My aunt died 5 days ago. She was 71.

She was my dad’s older sister, the second in a brood of 5 girls and an only boy. She lived in Manila as well as spent a few years out here in NYC during her late 50s. She has always been regarded as the siblings’ wild child, partying hard during the 60s with the high-flying friends she had met while in the country’s top university. (It’s pretty hard to imagine how she could have trumped the playboy antics of my dad who was simply seen as one of the boys, nothing extraordinary. I guess a playful woman is viewed as more difficult to manage than a playful man owing to the overtly sexist lens of that era.) Her carousing even led her to be a mistress to a wealthy businessman in a Southern town with whom she adopted a child. The businessman has since died, her youth gone and her wealth and health gravely diminished. She has since gotten around aided by a cane as well as by a female servant; her adopted daughter all grown up and with her own kids, still dependent on her and yet highly unreliable for any semblance of payback owed to gratitude. My aunt underwent a successful tumor operation but suffered a fatal cardiac arrest a day into her convalescence. Her life, in a Joan Didion moment, was gone in an instant.

My tricoastal family has since assembled to meet for the funeral in Manila — my mom and my sister’s family flew in from Honolulu; my aunts from Queens. I wasn’t able to go since I couldn’t afford any vacation right now. I’m starting a new job in a month and have not accrued enough days in my old one to get paid leave for such a trip. I am staying here in Brooklyn while I confront my grief over this event. Or my lack of it.

I really wasn’t close to her to begin with. Except for the occasional holidays that our small family would spend together (since except for my dad and 1 sister, everyone else are spinsters), there hardly was constant contact. Yet, this death is particularly poignant as it becomes the first in this small family that I have lived through. It is a chilling reaffirmation of mortality that hits terribly close to home. We are all going to die. My aunt has just gone; someone else will be next. Will it be my dad? another aunt? me?

Morbid thoughts really aren’t healthy expressions of grief, if they are at all. (Joan Didion, my new guide into the wasteland of human death looks into grief as the wellsrpring of consolation.) They are nothing more than dull needles that prick into this cushion of petty bourgeois indifference that I call my life. My self-absorption has apparently gone pathological that I could hardly be affected by a family tragedy. (To make this claim guiltlessly is quite disturbing. I was, after all, a product of a Catholic all boys'(!) high school and a few Jewish boyfriends.)

I was watching the Golden Girls on Lifetime [yes, that TV for women and gay men] this morning (since I took a day off work) and serendipitously caught an episode on how the girls dealt with the death of their cranky neighbor, Mrs. Claxton — they put her in the cheapest casket they could find and hurriedly held her wake. Rose, bless her soul and Betty White’s, eventually saved their pitiful efforts by scattering her ashes on a grand oak tree on their block which prevented its getting cut after being designated as a “burial ground” due to that selfless act. She battered her naive Midwestern brain for some meaning for the death and found something more. She found something redeeming.

I know that to look to pop culture references for a response to this tragedy is pathetic. (No matter that the reference in question was the long-running, Emmy-winning, Bea Arthur immortalized, homo canonized Golden Girls.) But I find myself challenged by Rose Nylan to wrack my burnt out tropical mind for a proper response. (My aunt did get cremated and, no, I am not going to look around for a Save-a-Tree organization that needs to instrumentalize her ashes.)

But maybe the problem with this whole post-Golden Girls dilemma is that I think I can come up with a more substantial response than a twit-minded sitcom character. To even want to respond to (a) death, as if in a duel, is in itself a conundrum. To be challenged by death is really quite confounding; it is also ultimately hopeless. Death will always eventually win. But it is what I do in between — after it happens and before it happens again — that is of significant consequence. (We are, after all, a people of consequence.) What I do after my aunt’s death and before the next, even my own, is ultimately the response that seems to have been most elusive. I quickly remember the analogy of the fish in the aquarium my junior philosophy teacher luvd to use back when I was in school: it is hard to realize you’re in it if and since you’re immersed in it. I am already dealing with her death by just going on with my life.

I took Tim (my bf and a disavowed Baptist) with me to a Jesuit church last Sunday where we lit a candle for my dead aunt. There were no tears, only a quick prayer before we headed out for a Chelsea brunch.

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