

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