My cousin Paul has died.  Paul was my grandmother’s first cousin.  He was 106 years old.  When I told people I had a cousin that old, they didn’t believe me.  Not that he wasn’t that old, but that he was my cousin.  Though my family isn’t gung-ho into genaeology, we do keep track of generations and know all the proper ways to call cousins and such.  I was never the type to grow up with thirteen women called “aunt”.  Not that we didn’t adopt people into the family; we just always knew who they were.  So Paul was my grandma’s first cousin.  His two daughters are my mother’s second cousins.  The next generation — my third cousins — are four men who are now in their 40s.  And they have, combined, 5 children, my first cousins once removed.  My children will be their fourth cousins.   And so Paul is my first cousin, twice removed. 

I love that we’ve kept track of these things, that I can feel almost as close to that branch of the family as I do to my own first cousins on either side.  I guess growing up geographically isolated from any family meant that I could appreciate and attach myself to family, no matter how distant — as the crow flies, or on the ancestor tree — they were.

When I think about Paul, I think of all he experienced in his 106 years.  He remembered, of course, the Titanic’s sinking.  He remembered all the wars of his lifetime.  More significantly, he remembered when my family came over from The Old Country.  Many many Eastern European Jews came through Ellis Island.  Two branches of my family we know for sure did not.  The branch of which I am speaking came through the port at Annapolis, and stayed with Paul and his family when they lived in Fels Point, a historic neighborhood of Baltimore.  Paul remained in Baltimore his entire life.  He remained independent his entire life. 

Last year, when I was mired in my hospital-based adult practicum for my speech pathology clinical work, Paul’s wife, Marian, died.  She was “only” 96 or so.  We’re not sure; at least, I’m not.  It’s easier to keep track of people once they reach 100.  Before that, the math is fuzzy.  They lived together in a condo of a predominantly Jewish suburb of Baltimore.  When my sister last went to go visit Paul and Marian, Marian was upset that her little sister, who lived across the hall, had been ill.  Seems there is longevity in that side of the family.  When Marian passed away, it tore me up inside.  I was facing death and disease on a daily basis at the hospital, and I was wrecked knowing that their partnership of nearly 80 years was finally over.  When I first met Paul and Marian (in my adult life, in recent memory), it was at Paul’s 100th birthday. He was unfortunately hospitalized, and Marian sat by his side, holding and stroking his hand, as we crowded into the hospital room to wish him a happy birthday.  Willard Scott did so on his broadcast on the Today show, and Paul mused that no one had seemed to care so much at his 99th birthday. 

Six years ago, as I sat there watching in that Baltimore hospital room, I was passing through on my way to Philly for a job interview.  Mr. Apron and I were just at the beginning of our relationship.  That job interview, and all subsequent happenings, have led to the last three years of our married happiness.  I remembered watching, and hoping that I will get to grow old with Mr. Apron, and still show as much kind, caring  affection towards each other as did my two elderly cousins.  When Marian passed away, I was upset for Paul. 

If I didn’t think about him for a while, I was sure he would live forever, the birthdays just clicking past till he was the world’s oldest human.  I figured, if he was alive and well, what mortal illness could possibly be his end?  But last spring Marian died, and I worried for Paul. 

I won’t be going to the funeral, but my mother is flying in.  I wonder what people are going to share of their memories.  I wonder how many facets of Paul’s 106 years will be represented, from his surgical career, to the 20 years he worked at the VA after he retired (finally retiring from full-time work at 85), to his family, his friends, the ghosts of his classmates, etc.  I wonder if they can remember half of what he remembered, half of what he witnessed and saw in his lifetime.  His immediate descendants all live in the Baltimore area, all are still close.  His daughters have each been married around 50 years each.  What a blessing to them it has been to have their anchors, their patriarch, their papa. 

In lieu of the trite RIP which I see emblazoned on car windshields and inked onto biceps, I much prefer to evoke the Jewish tradition of mourning and say, Let his memory be a blessing.  As his life was to all who knew him.

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