Sunday, November 25, 2007

Italian funerals, etc

My Uncle Lou died on Thanksgiving at around 1 in the morning (we were at the hospital until about 8:30, when he was already asleep). I didn't want to post about this originally because I didn't want to come across as a sympathy troll--it's sad that he died, particularly for his wife of 56 years, his sister (The Aunda), and my mother, his goddaughter. But he was 78, had lived a full and happy life, had one of the most adorable and functional marriages I've ever seen, and was surrounded by people who loved him (we stayed at the hospital until about 9 on Thursday night). Furthermore, he chose it for himself, in a way--he had advanced kidney failure and told his wife he was tired of the dialysis. I'm tired, Dolly, he said. As his eulogy, which my aunt dictated and I just typed out, says, he passed into the good Lord's hands peacefully and willingly. The rally monkey pointed out most of us should be so lucky to live such a full life and then be able to choose our death (at least, to a degree).

My biggest sorrow is for my Aunt Doll, who will have to learn a whole different kind of lifestyle after literally a lifetime of having him as her partner. I got to watch this process over the last two years for The Aunda, who lost our late, great, feisty pseudo-grandfather (The Ongolo) in similar (although less willing and peaceful) circumstances. I think it's a wretched, wretched arrangement that when a partner dies you have to negotiate your grief AND re-establish your entire lifestyle all in one go. But I haven't worked out another system yet. Oh, it also really, really irritates me that an oh-so-recently bereaved widow has to deal with the vulgar (and often crippling) finances of a funeral service. It makes me REALLY MAD. But again, I haven't worked out a system for that one yet, either.

She describes him as "the only man in her life"--they "met" when she was 17, during the Korean War, when he was stationed abroad and she sent him clippings of comic strips at the behest of a mutual acquaintance. When he returned to the Italian ghetto in Hartford (at age 20), he urged her to be his lady, to introduce him to her parents, etc, in all the established traditional accepted patterns like a good gentleman. But her parents were super-strict, and she knew if she had even a hint of a boyfriend there would be major trouble. So she rejected him. He got on his bicycle and rode across three towns--about 20 miles--to her cousin's house, where she was babysitting her nieces, to argue with her about it. Naturally one of her nieces squealed "DOLLY'S got a BOY-friend!! DOLLY's got a BOY-friend!!" and all heck broke loose and then, you know, she DID have a boyfriend, because her niece said so. Then they got married. Classic.

We've been preparing for the wake and funeral this weekend. I hope it doesn't seem irreverent in light of this circumstance to take this opportunity to commemorate the Italian family unit. The first (well, actually, more like the 12th...) thing to happen is the daughter-in-law who failed to make it down from New York to visit Uncle Lou in the 6 weeks he was sick (she had a cold, apparently) shows up to "help" (read: take over everything), to the noisy chagrin of the other daughter-in-law who's been present the whole time. Then there is major drama over who gets to read the eulogy--Momrat gets the honor, since people think of her as the public speaker; however, a daughter-in-law WROTE the eulogy. Momrat feels that the eulogy doesn't fully capture Uncle Lou's life, and further that it's boring, but "gentle" suggestions about content changes are met with tears and he-said she-saids (naturally, the various husbands have had to step in to mediate). Etc.

Then, The Aunda got into a car accident with her cousin Antoinette on their way over to visit Aunt Doll with the 5 trays of funeral cookies on Saturday. It was a full-on collision, but luckily Antoinette was driving like an old lady, so although the car was totaled no one was seriously injured in either car. (Although when the police were asking insurance questions and inquired as to whether The Aunda experienced any pain, she did say, "Well, just a little, in my neck." Then she jabbed him in the chest and said, "Write that down, now.")

The Aunda, who had been on the way over to Aunt Doll's house, anyway, had the policemen to call Aunt Doll and have her pick them up. So poor Aunt Doll has to leave her house to pick up The Aunda! When Aunt Doll gets to the scene, The Aunda tells her, "Oh, Dolly, you almost came to the funeral for all three cousins tomorrow instead of just Luigi!" Classy.

No way, says Momrat. Can you imagine? she says. Poor Lou just shuffled off his mortal coil and is finally peaceful in heaven and only TWO DAYS later there shows up The Aunda to nag him again? (He kicked her out of the hospital room 4 times in his last two days--she was driving him nuts.)

So Aunt Doll arrives and the police try to escort The Aunda to her car. "No, no!!" she protests. "The trunk!! The trunk!!" Afraid of finding a live baby or something, the police lead her back to the smoking abandoned vehicle and bust the trunk open. After all, she needs to save her...5 trays of cookies, duh.

The police asked how old she was for the insurance form, but then thought she must be mildly demented because they couldn't believe she was actually 86. (Bena thic, as we say... benedici, I think it is in real Italian.)

So I ended up taking a 5-day Thanksgiving instead of the 2-day affair I originally planned on, and I "get" to miss work on Monday. You can imagine how traumatizing this is for me. I spent all afternoon editing yesterday, and I got through a good chunk of a manuscript, but something really important is happening at work on Wednesday and I'm stressing out a little bit about it. Robert the Publisher, who is kind of like a dad figure, never ever puts pressure on us in these kinds of situations and tells us to take the time we need (not like a previous boss who would be like "you realize if you miss ed meeting on Thursday you're going to lose that whole project"). So bless Robert. But I'm still a little bit stressy.

