The death of a cousin

Saturday 17th December 2011

BUSY in town, as expected. I make only routine purchases: bread, baked beans, biscuits; tobacco and tissues; large sausage roll for luncheon. The phone rings while I’m in the kitchen, unpacking the rucksack. My oldest sister:

“I’ve got some bad news.”



The first of our generation to go. Cancer; sixty-six; clickety-click.

You couldn’t not like him: the kindly smile, the soft eyes. Some say he might have been a troubled soul. Maybe he was just never quite certain about the world. Who knows. Gone now. Requiescat in pace.

I can recall no specific childhood memories about Mike. We’d play, as cousins do, on family visits, but five years is a lot older when you’re little. He was clever: that much I did know. Guess I looked up to him, from a respectful distance.

Later, they moved south and we east, seeing each other infrequently. Uncle Frank was proud when his son landed a well-paid job after university, with Shell or ICI, or somewhere like that.

Then, suddenly, he left; travelled and worked abroad for a while; ended up in Devon; what people thought of as ‘dropping out’; bit of a drifter perhaps. These are only small pieces of memory. I don’t have a clear picture. He sold ice-cream too, at some point.

His sister and her husband were with him when he died, as was Mike’s partner of many years, though I gather they’d separated a while ago. He fathered no children.

I shall go to the funeral, partly to colour in gaps in the picture of his life, for he was a gentle man, intricate and inquisitive. His mother, Auntie Joan, is ninety-two, a little frail but still hearty. Her Christmas card arrived a few days ago. I’ll telephone her this week some time.

My sister has sent Mike’s sister an email; copied to me; exact and tender in expression. She mentions our father and how he, the rational thinker:

“…used to say we are all individual chemical experiments just passing through time.”

All relative: atom to atom, father to son, now to then.

Goodbye, good cousin Michael.

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One Response to The death of a cousin

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was just reading your comment on death to the Guardian article and came to your site via that link. We talk about death in our family in the sense that we 3 siblings actively talk about our parents, both dead now. I wonder if, instead of loving life (for self), we should say “Love the living” i.e. those around us. Celebrate their good points now, rather than at their funeral. If nothing else, it could be them at ours. Gerard

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