So Aunt Roz was finally correct. Her younger sister, Shirley, is dead.
But if you read http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5014 and , you will get the idea of the odyssey.
The shunted child of an immigrant generation. The “not-right” child that was institutionalized. And forgotten. And to all who asked, she was “dead”.
But she was, in fact, very much alive. In state-run assisted living buildings; in state run psychiatric facilities. Aunt Roz visited her once and put a deposit on a burial fund. Aunt Roz’s nephew discovered her existence by chance, by going through Aunt Roz’s papers after her death. He did not let up until he found her.
Shirley is her name. Shirley.
And then that nephew — my adopted cousin — claimed her as kin. Which no one had done for over 60 years. 60 years.
My new-found cousin visited this sister every other week and she started to speak after decades of silence.
Back story: My cousin is Aunt Roz’s blood nephew; I am not technically related to my aunt because she and my (blood) uncle never married. Before I had to contact my cousin upon my aunt’s death, I never spoke to him.
Shirley died today.
But because of my cousin, she did not die as an unknown, unclaimed soul. She died as a member of a family.
And so, she needed to be accorded the burial and last rites of a family member. And I needed to have her buried next to Aunt Roz so that they can figure it out in heaven (if such a place exists). My cousin was crying at the funeral home. Shirley’s ability to reach out to his wife and him and speak, if only in monosyllables, touched his gentle soul.
My cousin is by birth Jewish, but only recently discovered this. I sat with him in the funeral home as we talked through the ritual requirements of burial. He held my hand so tight, I thought I would lose circulation.
Not because he was scared, but (I think) because he has only begun to discover his lost family and now they are gone. And he didn’t know what to do with his pain.
Except we are his family. We are not related by blood or paper. But by love.
He is my cousin and I am his, his wife’s and his daughter’s.
He was embarrassed that I put out my credit card. I know that he would pay if he could. But he can’t. And it is ok, because I, too, claim Shirley as one of us, if only to bring her out of the darkness and loneliness, and, post-humously, into the bosom of family. Because that is what I must do and it is a blessing that I can afford to do this.
May Shirley live in our hearts in her death because we did not know her during her life.
Baruch dayan emet.