My cousin died last week.
It’s not like we were close — we hadn’t seen each other since we were kids, and there is no reconciliation between his “lifestyle” and mine.
Richard and his sister were adopted by my relatives when they were already old, by adoption standards. By the time a child has bounced around the foster care system for five or six years, compounding the emotional trauma inflicted by a non-functioning family of origin, the damage is done.
Recovery seems a hopeless proposition.
Emotional problems, sexual abuse, every three-letter acronym representing the gamut of dysfunctions and disorders — is there enough love in the world to overcome them?
It seemed not, in their case.
Richard ran away to San Francisco in his early teens and soon discovered the wealth to which he had access. For certain favors to his johns, there were drugs for the asking, every material possession he desired, and, undoubtedly, a sense of belonging.
Soon, he was HIV positive.
He grew older.
The johns died out or found younger boys.
Mental issues became harder for him to deal with, as were the continual rounds of hospitalizations for a body closing down.
Last week, we heard he was in a coma.
His sister called me. There was depression and fear in her voice. Her life is a mirror of his own, in many ways, except that she has a mysterious strength that keeps her fighting in spite of a decaying body surrounded by decaying relationships.
“It’s eaten his liver,” she said, monotone, no doubt thinking of her own tenuous organ, barely able to function, “and now, it’s got his heart.”
“Does he have anyone out there?” I questioned, “Any friends, any family?”
And I felt her despondency.
All those years and no one, no one left to comfort him.
“He still deserves compassion!” she blurted. “He’s a person, and he needs to be loved!”
I thought about him from my two warring perspectives — the perspective of a cousin who distantly knew and cared about this man who lived a lifestyle and carried diseases I dared not approach, but who, as part of my family, MY FAMILY, deserved my care and compassion. And yet again, from the perspective of "righteous indignation": Who was this man, using public funds to finance revolving hospitalizations punctuated by drug binges and homosexual behavior, no doubt victimizing as he himself had been victimized?
Does this person deserve disdain or mercy?
My answer came this morning.
She called me early.
“He died last night.”
Neither of us cried.
I could hear her loneliness. She and he suffered much together, and now, she is alone.
We talked. We hung up. Promising to talk again soon.
The kids and I huddled under the golf umbrella and dashed for the van, headed for morning Mass. We started our Rosary.
But were soon interrupted.
“Mama, who died?”
“What did he die from?”
I explained, a little.
“Is he in heaven, Mama?”
Disdain, or mercy?
“I don’t know, but I sure hope so. Let’s say the St. Gertrude prayer for souls in purgatory.”
“When did he die, Mama?”
And then I thought about it. Yesterday, the Sunday after Easter.
I picked up the cell phone and began to cry.
It was all I could do to scroll through my contacts and find her number.
“Hey, Cuz,” she answered, husky-voiced.
“Divine Mercy,” I wept into the phone, “Divine Mercy! He died on Divine Mercy Sunday!”
Cousin Richard, pray for us!
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” — Romans 8:38-39.