a Sunday dinner

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I attended a lovely dinner with my family. In attendance: My 93 year old Uncle, 90 year old Aunti, 85 year old Mother, 67 year old Cousin1, 65 year old Cousin2, and 63 year old Sister. Also in attendance, 64 year old Old Family Friend (OFF).

If you have never spent time with your geriatric relatives, I highly recommend it. Everything moves at a different pace. Canes are important. Words must be chosen carefully, enunciated clearly, and spoken louder. Be prepared for small appetites. Don’t get hung up on issues of ideology, politics, or selective memory. They have lasted this long, why not let them keep what they have.

It is hard to explain the aura of these old folks, but it seems like time itself has slowed down. There is no rushing, no urgency, no crisis. If you decide to move everyone from one room to another it will be more like the tide washing out of one room and into another.

Family history can be opaque, the truth of past family relationships obscured by mythical embellishment. However, with these elderly relatives, the truth can appear in unguarded moments. I glanced at my Mother’s resting face and was surprised to read deep sadness in her unconscious expression. In that moment my Sister spoke to her and her entire countenance brightened into a big smile.

My Aunti and Uncle have always appeared to me to be a stalwart, conventional family, my own mythologized definition of ‘normal’. We had finished dinner and were dishing up desert when my Aunti announced that she was not able to help my Mother when she was succumbing to mental illness back when we were children because she was struggling herself with her own inability to take care of her children. She recounted that she was deeply ashamed because a babysitter had to be brought in to the house to take care of the kids after her fourth child was born while she was still in the house. As Aunti shared these remembrances I saw a dark shadow of pain cross her face.

Cousin1 is afflicted with a strange disease that is covering his body with an ugly rash. Apparently the rash is weeping cancerous cells. Medical treatments have failed to arrest the disease and they do not know how long he has to live. Cousin1 was mentally disabled as a young child when he suffered through a childhood illness. I have never been clear on what the illness was – rheumatic fever? Anyway, the illness left him with brain damage that meant he was never able to complete his education, get a job, have a girlfriend, or live on his own. Despite these hardships, Cousin1 has one of the most buoyant dispositions of anyone I know. For the dinner party he brought my Sister a gift of two iconic Doors albums. It was wonderful to hear that music played on the record player while we hung out together looking at photo albums.

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