But first, real life. My uncle is in the hospital in ICU right now. This has been difficult for my family for a lot of reasons. a) If he passed, that would leave my uncle fatherless at 19. No one I knew who is part of the “dead dad” club who lost their father around that age came out unscathed. My cousin . . . is troubled would be the kindest way to put it and he has a lot of things working against him. He *just* started to pull his shit together a month ago. If my uncle passed, it would be a one way trip down the spiral, hard. We all can see it. (b) For Italians, we’re a small family. We’re still rocked from losing half of M.’s family two years ago unexpectedly. We only have (1) baby on that side. It would just . . .make us that much more inconsolable. There’s only like 14 of us now total.
When we first got the news that he was in ICU, we had no information. Generally I take point in these kinds of situations, but my sister wanted to go and she’s an adult now so I wanted to give her the chance. I wanted me to have the chance to stay behind and tend to the home fires and take care of her kid. I could be patient and calm and wait.
Apparently family roles exist for a reason. If it was a movie, it would almost be comical, me at home with her child screaming and inconsolable, me looking stricken and gasping in panicky breaths, pacing and pacing, at a loss with nothing to do but sit on my hands and try futilely to get the baby to calm down. She at the hospital, stricken and overcome by the sight of my vibrant uncle, hooked up to so many tubes and machines that she didn’t know how she would handle it and didn’t know what to do with my mother or the situation. Both of us whispering to each other through text we chose wrong, this isn’t what we’re good at, not at all.
Since then, we’ve gotten a routine. Every other day either she goes with my mother to the hospital two hours away and I stay home with her kid or vice versa. I grill the nurses, nag my mother. She does my uncles laundry and replaces household items.
We’re getting there. He’s getting better, little by little. We’re not out of the woods yet but the outcome looks promising at least.
My sister and my mother are troopers. I’m not strong like they are, I’ve been sleeping til noon, exhausted. My sister cares for her kid, my mom goes to work. But I hope that when I take a little time to breathe and recharge, I can help them do the same, have a clear head to help find answers, make them take breaks, etc. The days are long, going til midnight every other day.
I haven’t been able to light a novena candle yet, but I think about it a lot, Our Lady of Guadalupe sitting serenely on my altar and I think about Her prayer that I don’t know by heart but know the gist of and lighting the candle in my head and hope that it counts, almost as much. My japa practice has become erratic, but I think about that a lot too and say a few mantras when I can remember. I think about the rosary in one of my uncle’s mittens, prayed on by so many of my ex-aunt’s family members. I try to pray before bed, try to go to my internal meditation space and clean that out since I haven’t had the time to in my actual home. I think about asking to go to Umberto’s tonight, my father’s favorite pizza place out in NY. So much so that when he passed, a cousin ribboned a box beautiful and displayed it at his wake. We go there, whenever we go to the cemetery, whenever we go to a wake, sometimes when we’re leaving the country out of JFK, sometimes just when we’re visiting my uncle and we can be happy as a family. But mostly I think about pizza and dead people and how it’s a part of our pilgrimage to visit our beloved dead, just like the shitty diner in south Jersey we go to when we visit my dad’s grave where we always order pancakes and burgers.
My mom is my family’s keeper of the dead, I guess that’s where I get it from but she’s hardcore. She specializes in what I call “drive by cemetery visits”. She’s got a wreath in her hand, twine, scissors, whatever she finds around the cemetery to help hold up wreaths, flowers, palms, she’s the MacGyver of the Cemetery. She knows where everyone’s buried and has inscrutable markers in her brain that helps her find whoever. She does drive bys because she’ll decide on a day’s notice that that is what she’s doing and then gets put out when I can’t decide on a whim (and really, who decides to drive two hours to either cemetery on a whim? Fran [our last name], that’s who.) to go visit all of our beloved dead. Sometimes I think I’m too soft and squishy because I get all emotional and shit about this kind of stuff, but when it comes down to doing, I can get through it all nice and neat like my mom does, once I’m there. It’s just getting there. But I’m learning, or at least trying to because some day this will be my job. We have the same organized brain though and the same black humor. We talk about where everyone’s buried like normal people talk about files. I explained my eventual plan to get everyone in one general area in a mausoleum all nice and neat and she laughs (“We’ll just move Dad and put him like across the street from Grandma and Grandpa and then everyone will be organized, right Ma? Keep everyone close and nice and tidy!”). So I go with her and she tells me family secrets off handedly (it’s the only way to get them out of her) and I try to figure out the bunny trail of our beloved dead. I’m learning. Slowly. And then we get a slice of sicilian and try the Arancini di Riso and head home, back to central New Jersey, back and forth between life and the dead as sure as an abacus.