Sunday, September 16, 2018

A loss in the family

My cousin was in Ukraine visiting his wife’s family and ready to gtfot—he wasn’t the kind of guy who found peace in a lack of indoor plumbing—when he got the call that his brother died. He asked that his mother not be notified until he could get back, so we didn’t find out until last Saturday. Their mother, understandably, couldn’t articulate words when I called. When I got to New York on Monday night for the funeral Tuesday morning, she was holding up, propped up by a combination of family and the distraction of logistics. She lost it again the next morning once we got to the funeral home, and it was a very tearful morning for all.

My cousin and I were close when I was younger. He was a really good guy, and had overcome a lot, even though he could be his own worst enemy. His mother has always been one of my favorite people—always warm. She’s my father's cousin, but they grew up as siblings. Their fathers were brothers, and mothers, sisters. My father has said that he’s not sure he and his family would have survived the Blockade without him.

My late cousin immigrated first and then brought his family over, which may not have been the best idea. His (also late) father never adjusted as a child I found her stylish and chic. Remembering that made me think about whether I ever thought about my mother that way; I didn’t, she was more on the frumpy side. She was decent toward these relations of my father’s, more so than any others. She essentially shut out my father’s sister’s daughter, who’s only now back in our lives. My mother, ever the drama queen, would go on marathon phone calls and demonize her to everyone who would listen. So much about everything comes back to my mother—down to memories of the last time I was in my aunt’s Brighton Beach apartment, having arrived a day before I needed to only to inhale my uncle’s smoke and overhear his Russian tv, all because my mother couldn’t be bothered to check the time of the wedding we were going to. I think about the time my mother made my aunt and cousin super uncomfortable by yelling at me (apparently I’d left something uncovered and it turned into This Is Because You Don’t Care about Anybody but Yourself).

These memories of my mother being awful keep coming up at every turn. I acknowledge them—there’s no use in pretending she wasn’t awful—and come around to feeling bad for her rather than angry or bitter. Ultimately, she was a woman who succumbed to her own demons. It makes me more motivated to fight harder against my own.

My aunt called me later in the week to thank me for coming to the funeral and reiterate how dear I was to her. She’s holding up for now, learning to live with the new normal.

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