Lawlor / I don’t have time to see Joe
Published 12:00 am, Friday, January 5, 2018
At the Oscar Awards ceremony every year, they show photographs, set to music, of the people who have passed away during the previous year. We as a family did something similar as we said goodbye to 2017 and our own people we lost. What we discovered, as I guess everyone does, is that the people who have passed on have passed on. The funeral and the mourning are for the living. We rediscovered it was how we treated the deceased that affected our mourning. Whether or not we said goodbye, whether or not we were prepared for it.
We are involved in volunteering at the Pequot Library. This year, they lost two of their staff, Robyn Swan Filipone and Susan Ei, the children’s librarian we met through our children when they were first learning to read. We got to know her over the years, and I sometimes went out kayaking with her. She had had cancer previously, and it returned last year. Toward the end, we did what we could to help her. When she died, we took some comfort knowing we did something. It might not have been much, but we did something.
At Susan’s funeral, I spent a lot of time talking with Robyn. We talked of death and genealogy, since she was a family history enthusiast and ran the Genealogy Round Table at the library. I found out Robyn was related to just about every family name in Fairfield’s early founding years. Two weeks later, we learned Robyn had suffered a heart attack and died suddenly, so we hadn’t said good bye.
The most troubling of 2017 deaths for me came from someone I hadn’t spoken to for over 10 years: Joseph Gustafson, who we called “Little Joe” growing up. Joe’s was a tragic story. His single mother committed suicide when he was very young. He was adopted by his maternal grandparents. After a few years, his grandmother died suddenly. He was left with only his grandfather. Their family was very close to us, to the point they moved across the country and settled in our town to add some stability to Joe’s life. My dad was Big Joe, so we called him Little Joe. When we explained him to others, the simplest explanation was he was our cousin. We thought of him this way.
As we grew older, we lost touch and our lives went in different directions. Every year I would drive through the town he lived in, I thought about him, but rarely looked him up. The last time was around 10 years ago. Every year as I drove through I would think, “I don’t have the time to see Joe, but next year we’ll have time.”
This year, right before we drove through on our annual trip, he took his own life. Of all the deaths this year, I think I took this one the hardest.
Around this time last year, my wife and I made a resolution that we would visit her aunt up on the Cape once a month. Sadly, it was the only resolution we kept last year. We are as out-of-shape as we ever were, and we have not met our financial budgeting goals, but we went up to see Aunt Elaine. I loved her as much as my wife did, ever since 20-something-plus years ago, when she first welcomed me into the family. The drive up, however, was what Elaine would have called a schlep. Three hours each way, often just for the day. But the car ride gave my wife and me a chance to talk, so it was good for us as a couple. With Elaine, we had the luxury (if you can call it luxury) of seeing Aunt Elaine getting closer to leaving this life.
After 92 years of stubborn and fierce feistiness, Aunt Elaine died on Dec. 21. At the funeral, Elaine’s daughter came up to us and thanked us. She said it meant a lot to Elaine, it meant a lot to her daughter, and it meant a lot to us. Resolution accomplished.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.