When my cousin died over 25 years ago at age 21 she had 2 children. One boy. One girl. So as you can imagine in an Italian American family that was not celebrated . My uncle threw her out of the house after her first child. So I had not seen her that often when she and a friend flipped her Jeep. Driving so fast there was never a chance the soft top would protect her.

Her funeral was held at my nonna’s favorite church. My cousin was named after my nonna. It only seemed right. Her two young kids kissing the casket was enough to make me feel numb. No words could make any of this easier.

As the priest gave the ulogy, he talked about how my cousin was a good catholic girl. Baptized. Had her holy communion. Photos of her as a child in a stark white dress next to the casket. CCD classes until her confirmation. The priest then shared how like a sheep one can lose their way. He said my cousin was one of those sheep.

The priest shared that maybe when my cousin started to smoke that led to her downward spiral. Funny I thought. My cousin and I smoked as a teen. Most teens we knew experimented.

Smoking led to drinking. Drinking to losing her virginity. Not being a virgin led to her drug use. Which led to her stripping at the local club. Ultimately leading to her untimely death.

Wow. I thought. What a time to speak someone’s struggles out loud.

Her friends which became family were the dancers from the club. They filled rows and rows at the church. I smiled knowing she had so much love around her. They were all in tailored pant suits. Dressed so much more respectful then the rest of us.

My mother had family over for food after. She asked my advice for how to not invite “those people” to her house. I laughed inside thinking my cousin’s friends from the club were like family to her. They never failed her like we did.

Before I could answer my sister told my mom just make announcement that only family is invited over after the funeral.

Her family who failed her sat and ate my mom’s lasagna. Her fiends who were family got in a limo and drove away.

i am a first generation italian-american who grew up in southern new jersey. Life is amazingly beautiful and devastating. Sometimes in the same day.

i am a first generation italian-american who grew up in southern new jersey. Life is amazingly beautiful and devastating. Sometimes in the same day.