I sat in the pew at my cousin's funeral last Friday, listening to my brother give a moving eulogy to my cousin, filled with wry and loving cousin memories, and at the end, his words stuttered, his voice broke and he finished through tears. It was the point at which the whole church dissolved. My children, sitting with their cousins in front of me, sobbed freely. My son leaned back and whispered that I was not to say anything to his sister, just let her regain herself, because she had to read the lesson next and she was nervous. If you touch her, she will cry harder, he whispered. She read beautifully. She rushed at first, but then she remembered her Grandma telling her to slow down when they would read the Bible together during the summers they spent with her in St. Lucia. She said she heard her Grandma, clear and strong in her head, saying Slow down, my love, and she did.
The church was full. Almost everyone in my maternal family came. My cousin's daughter wept when she saw my son and my niece had come home from college to attend. It meant so much, she said, that they had come to honor her father. They also came to be with their grandmother, who they knew would be leaving New York in three days. My son stayed by her side all afternoon, helping her maneuver her rollator up ramps and around pews, into cars and out of elevators. He said to her, "I'm yours today, Grandma. Whatever you need." She felt so taken care of, she told me later. So beloved.
My mother was born into a family of nine siblings, including the six sisters, all of whom are still alive. The nine gave birth to 28 children, my first cousins on my mother's side. We call ourselves "the generation of the 28," except we are 24 left alive now. The moment that thought crossed through me is when I felt most desolate, because sitting there in the church, I thought to myself, we are going to have to do this again and again, six more times for the elder sisters, and 24 more times for the cousins, and untold more times for the elders and the cousins on my father's side, and all our spouses and the families we have married into, and so on. It felt like a great weight, suddenly. No matter. It is a price I will willingly pay for the laughs I have shared. For the rich sense of belonging to something. For the privilege of loving and being loved.