It wouldn't be long, I knew, before my posts would veer into the discomforting space of black humor, and so here we are. If today's Jeopardy question was Who decided to all die en masse at the end of 2010? my answer would be my relatives.
Seriously, though—This one we saw coming. At my grandfather's funeral a few weeks ago (he was the first to die this December, followed by my grandmother), everyone took notice of the absence of a certain family member, that is, my crazy Great Aunt Theresa. Of course, it's terrible to call someone crazy, even if she was. Perhaps it would be better to call her reclusive Aunt Theresa. Or paranoid Aunt Theresa, since she would never answer the door of her rowhouse in Baltimore City, and it often took the fire department or some other taxpayer-funded solution to get into her house. She lived with my Great Aunt Julie, who died on the glider in the back yard of said rowhouse more than twenty years ago. (It took Great Aunt Theresa, who lived in the same freaking house, two days to discover her. Now that's reclusive and paranoid and crazy.)
Anyway, various relatives in my family have been unofficially charged with keeping an eye on her over the years, to do odd jobs, to bring her to weddings and funerals, and yes, to make sure she was alive. She kept odd hours, going to bed at 3 in the morning and getting up at 4. You could only call at these times or, if it were Sunday, go to the Burger King on Eastern Avenue, because that's where she went on Sundays. But even if you went during the right time or to the right place, you were not always assured of finding her. My cousin, who lived a few blocks over, once had the aforementioned fire department take a ladder up to her window, at which time Theresa opened it and let loose a string of expletives that would make Richard Pryor blush.
But still, when she wasn't at my grandfather's funeral, we blamed it on the relatives shuffle. The old stalwart keepers of Theresa were older or had died, and everyone assumed somebody else would get in touch. It didn't help that she dressed and smelled like a homeless person, so I sure that was more the reason for passing the dutchie on Aunt Theresa.
But something one of my cousins said during the funeral luncheon for my grandfather raised a red flag for me—that Theresa hadn't called him for help to get her heating assistance credit from the city this year. Apparently it wasn't a red flag for him, because no one decided to check on Aunt Theresa until yesterday, a full two weeks after the funeral. Add two weeks to whatever poor Aunt Theresa's time of death was (in a kneeling position by her bed), and, well, you get the picture. Color me surprised.
None of this should really be funny. After all, reclusive or not, Theresa was a sweet woman. She did spend some time in institutions (apparently the result of a bad breakup), but, really, most of the "-ski" side of my family is a few fries short of a Happy Meal. She'd send my brother and me ten dollars each year for our birthday, which she clearly couldn't afford (and we, now a few years' shy of 40, really didn't need). It always came around Christmas, even though our birthdays are in May. I always sent her a thank you card with my phone number, knowing perhaps she would never call. And I did pledge, after the funeral, to try and check on her, although I never did. But I thought about her often, often enough to write a story about her once, and now the rest of the family is frightened of what I will write about them.
They say people die in threes, and the Michalsi-Wysocki clan has hit the trifecta for 2010. Let's hope not every month is like this one, where, instead of a mad rush to the mall, my family made a mad rush to the grave.