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The Fourth Funeral

Uncle Sammy, second from left, with uncles and Dad.

I was a few minutes late to my Uncle Sammy’s funeral today. I went to Good Shepard Catholic Church and the parking lot was empty so I made my way across town to St. Peter Martyr. I stepped inside the church to a woman singing a song I didn’t recognize and searched for the backs of my parent’s heads. My mother sensed my presence. She turned, stood, and waved me up. I sat down between them feeling like a little girl again. I always do in their presence. My father held my left hand. My mother entwined her left arm with my right.

My Uncle Sammy was 91, so we are all thankful for the full life he lived, but I’m sad for my Dad. He is the youngest of eight. There are only three remaining; he, a brother and sister. Only one sibling passed young. Uncle Nash was in his early 40s when melanoma took him from us. Aside from him, the uncles and one aunt who have passed lived long lives. Still, they have passed in a relatively short amount of time. There have been four funerals, including a cousin’s in as many years. That has been rough on my Dad.

I looked around the church for my cousins. There were 23 of us, now we are down to 18. I am the second youngest and mostly surrounded by boys. I see John, John, Johnny, Frank, Frankie, Sammy, Jay and my brother, Tommy (yes, I have three cousins named John and two named Frank). As I took in the scene of these men I have known my entire life, this thought came to me, “God, they’re old.” I shared that with a few of them afterward. Look who’s talking.

Me, my brother (sitting behind me) and cousins.

My mother is responsible for my “Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown Funeral” moment during communion. She returned to her seat next to me and told me that she saw Uncle Lefty (yes, I have an Uncle Lefty) at the Rosary last night. His wife was my father’s sister who has passed. He’s 93 and mostly lucid, though he does have his moments, like this one. He said to my mom, “I thought you’d be pregnant by now.” I pretty much lost it and then had a hard time composing myself.

After church we were off to the cemetery and from there back to the Elk’s Lodge for a feast of Rigatoni and salad and at least 10 different desserts. It was here I was able to visit and enjoy the time with my cousins. It occurred to me that a couple of them have really started to look exactly like my Dad. They sound like him, too. Even more so than my brother because my father is the only one who married a white girl (non-Italian), which makes me and my brother a bit watered down.

While eating, my father told me another Uncle Lefty story from last night. He was sitting next to him when an elderly couple, long time family friends, walked up to say hello to him. Uncle Lefty said to the woman, “How come you’re so fat?” Without missing a beat, the woman replied, “it’s my big tits.” Apparently Uncle Lefty has lost his filter, though he never really had one in the first place.

Uncle Lefty with Dad

I continue to be in awe of my mother’s energy. She is 78 and still moves like a teenager. She hits the ground running. There’s not any inkling whatsoever of aching joints or slow movement, though after she face-planted in a parking lot a couple of years ago, we have tried to slow her down. It hasn’t worked. And she is still as sharp as a tack. I sat and listened to her talk of a recent book she read without any trouble with recall, though like Uncle Lefty, she doesn’t have much of a filter either.

I started my good-byes about 30 minutes before my target time to leave because it takes that long. I remember once in my pre-teen years telling my mother that I was not going to go around the room and kiss every single aunt and uncle goodbye anymore. She only had to give me a look and I was off my butt, rolling my eyes. I wish I could give my Uncle Sammy one more kiss. I can still hear his voice saying, “Hi, honey.”

I roamed the Elks Lodge saying good-bye to everyone, then stepped outside knowing it would be another funeral bringing us together again.

I leave you with my favorite hymn from childhood, which was the last song we heard at the funeral today. Close your eyes and listen to the words.

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