Anyway, I better go get cleaned up now. Not sure how to sign off; sorry about the random thought dump.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm sorry about your uncle. But it does sound like he died with folks around that loved him and that he had a full life. I hope your aunt will adjust soon. I remember how difficult it was for my mother after my father died.

Good luck with the issue at work.

gemellen said...

Is good to get this out. Negotiate through your days. Celebrate a life. Move through yours. Good luck.

Chumplet said...

Gee, Moonrat; sorry for your loss.

Just a year ago my father-in-law passed away and the funeral was a bit surreal - we were the only ones there, sister-in-law showed up two hours late, we forgot the little crucifix that was on the coffin and the funeral director waved us back after we were on the road. There was no place to turn around so my husband drove on the sidewalk!

Now, this year, Mother in Law is in the hospital and I have to talk my hubby into visiting her.

I hope the rest of your process goes smoothly.

Middle Ditch said...

It's not easy to adjust after a loved one died. My sister-in-law was ok for a year but had a nervous break down on the first anniversary of my brother's death.

It has been fourteen years now and I still miss him. He would have loved e-mail and blogging. Sigh.

Bernita said...

Oh my Dear.
I am so sorry.
And sorry over the exasperating grief competition.
Bless Robert.

Ello said...

I am so sorry about your uncle. It is so nice to have a large and caring family, even if they do drive each other a little nuts too. But I think it is good for your aunt to have everyone around her to help distract from her loss.

Don't stress about work, it will all work out in the end.

Shameless said...

Very well written, thought-generating post. I'm sorry for your loss.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

I'm sorry, too, for all the well-spoken reasons above. Here's to support from all sides,


Church Lady said...

I'm skimming the comments and read Chumplet's as:
"Gee, Moonrat; sorry for your boss."

And thought, "Damn, that is funny." But I had to reread it (and also get glasses).

Even with all the quirkiness you describe, you're so lucky to be part of a big family that comes together in moments of crisis. My heart goes out to your aunt. Does she have routines that involve friends? If not, it's going to be harder on her. Do you think she might like to tape or video some stories about her and your uncle? Perhaps there's a writer in the family who might capture some of this.

I am very sorry all around.
God bless.

Chumplet said...

Church Lady, you made me go back and check my spelling. It probably would've been in context, though.

My FIL's passing was the same week as my vacation, and when I returned to work, I discovered they had given me a week's bereavement leave. So thanks Emil, you got me an extra week vacation time.

Sarah Hina said...

I, too, am sorry for your family's loss. But I was touched by your tribute to your uncle, and his dogged persistence to get his girl. Sounds like it was happily ever after for them. I just hope your aunt can find solace in her family and memories.

Maprilynne said...

Sorry about everything. Your uncle sounds like quite the guy! I always like to remember the happy parts and it sounds like you are doing that.

moonrat said...

thanks, guys. xox

Jill Myles said...

That's terrible to happen on a holiday (well, any time, really). I'm sorry to hear about your loss, and it's heartbreaking to think of your Aunt Dolly and how she'll cope without him in her life.

And if journals are not for outpourings, then what the heck are they good for?

Precie said...

I'm sorry about your uncle.

Josephine Damian said...

Does anything in an Italian family happen without agita?

Nope. And don't I know it. Totally understand the need to vent.

So sorry to hear about your loss, Moonrat.

angelle said...


Conduit said...

I haven't much to add other than my own condolences. When I think back to funerals in my family and those of friends, what I remember most is laughter, as strange as that sounds. It's as much a time for reflecting on the positive as the negative. Best wishes to you and yours.

cyn said...

thank you for sharing, MR. i really enjoy reading stories about your family. and it truly sounds like your uncle lead a full life--his love story is wonderful. riding 20 miles on a bike to go argue about love--yes! =)

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm sorry for your loss, but it does sound like a good way to go, if you've got to go.

I envy you your Italian family ties.

Colorado Writer said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Work should come second to family in this situation. Even for you.

Anonymous said...

I read this poem so many times when my mother died that it is forever embedded in my brain:

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little but not with your heads bowed low
Remember the love we once share
Miss me but let me go

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone
It is all a plan of the master plan
A step in the road to home

So when you are lonely and sick at heart, go to the friends you know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds
Miss me but let me go.

The author is, unfortunately, unknown to me.

The Anti-Wife said...

I'm sorry about your uncle.

Vesper said...

I'm sorry about your uncle. Hopefully your aunt will find some comfort in your big family. Stay strong. All the best!

Maria said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. And you know, it does stink that money always comes into play at these things and it seems to either bring out the best or the worst in relatives.

My family has long, drawn out Catholic ceremonies that are just ridiculous. I have been to two funerals that were totally different. One was called a goodbye party and another just " a celebration." Both of them were wonderful, so fun and insightful, with none of the silly pomp and circumstance that permeated the others. I want that for my funeral.

I hope it gets better....

Lisa said...

What a lovely tribute to your uncle and your fabulous Italian family.

Julie said...

You have my sympathies. My father died suddenly one Christmas morning after a family reunion.