(This was a year ago today.  Rest in Peace, Joe)

Last night I went to say goodbye to my cousin Joe, and to hug my cousins Mike (Butch), Lillian (who will always be Pee-wee to me), Becky, Debi, Patti, Mary and Tommy.

Joe should have been standing between Patti and Mary.  But he wasn’t.

Before I walked into the viewing room, I stood in line waiting to sign the Guest Register and looked into the room.  I saw my cousins lined up, in birth order to the right of Joe’s casket and the filter that is time and memory turned them once again into the children we were so many years ago.

I saw them not as adults now in their 50s and 60s, but as children at Grandpa Flanagan’s house on Christmas Eve laughing at the nose warmer someone gave to him as a joke,  the kids I slid on a make-shift slip and slide with at their house in Lancaster, preparations for  Butch’s wedding – utter chaos, lots of ironing, and “Yesterday” playing on the AM radio, watching Kukla Fran and Ollie on Sunday with Joe and Mary, fearless little Tommy with his broken arm running around like 3 year olds do (I may be off on the age, but I was quite young myself).

But mostly I remember laughter and noise and love and family, and remembering that I used to think that Pee Wee looked like Elizabeth Taylor,  Debi and Patti’s bright blue eyes, Becky’s distinctive voice, Joe’s laugh and  Mary the athlete, so that when it was my turn to sign the Guest Register, I signed as “Paula Flanagan.”  I haven’t done that in years, and it surprised me.  I quickly added “McMillan,” but in that moment I was the little Flanagan girl waiting to greet my cousins, and say goodbye to one.

Truth be told, I had not seen Joe in several years, and the last time I saw the rest of my cousins was at their mother’s (my aunt) wake and funeral.

Life is like that.  Families scatter.  Children who once spent Sundays and Christmas Eve’s together, are now parents and grandparents who communicate on Facebook, and meet again at funerals.

The problem with that is now there is someone missing.  This time it was Joe.

Debi said that Joe loved sunsets.  So do I.  When I left the funeral home, and drove by the Wachusett Reservoir, the sun was disappearing.

I pulled over to watch, and to smile, and cry. I took a photo and for me, this sunset will forever be Joe’s Sunset and will be stored with the rest of my cousins’ memories.

Goodbye for now, Joe.  Rest in Peace.  You are loved.

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