Standing in the kitchen about an hour after Aunt Debbie was laid to rest, transitioning from gumbo to jambalaya by eating a piece of Popeyes fried chicken, my cousin Marcie said to me, “Look at you. You’re probably writing right now, huh? Bet you can get two or three books out of this?”
I thought about joking that the dazed look on my face was simply from working my 5,000th calorie of the day in before noon. But I resisted. Truth was, my mind was close to redlining–there was a lot to take in–while also feeling slightly guilty about taking it all in.
No need to feel guilty, I guess. It’s just the way my mind works. A coping mechanism of sorts. Funerals aren’t easy under any circumstances. Definitely not easy when one of your mom’s baby sisters is gone too soon from the world.
Some folks cried–and Cajun men not only cook, they cry as well, and have no shame in doing so.
Some fell back on humor. At one point while we were stuffing our faces, someone said one of Aunt Debbie’s sayings was “Eat till yall shit.” Which is great on 500 different levels–and made me think, “Well, this particular sense of humor is obviously genetic.” For the record, I did my part.
Also on the subject of food, my cousin Nasen’s wife Jill started riffing. “No wonder we’re all fat down here. I’m sad, I gotta eat. I’m happy, I gotta eat. I got a new boyfriend, let’s eat. I got dumped. Oh, gotta eat. Saints in the Super Bowl. Eat. LSU lost. Let’s eat.”
And, yes, some folks cope with food. This isn’t an uncommon thing in any culture, this eating away the pain, seeking comfort in calories. And in South Louisiana, we have our own twists: boudin, cracklins, gumbo, jambalaya. But I swear, there’s an unwritten rule somewhere that says this:
Grief is best confronted by eating your own weight in fried chicken.
I’m sure alcohol will play a part in some of the coping–and there was some beer consumed after the burial–but the visitation on Sunday had to break a family record for consecutive hours spent without drinking.
In a way these observations are all surface, a tenth of a tenth of what was going through any of our heads. But staying on the surface is fine when death enters your realm–especially when it comes unexpected. It’s always uninvited, yes, but many times there is a dim expectation–old age, really long bouts of illness.
Aunt Debbie was 51, one of the youngest of Mama’s eight brothers and sisters. And unlike Daddy’s side of the family, cancer doesn’t necessarily stalk Mama’s side at an early age. But she’d developed a tumor in her leg and aggressive chemo was the treatment and the chemo–I guess–is what led to the blood infection and after stressing out while checking Facebook statuses Friday, I got the call Saturday morning and …
That’s enough of that. It was too soon, entirely. Too soon for Mama and her siblings. Too soon for Aunt Debbie’s husband and kids and grandkids.
She was young. I kind of realize that as someone who’s about to turn 37 and can spin off into incredibly spastic freakouts about my own mortality. But what struck me was seeing a photo this weekend of her holding me at my first birthday party. I guess because she’s my aunt, I didn’t really ever do the math.
But there she is–15 damn years old and cute, holding my scrawny 1-year-old butt.
The photo above is of extremely poor quality because Mama’s Lexmark isn’t playing nicely with her Mac, so I snapped a picture of the picture with my phone. There were a ton of photos I wanted to scan immediately–including a couple of Aunt Debbie and Uncle Carl getting married. And a photo of almost all of the first cousins in one shot. Almost, but never all of them. You do the math. Nine siblings with a generous age spread, some of them having children really young, others fairly late–it’s hard enough to get all those people in one place, much less find a digital camera with a wide-angle lens back in the day.
I could go on. My mind’s still spinning. The fact is, I wasn’t all that close to Aunt Debbie. I live up here, far removed from it all. I can’t begin to imagine what’s going on in the minds of those closest to her. I’m sure the pain I saw this past weekend–like the laughter and the eating–was simply surface.
I’m just going to trail off now. No need to wrap things up. Enough conclusions for one week.