Death

Now there is a uplifting title for my next entry! I’m sure that wilt make everyone say; “oh boy, something fun to read about!”

But, I don’t intend for it to be depressing, I am taking a look back on how deaths in our family affected a young boy (me) and how I dealt with the subject.

Clearly, being raised Catholic established some pretty definite and lasting views on death. I was taught about Heaven and the wonderful place it is and what I needed to do to ensure I went there after leaving this word. I was taught about Hell and Purgatory and the things I needed to do to ensure I didn’t wind up in either of those places. In no way am I mocking the teachings, I’m just presenting them from the point of view of a very young boy. To guarantee a place in Heaven in the teaching back then ( This has been modified to some degree in the Church today), I had to make sure I had no sin on my soul when I made my exit from this world. I could accomplish this is one of a few ways: Make sure I met my untimely end right after I had gone to confession, or, two, make sure there was a Priest on hand to give me my Last Rites as I was breathing my last. Now, if one of those two things didn’t happen, one of two other things would likely occur. If I died with a Venial sin on my soul ( a not so serious sin), I would wind up in Purgatory, a place where I could work my way to heaven, do more penance, so to speak. Those I left behind could also pray for me and get some of my time in Purgatory reduced. Purgatory was not a good place to be, but it was far better than the alternative, where I would end up if I died with a Mortal sin on my soul ( a very serious sin).

So, my view of death was overall pretty positive, in that since I, nor any of my family, ( that I knew of) were in the habit of committing Mortal sins, our chances of eternity in Heaven were pretty good, though there maybe a long stop-over in Purgatory. Bottom line, I believed, and still do to a great extent, that when one of my family left this world, I would one day see them again in Heaven. Ok, enough of doctrine for now, on to my main point in this entry.

We lost a good number of family members when I was still very young, so I had to deal with their passing. In addition, those that we lost, departed this world at what you would consider very young ages. Uncle Joe, Uncle Santino, Aunt Flo, Uncle Harry……. all before their 60th birthday, closer to their mid fifties. This is important because when they passed, they were still very much a part of my childhood. They were the ones at the gatherings, the ones handing out presents at Christmas, the ones singing Happy Birthday. They were not distant relatives by any means; they were part of my very real, everyday life.

The first shocking one that I recall was Uncle Joe. If there was one who could be considered the life of a party it was Uncle Joe. He kept people laughing all the time. He appeared to take nothing seriously and would find a way to laugh, joke , harass, embarrass anyone at anytime. He was a favorite of the adults and the kids alike. If Uncle Joe was going to be there, there would be a lot of laughs. He died at 57 years old. He was at Jones Beach the day it happened. He had just come out of taking a quick swim, sat down on the sand and tipped over and died. Just like that. The family was stunned. Uncle Joe? what? so full of life… so fun… how could he be gone?

He was my Moms brother and she took it hard and it was difficult watching her grief, but she was absolutely confident that her brother was making jokes in Heaven the moment he left the beach. It was that kind of thinking, belief and attitude that helped me get through the sadness and confusion of death. I was not sad for Uncle Joe…. I was sad for me. I sure would miss him on Christmas Eve.

I needed that positive outlook going through the whole Italian funeral process. Lord, that can be tedious. The “viewing”, the family all gathered at the apartment the funeral Mass….. all well intended, but not the place for a young child. Of course we dutifully sat through all of it. We wondered why everyone would say “how wonderful he looked” in the casket. I didn’t think he looked wonderful…. I didn’t like the casket … I didn’t want to look. But, somehow, I could see Uncle Joe, laughing at us from his seat in Heaven as he got ready to create havoc there. It was that view, that mind picture, that made it bearable.

Others were different of course. Our Aunt Flo didn’t die quickly, she lingered, suffering from Cancer. I remember slipping into Saint Bernard’s by myself one afternoon after school and praying that she would get better. She didn’t, but again, I could picture her smiling face , now reunited with her brother Uncle Joe, and again I was comforted.

So, while I have written mostly of good memories of my childhood in NY, there were some not so good and one of them was losing family members and trying to reconcile that in a young mind. At times it frightened me. I could see Dad being one who was lost early and I find that ironic. I always had this fearful view of having to see my dad in a casket at some funeral home when I was a kid. It just terrified me even though I absolutely knew that Dad was Heaven bound. The ironic part is that many years later, it was my Mom who left this world way too young. I pictured her living forever, yet it was she that left us early. Thankfully, Dad lasted quite awhile, driving us all nuts along the way.

However, in my “minds eye”, whenever I think about family time as a child…. they are all there. Uncle Santino, looking stern and rigid, yet having a heart of gold…Uncle Joe, cracking jokes and insulting whomever he could, Aunt flo, laughing at how my baby brother would pronounce the word “country”, Uncle Tony bringing bags of candy., of course Mom and Dad, doing everything in their power to make sure all are having a great time……..

Where oh death, is your victory..?
O death, where is your sting?

“Will The Circle will be unbroken…..
By and by , Lord , By and by….
There’s a better home a-waiting
in the sky lord, in the sky….

-Don

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