As if the gods have conspired to end my year (and that of my family) with the ultimate ending, I have yet another funeral to go to.
I have briefly explained my extended family, but let me elaborate now as they have been a large part of my life lately.
When we moved to Texas 14 years ago, I was just 12. My father worked for a craft chain, and one of his employees was a man named Gerry. Gerry’s wife Ronnie was (and is) a real estate agent. My father moved here six months before my mother and I, and spent that time looking for houses with Ronnie and working with Gerry. My first meeting with Ronnie was the same week my grandfather passed away. We had flown down to Dallas over Spring break, and were staying at my father’s little one bedroom apartment, with its gray supplied furniture, white walls, and painted white brick fireplace. I remember being in the bedroom as my parents listened to a heartwrenching message from my grandmother, that my grandfather had died in the night. I remember thinking how awful it would be to wake up and your husband was lying next to you, dead. The message was a screeching, sobbing, hysterical mess, as my grandmother must have called us very soon after she had found him. The sound of her voice ripped through the tiny apartment with so much force I can still hear it today. She hadn’t met him until she was in her forties, but in that moment, I knew for a fact that he was the love of her life. That was my first funeral.
But I digress…When I met Ronnie a few days before my grandfather passed away, we hopped in her leather clad white Mercedes and started touring Dallas Fort Worth. And I mean touring. We must have covered an area that was seriously 40 miles east and west and 30 miles north and south, trying to find the perfect city to live in. One day, her car phone rang…because back then, you were the coolest of cool with a car phone. It was this snazzy job that I still wish I had today, she pressed a button on the console, and she just started talking. It was the first hands free set. Except it was wired into her car! There was a tiny microphone above the driver’s side door frame, and she just talked and the caller’s voice would boom back at us through a speaker. This time, it was her then 15 year old daughter. “Mooom…Can I go to the Maaalll?? I’ll use my own money, Mom!” That was my first introduction to Dana. She was allowed to go to the mall, and I thought she was cooler than cool forever after.
Dana also had a sister, Jen but I didn’t meet her until much later as Jen was several years older than me, and must have been starting college around that time.
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I guess the combination of my father’s friendship with Gerry, and our house buying with Ronnie, our families became friends, and suddenly we were invited to Christmas dinner. Our family, like theirs, was spread all over the country, so spending the holidays with them was difficult. So they had started new traditions a few years before we met them, and had Christmas dinner each year with two other families. Both families lived near them and I believe Ronnie sold them their houses as well. One family was parented by Bill and Terry, and the other by Bob and Cathy.
About two years after we started having Christmas dinner at Ronnie and Gerry’s, we were invited to Thanksgiving by Bill and Terry. Suddenly, we had a family in Texas. The next thing we knew, we were invited to weddings, and Easter dinner, and virtually any family function. And unlike traditional families, we never fought. There was nothing to fight about. We had all chosen each other. We had chosen to spend the holidays together instead of being pressed into it by blood. As my friends would come back from the holidays complaining of family fights and boredom, I would come back saying I couldn’t wait to see everyone again at Easter.
And the strange thing is, for the most part, we rarely saw this group outside of the holidays. They were just like family. We only saw them three or four times a year, but have become closer to them than the time together would suggest.
Suddenly, last year, I realized, I had literally know Ronnie, Gerry, Dana and Jen for half my life. They were family. There was no escaping it! They would be at all of my major life events, just as I would be at theirs. They would spout out memories of me at 16 just as I would recall stories of them from Christmas 1993, or Easter 1995.
And then this year happened. In July, Gerry had a heart attack. It was a mild one, but scary and life-altering nonetheless. That is when we found out we have a calling tree, and it runs through the kids. Jen is now a real estate agent like her mother, and she sold me my house, so we have, in the past year or so, become much better friends than in years past, and she had saved my number in her phone. So to contact my family, Jen called me. I told my parents and then called Jenny, my best friend who is an extended member of our “family”. Jenny told her parents. Jen called Bill and Terry’s daughters and told them, etc., etc. Suddenly, at 4pm on a Friday afternoon, we all were headed to the hospital. The entire family was there. Supporting Ronnie and worrying about Gerry. This is how it works. This is family.
Then two weeks ago, Bill died. The tree was reinacted and suddenly, within minutes, we all knew what had happened and jumped into action to help Terry and the girls. And we did. Everyone did something. Ronnie and Gerry even found a cemetary for Bill. Because, we really are family. The kids suddenly feel like cousins. The adults suddenly feel like aunts and uncles, and the babies are nephews and nieces.
And then, strangely, Wednesday, I got a third call this year. From Jen again. Her uncle, Ronnie’s brother, a man I had not known well, but had spent several Christmases with, was in the hospital, having suffered a massive heart attack. He was in the Critical Care Unit, and it did not look good. Again, we rushed to the hospital to support Ronnie.
The night before last, Paul passed away, leaving two sons who are both about my age. Paul was a very nice man, and loved his family very much. It is truly just unbelievable that this has happened.
So yet again, my family, all of them, will be at a funeral together. It is being held Saturday at 10am. The last day of 2005, I will be at a funeral. There is something morbid yet, appropriate about that. I will be ending quite possibly the worst year of my life with an actual funeral.
So to Paul, Bill and 2005, I bid ado.