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The Politics of Family

Even though funerals are designed to celebrate a person's life and times, they ultimately become impromptu family reunions. No matter how raggedy your relatives are, they'll come together to support those who are grieving. While it can be an enjoyable situation -- I mean besides the actual death -- these situations can expose or reinforce any rifts in the family structure. If you've been keeping up, I told you that I'd be giving some in-depth explanations about some aspects of my grandmother's funeral. Today's subject is my uncle and aunt from California.

Uncle Spineless is my grandmother's oldest living son. He's about 13 years older than my mother, and he left home when he was 19. For reasons unbeknownst to me, he stayed away for 13 years. By the time he'd returned to my grandmother's house, my mom -- the baby of the family -- was 18, and he was married to Aunt Cruella.

From what I can gather, Aunt Cruella hates our family and she's done everything she can to keep Uncle Spineless from participating in our lives. I remember one incident involving my cousin, the only child of my mother's other sister. My dear Aunt Betty died when my cousin was 11, and her father would send her to Texas during the summer to keep her out of trouble. Normally, she would have flown into Dallas, and we would drive about three hours to pick her up. This particular summer, Uncle Spineless and Aunt Cruella had shown up unexpectedly. Since no one wanted to make the drive, my mom and my uncle decided to pitch in to buy a ticket for my cousin to fly out to our town. Uncle Spineless pitched in, too -- much to the chagrin of Aunt Cruella. In fact, she was livid about it. When my cousin and I got together, we were doing what kids do -- giggling and talking after the lights went out. Cruella yells out, "Which one of you am I going to have to kill first?"

I can understand you being tired and wanting to sleep in peace, but that was a mean thing to say to a child. Even more than what she said was the way she said it. My family and I are the ultimate jokesters. We love to laugh and rank on each other, and if anyone else would've made that statement, there would've been a smile in their voice. Cruella, unfortunately, didn't know how to get with the program. We were really scared because we heard the venom oozing out.

My grandmother was not a fan of Aunt Cruella. When I was eight, Cruella stood in the front yard of Granny's house and declared, "Spineless doesn't have a family." I was a child, but even I knew she'd come out of her face wrong by the way my grandmother snapped, "He has a family who loves him, but they can't be with him because of you!" Things never improved. In fact, a few years ago, Granny told Spineless, "If Cruella can't act any better than that, you need to leave her at home."

During my grandmother's declining years, Uncle Spineless didn't contribute much to her care. He only visited her once a year and called on major holidays. His children haven't seen or contacted our grandmother in about 20 years. My favorite uncle would keep Spineless abreast of major activities, but other than that, he didn't make any efforts to be there for Granny. When Granny died, he didn't even help plan the funeral. All he wanted to do was speak at the service.

After everything was said and done for the evening, Spineless and Cruella asked my uncle if there were any outstanding costs for Granny's funeral. Fortunately, my grandmother had planned ahead, so we really didn't have a lot of things to cover. My uncle told Spineless that his share came to a little under $200. Cruella -- obviously the brain of the couple -- asked a few questions before whispering to her husband, "Tell them we'll get it to them next month." What happened next was a fascinating display of a weak man. Instead of just making the statement outright, he hemmed and hawed his way around the mulberry bush before saying, "Ah...well, would it be okay if we got it to you next month?"

To say that I was outdone would be the understatement of the year. My uncle and my mother took on the expense of my grandmother's care in her later years. All Spineless did was call every once in a while to check on her status. If he EVER contributed any money to the situation, I don't know about it. In fact, he acted like she didn't exist. I don't know about his financial situation, but his guilt should be worth at least that much.

When Spineless and Cruella finally exited my grandmother's house, I had a feeling that they were also exiting our lives for good. Stay tuned...

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