Saturday, May 29, 2010

Being 60 (week 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

A death in the family causes a rebalancing and a reappraising of one's life and relationships.  Last year, in addition losing to my parents, my extended family lost a half dozen members.  That's enough death to make anybody take a second look at everything.

A few relatives wanted business as usual.  They had certain rituals, one of which was using my birthday as a time to reminisce about when they had emigrated from Malta.  They had left the day I was born.  Nothing personal.  They had the boat tickets and their papers were in order.  My parents and I followed them 3 months later.

I just didn't want to hear about it anymore.

Pop had died in January.  They did everything possible while he was in the hospital.  But complications from diabetes and heart problems can be unbeatable when you are 84.  Ma died suddenly in October.  She'd just had a checkup and everything was as well as could be expected.  Her 87th birthday came.  We joked about her reaching 100 and being on the Smucker's jar on the Today show.  My brother called Ma from work.  No answer.  Natural causes.  To be expected.   

The last thing I remember Ma talking about was how she hated facing another winter in New York.  She had never gotten used to the cold and the snow.  Neither had Pop.  During our last phone call he asked what the temperature was.  I told him.  "Madonna, I'd die if I got that cold," he said.      

Ma was still angry about having to move to America.  She talked about how she missed her last surviving sibling, her older sister.  She talked about her nephews and their families.  People I had never met.  I told her I didn't want to hear about them.  Since I had never met them, they weren't important to me.  Ma got angry and said, "They are important to me."  

Just average conversations for us.

Just our last conversations.  

This isn't how they show a parent's death in the movies.  Everybody gathers around and hears lovely last words.  Words to treasure over the years.

I told the relatives about what Ma had said.  I also told them that Pop was always complaining, too.  Even when we took them to Halifax a few years ago.  We had lunched with friends and Pop told absolute strangers about how much he regretted being talked into coming to America.

I don't blame my relatives.  Pop was an adult.  He could have realized that he wasn't trained to do anything other than what he was doing; that he had all he wanted.

I doubt if my relatives knew how my parents felt.  Pop had a certain pride that made him keep up a facade...  Things are fine.  I made a lot of money in New York.  
His pride made him refuse to use a cane when he went to Aunt Betty's funeral.  By the time my brother had parked the car, Pop had fallen flat on his face.  That fall led to his final trip to the hospital.

It's one thing to unburden to people you'll never see again.  But in-laws...  They would remember.  It was best to tell them what you wanted them to remember.

I haven't heard from those relatives since my birthday.  Nothing personal.  It's time for rebalancing and a reappraising.

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