Saturday, October 8, 2011


My cousin died on Thursday. Aunt Winnie's son. It was very sudden. No one expected. My mother called me at work, her voice shaking, sobbing, bewildered. I left work and went to her. Together, we went upstairs to my aunt's house, with my cousin's daughter and son in law, and his ex wife, who was the one who found him. He had been home recovering from a hip replacement surgery, and when he wouldn't answer the phone, she went to his house. He was lying on his bedroom floor. A pulmonary embolism.

We decided to wait for my aunt's minister to get there before we told her. We knew his prayers would be a comfort to her. But she already knew. When I stood at her bedside she grasped my hand and said her son's name, her face contorted into a mask of mother's grief. Of course she knew her son had stopped breathing. She said, "I can't even go." I didn't understand anything else. Only that at ninety-three she is ready to go to where her son is. But her pacemaker keeps ticking as the tears roll down.

Now all the family members are flying in again. The elder sisters. The cousins of my generation. Flying in from Jamaica and Florida and Canada, driving up from Virginia and Maryland and New Jersey, coming to pay their last respects to a man who often drove us to distraction, but who we loved. We loved him. He was ours. And now he is gone, waiting perhaps to welcome his mother to the place where he has gone, where he understands everything, even the weight of my self-righteousness at some of his earthly actions, and the weight of my guilt at never having acknowledged that he had, toward the end, begun to change. At Aunt Winnie's birthday party a month ago, I watched his grandsons, ages 5 and 3, climb his limbs as if he were a tree, and him indulging them with a wonder and joy he had never been in touch with when his own children were small. They brought something out in him. Something tender and good. I saw it, but I failed to say.

He was also reconciling with his ex wife at the end. They had begun to pray together, she said. They had started to make plans. She sobbed and sobbed after she found him on Friday morning. Sudden death. But he was in a good place when he died. His daughter says he looked peaceful. He had talked for a long time with my mother on the Sunday before. He told her that he was not so bitter anymore. He had even forgiven his sister, the one who is still out there in the streets, lost in a cocktail of substances. The rancor he felt toward her was gone, he told my mother. Now he just felt sad for her. And wanted her to get well. He was in a good place. As tender and good a place as I had ever seen him. The Buddhists say we are to treat each person as we would if we knew it was their last day on earth. I wish I had said. But I didn't, so I am saying it now.

Painting "Blood and Wings" by Michael Kessler


  1. Oh, dear, I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy. How awful for everyone. I send sympathy and love -- life is just so damn confusing sometimes, as is death. The love in your family, though, is simple and clear and will sustain you all.

  2. I was doing some last minute reading before heading to temple this morning and I read your post. I am so incredibly saddened for your Aunt Winnie, for you, and for the rest of your family. My heart is aching for you all. Please accept my deepest condolences, my dear, sweet friend. Sudden, unexpected death is one of the greatest shocks in life so I am grateful to know that your family will be grouping together at this very, very sad time. I will be attending the healing service after our Yom Kippur service this morning and I will say a prayer for you and your family.

    Please know that I am here in whatever capacity I can be on the other side of the country behind the keys of my computer. Funny how our friendship can feel like so much more than that even though we have never even met.

    Love you, dear heart. I am so very sorry...

  3. What words can I offer that will help? None, I am afraid. I can only say that what you have written here seems so shot-through with honesty and love and the trying to understand which we all go through in this life.
    I love you for that. I will think about this uncle and I will see his grandchildren climbing him like a tree and the wonder and joy you showed us.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. *Hugs.*

  5. So very sorry to read this post. But so glad to know that his life was coming around, and he was in a good place at the end. Hug the people who love you even more than normal, they will help keep you tethered in these unsettling and sad times. ((Hugs))

  6. Oh Angella, I am so very sorry for you and your sweet Aunt Winnie and your whole family. How tragic.

    You're in my thoughts and in my heart, Angella.

  7. It seems you have been through a time of so many losses, Angella, and I am so sorry for this one, for everyone and especially your Aunt Winnie. You write with such gentle honesty about your family, about your own feelings. I believe our humanness binds us together, flimsy or strong, sides of the same coin. We will not go wrong following the Buddhists' advice. The power of love. xo

  8. Angella-

    You are a warrior angel, a fierce hearted monster of compassion, a wounded hero, as wide and ample and limitless as the sea in your love.

    There is no thing in this world that can be your equal.



  9. You paint breathtaking pictures with your words, so naturally, we grieve beside you. How can we not?

    Fate is fickle. But love never fails. His story is one of faith, hope and love--but always, the greatest of these is love.

    I'm so sorry, my friend. And yes, you are a warrior angel. I love this description of you--perfect.

  10. Dear Angella, strength and love to you and your family.

    I had not heard that particular Buddhist saying before but I think it suggests a perfect way to try to live.

    Isabel x

  11. Oh Angella, I am so sorry for you and for your mother. How sad that she at her great age has to experience the loss of a child. My heart aches for you. Blessings on your house.

  12. Angella I am so sorry. Poor Aunt Winnie. :( I hope you find comfort within your family.

  13. The end of his journey becomes a signpost in yours. Openness is so fraught with the dangers that will befall us; but its opposite - safety behind walls - is living in a tomb.

  14. Elizabeth
    Ms Moon
    Nola darling

    How lucky I am to be sharing this journey with souls such as yours. Your presence here means so much to me. Thank you for the words, the comfort. My love.

  15. Dear Angella - as Scott said, and Gradydoctor echoed, you are a warrior angel. I am so sorry for this sudden loss. It has been a long season of grief, I think. Standing as you do in love, may you return to your own 'And now he has gone. . . to a place where he understands everything' and find comfort there. Our children are not supposed to leave before us. Love and strength to your dear Aunt Winnie, to you, your mother and your family as you gather. xo

  16. I am so sorry to read this. My mom always remarks on how families don't get together until someone passes and that we should make more of an effort. At least it seems as though your family did get together and you noticed the changes and the good things even if you didn't verbalize them. No matter what we think of the afterlife, it is still difficult to lose someone, especially when it is unexpected (well, maybe not).

    Sending you hugs.

  17. btw, I love the red on the blog. Is that new? I have been away too long.

  18. Here's hoping and praying that everyone you love finds and feels peace.

  19. I am so very sorry to hear about your cousin. And so sad for your aunt. Sudden unexpected death at such a young age is so unfair, and while it's great that he was in a good place when he died, it makes it that much harder to let go.
    I will keep you, and your aunt and your cousin in my prayers and hope that life gets a little sweeter for you.

  20. Claire, Gary, Silverfin, Miss A,

    Thank you for being here. And for your words, which are more comfort than you know. My cousin, his name is Bruce, has given us an occasion to gather, and that is his parting gift to us.


  21. So sorry to hear about your cousin. How sudden and shocking. My thoughts are with you all.


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