Another cousin died. This is a little different.

My mom emailed me today to tell me that my cousin “Gary” has died. I don’t want to use his name.

He was 43, 12 years older than me. My mom didn’t know exactly how he died. It wasn’t like a car accident; she thought it might be a heart attack: something medical and sudden.

Here’s the deal. When I was 18 and he was whatever, he tried to force himself on me. It was his brother’s wedding. I was pretty darn drunk: I’d had alcohol before, but these were my first bar drinks. I was also melancholy because I had graduated and moved to another town in the same week. I had wanted to talk to another cousin, the one closest to my age, about my college anxiety, but he was preoccupied with his girlfriend.

So I’m outside, crying and hiccupping. He follows me outside, asks why I’m crying. I start to stutter an explanation, while he says, “Where did you get these enormous breasts?” He grabs them, tries to jam his tongue in my mouth, and is moving on to my zipper when I spill my drink, with fresh, cold ice cubes, on the back of his neck. (And his tux. I hope that was a problem with the rental shop.) While he’s yelping and picking out ice, I scramble away and tell my parents I want to leave. They see how loaded I am and don’t question it.

So that would have been it, and I would have been one of the classic ones to never tell anyone because I didn’t want to relive it. But the next day, my mom wants to go out for cheesesteaks, and I get grease on my skirt. We go to my aunt’s, Gary’s mom’s house, so I can change. I go into the powder room to rinse out the skirt, then I hear Gary’s voice outside. My mom couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t come out until she brought me a pair of shorts. I kept saying I didn’t want to expose myself to Gary, and she kept saying “Oh, we’re family!” Finally, I heard him settle down in the living room, and went upstairs the other way. I didn’t tell my mom even then; it wasn’t until we were driving back home. Lotta good that does, but lotta good it would have done anyway. My mom’s reaction was “I wonder if I should say something to Jane (her sister and Gary’s mom) about it?”

So my mom tells me this, and I say, “You know, it doesn’t negate—”

“Don’t say it. That’s in the past.”

So I don’t say it. But then she suggests that I give Susan (his now-widow) a sympathy call. I have nothing against Susan, but I hardly know her. And I can’t exactly tell her he was a good guy to have as a relative.

Am I doing what my mom says—focusing on one bad memory and nurturing it? I don’t have a lot of memories with this guy, period. He was so much older, we didn’t have much contact, if you’ll pardon the expression. So it may be my only distinct impression of him, but it’s a helluva one. It wasn’t the betrayal of trust that’s so traumatic to people who’ve been molested, but it was very unpleasant, and as I say, I don’t have anything to counter it.

If those are your memories of him, then those are your memories. If I were in your place, I’d probably shrug, say to myself, “Gee, too bad for Susan” and go on. There’s very little point in calling her, and it sounds like this death isn’t really going to have much impact on your life. As long as no one expects you to deliver a eulogy, it really doesn’t matter what you think of him, does it?

Your mom has a very different perspective, since he was her sister’s child. It seems like she should be able to keep her own memories of him intact without insisting that you change your mind about the guy. It’s a delicate situation. I had some stinkers for relatives, too, and when they died it was very difficult to work up the requisite feelings of grief, so I didn’t. I just settled on not sharing my feelings about the deceased with the rest of the mourners.

Oh, and I’m sorry for your - well, for your family’s loss.

Three sortofrelated stories. Take them as you will.

1st) When my father was a child (i.e., before my time) there was a married couple who lived a half-mile south of where I grew up. The Mrs. was a Lutheran married to a Catholic Mr. (which was virtually illegal in this area at that time) who was…unpleasant. The Mrs. half once spent an entire afternoon at my gramma’s making a particular Scandanavian cookie that tastes divine but is a PITA to make. When the Mrs. returned to her home after this afternoon of baking she noted that all the lights were off. As she opened the door the Mr. stuck his foot out and tripped her, breaking all of those cookies. Many years later the Mr. died, and the Catholic priest refused to perform the burial service, noting that the man was such an…<I have a hard time seeing a Catholic priest calling someone an asshole, so insert what you wish>. Makes sense to me; why say nice things about an evil man? No one was sorry to see him go.

2nd) I was in junior high when my 2nd cousin got married. I was mebbe 14 or 15 at the time and her brother was pushing 30. This did not prevent my relative from dancing every f*cking waltz, polka, two-step, schottische, and butterfly with his hand on my ass. With our respective families in attendance. With his WIFE in attendance. And no one did a damn thing.

3rd) Shortly before I graduated a girl a couple of years younger than I was riding in a car with a guy who was drunk and/or stoned (still being debated in bar circles), and he drove into a bridge. When the car hit the guard rail (one of those metal things, ya know what I mean?) it went UP - driving itself up into the floorboards and essentially shearing off her calf. My mother and I talked about this incident and she was shocked when I said I really didn’t care. My response was, “Well, I thought she was a snot before the wreck; I sorta feel sorry for her in an abstract way, but geez, if I didn’t care for her before the wreck why should I give a shit now?”

Look. You didn’t like the guy before he died, and you don’t know the wife very well. Perhaps your sympathy would be directed better towards his mother, if you are close to her?


I’m re-reading all the stuff I just typed and it seems like a hijack. I hope it’s not. I just have a hard time trying to create warm fuzzies for people that cause pain. Don’t feel sorry for people for whom you have no sympathy; just be there for the people you care about for whom this death may have caused pain.

Thank you for your responses. I’m sending a sympathy card to Susan, and another to Gary’s parents. My mom hasn’t nagged me about the phone call; I think she knows she can’t make me.

chique, yes, isn’t it wonderful when everyone just looks the other way.