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August 29, 2001: Who?

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The phone rang rather early this morning - my mom on the other end. My aunt called, she said. My uncle hung himself.

The first comment that came to the tip of my lips was the sort of thing you might say to someone who mentions the death of a stranger. "Oh. That's too bad." Then I asked how my dad was doing, since this was his brother - although I use that term loosely. We haven't heard from this side of the family in years. For all we knew, he was already dead and no one had bothered to call.

The only reason my aunt called, it seems, is that they need money for the funeral. Small blessing that, as I think the unspoken question from all of us is whether she would even have called if not for the financial side.

There was a time, when my aunt and uncle were still semi-happily married, when we did get news. My sisters and I always knew when my mom had received another letter from her sister-in-law because we'd suddenly get lectures on 'I'd prefer you not do it, but if you are going to have sex before marriage then by all that's holy, would you at least have the sense god gave a ground squirrel and use protection?' Our usual response was 'oh, and which cousin fathered / birthed an out-of-wedlock child this time?' It seemed almost to be a required rite of passage with that family that each child produce at least one illegitimate baby as soon as he or she hit puberty. But then things between my aunt and uncle soured, and since she was really the only one who ever wrote letters, we stopped hearing from them. We tried to maintain contact - phone calls and letters - but after years of receiving no reply, we all just eventually gave up.

It's hard to imagine how someone could have so little relationship with their family that they don't hear from them for years and years. Even if you don't especially get along with all your siblings, you might at least care enough to want to know how they're doing, even if it's only via generic once-a-year holiday mass mailing. Am I just being hopelessly pollyanna about this, I wonder. Is life really far more complicated that just wanting to keep at least a tentative touch to your family, your history, your roots?

The funeral is this Friday and since my mom and dad are going to go, all I can think is 'Wonderful. Who the heck can I get to feed the cats for us while we're gone now?' Yes, that sounds horribly callous, but I feel nothing for my uncle's death. I felt nothing when my father's parents passed away either, and I will feel nothing for any of the cousins when they eventually die as well. They are strangers to us - strangers with names we may recognize, but strangers nonetheless.

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