I should say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year before I note that this is the time of year we notice there aren’t as many people in the family, or young people in the family are suddenly sending cards.

I’ve never been good at expressing condolences to a spouse or to a family member, yet I this year two relatives – fathers with wives, children and grandchildren, good providers looking after their own family but not looking after their own health, in their early seventies. They are gone. I’ve known each man almost my entire life. I’ve seen each infrequently. I feel close to each family, each unrelated to the other and neither is aware of the loss of the other.

The first man was a second cousin whom I saw when young at family gatherings. I was at his marriage. He moved away; he was an excellent businessman. I was ten years young than he; his kids were 10-15 years younger than I. There were family stories which we rumbled about or clipped through, depending upon the time we had to talk. As a teenager I attended his brother’s wedding, and the men in the bridal party wanted me to drink beer with them. Instead of being “corrupted” by them, I mistakingly said, “You’re trying to corrode me.” I was known thereafter by that part of the family as “Old Corroded.” The last time I saw this cousin I told him “corrode” not “corrupt” was the right verb. “How do you know?” “My liver told me.”

The other man lived farther away; I saw him less. He was married to a warm, wonderful first cousin. He was a man of definite opinions and strong feelings. I did not agree with him, but I always listened. One must listen to people who disagree with you, to test yourself, to know about other people in society, and to be able to learn not only for the limited confines of the human intellect and sentiments, but also to be a better person: Learn, listen, courtesy and politeness. See the world through the eyes of another [we may not always like the view]. And if necessary fall back to toleration: I have opinions and know better, but I tolerate you. I did not see this man enough to have that full engagement and experience.

I wrote the families rather than called. I don’t have all the words in me. How many ways can anyone say “a good man,” and not sound facetious? Equally so: “A sad loss.” “Everyone will miss him.” Those would be egotistical and presumptuous of me. I can imagine the thinking of the wives while listening: Hell, you hadn’t see him for 20 years! Do you believe anything you’re saying is true? He was in a lot of pain; that is gone! What makes you think I want to revisit any of this? 

The letters imparted my sentiments and let the families mix their impressions and mine.


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