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Article ID: 15016

VoxAcct: 284878

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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Pizza and Dead People

Author: Deborah Castellano
Posted: July 29th. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,404

When my uncle is in the hospital in ICU last year, it was really difficult for my family for a lot of reasons. a) If he passed, that would leave my cousin fatherless at 19. No one I knew who is part of the "dead dad" club who lost their father around that age came out unscathed. My cousin . . . is troubled would be the kindest way to put it and he has a lot of things working against him. He *just* started to pull himself together a month ago. If my uncle had passed, it would have been a one-way trip down the spiral, hard. All of us in my circle who are part of the Dead Dad Club could see it. (b) For Italians, we're a small family. We're still rocked from losing half of my cousin's family two years ago unexpectedly. We only have (1) baby on that side. It would just . . .make us that much more inconsolable. There's only like 14 of us now total.

When we first got the news that he was in ICU, we had no information. Generally, I take point in these kinds of situations, but my sister had wanted to go. She's an adult now so I wanted to give her the chance. I wanted to give me the chance to stay behind and tend to the home fires and take care of her baby. I could be patient and calm and wait.


Apparently family roles exist for a reason. If it were a movie, it would almost be comical. I was at home with her child screaming and inconsolable, looking stricken and gasping in panicky breaths. Pacing and pacing, at a loss with nothing to do but sit on my hands and try futilely to get the baby to calm down. She at the hospital, stricken and overcome by the sight of my vibrant uncle, hooked up to so many tubes and machines that she didn't know how she would handle it and didn't know what to do with my mother or the situation. Both of us whispering to each other through text messages that we chose wrong; this isn't what we're good at, not at all.

But we got a routine down. Every other day either she went with my mother to the hospital two hours away while I stayed at home with her kid or vice versa. I grilled the nurses, nagged my mother. My sister did my uncle’s laundry and replaced household items.

We're got there. He got better, little by little.

My sister and my mother are troopers. I'm not strong like they are; I had been sleeping til noon, exhausted. My sister cares for her kid; my mom goes to work. I was out of work at the time. But I hoped that when I take a little time to breathe and recharge, I could help everyone think with a clear head. Sometimes it was the case, sometimes less so. The days were long, going til midnight every other day.

I didn’t have much time to light a novena candle, but I thought about it a lot. Our Lady of Guadalupe sat serenely on my altar and I would think about Her prayer that I don't know by heart but know the gist of. I would light the candle in my head and hope that it counts, almost as much. My japa practice had become erratic, but I thought about that a lot too and say a few mantras when I can remember. I thought about the rosary in one of my uncle's mittens, prayed on by so many of my ex-aunt's family members. I tried to pray before bed, tried to go to my internal meditation space and clean that out since I never had the time to in my actual home. I would ask to go to Umberto's when it was my turn at the hospital, my father's favorite pizza place out in NY. So much so that when he passed, a cousin ribboned a box beautiful and displayed it at his wake.

We go there, whenever we go to the cemetery, whenever we go to a wake, sometimes when we're leaving the country out of JFK, sometimes just when we're visiting my relatives and we can be happy as a family. I hope to get there with my family like that again soon now that my uncle’s well again.

But mostly pizza goes with dead people in my head. At least Umberto’s. It's a part of our pilgrimage to visit our beloved dead, just like the sh*tty diner in south Jersey we go to when we visit my dad's grave where we always order pancakes and burgers.

My mom is my family's keeper of the dead, I guess that's where I get it from as Crow is my totem but she's way more hardcore than me. She specializes in what I call "drive by cemetery visits". She's got a wreath in her hand, twine, scissors, whatever she finds around the cemetery to help hold up wreaths, flowers, and palms. She's the MacGyver of the Cemetery. She knows where everyone's buried and has inscrutable markers in her brain that helps her find whoever. She does drive-bys because she'll decide on a day's notice that that is what she's doing and then gets put out when I can't decide on a whim to go visit all of our beloved dead (and really, who decides to drive two hours to either cemetery on a whim? Fran, that's who) .

Sometimes I think I'm too soft and squishy because I get all emotional when I think about this kind of stuff, but when it comes down to doing, I can get through it all nice and neat like my mom does, once I'm there. It's just getting there. But I'm learning, or at least trying to because some day this will be my job. And I know that’s what my mom is afraid of, though she never says so. That these rituals and visits will be forgotten. But I’ve promised myself that I’ll take her place one day. Right now I’m more of an apprentice, if not a terribly good one yet.

We have the same organized brain and the same black humor. We talk about where everyone's buried like normal people talk about files. I explained my eventual plan to get everyone in one general area in a mausoleum all nice and neat and she laughs ("We'll just move Daddy and put him like across the street from Grandma and Grandpa and then everyone will be organized, right Ma? Keep everyone close and nice and tidy!") . So I go with her and she tells me family secrets off handedly (it's the only way to get them out of her) and I try to figure out the bunny trail of our beloved dead. Try to remember who’s where. Try to remember the important dates. I'm learning. Slowly. It’s this pilgrimage that keeps us sewn together. It neatly stitches together the parts where my Paganism and her Catholicism collide. The ritual of our pilgrimages we can always agree on, if not the emotions and personal religious views.

After my mom ties the palms neatly at the cemetery and we say our prayers, we get a slice of Sicilian and try the Arancini di Riso and head home, back to central New Jersey, beads on the abacus back and forth between life and our beloved dead.


Deborah Castellano

Location: , New Jersey


Author's Profile: To learn more about Deborah Castellano - Click HERE

Bio: Deborah blogs regularly over at Charmed, I'm Sure: A Finishing School for Dropout Dilettantes Discussing Charms, Hexes, Housewifery, Hearth Witchery and Deportment

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