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My Immediate Family

A Generation Passes

I grew up on the California Central Coast. My father and mother divorced when I was one. My immediate family was my brother and my mother. I saw my father's parents twice a year. My father sent a birthday card on November 30, and a Christmas card the next month, always with a few dollars in it. My mother had one sister, Jane, who lived in New York city. We heard from her and her husband frequently and saw them occastionally. They had no children. Otherwise we didn't have contact with any other family members, who were all in Illinois, Ohio. I had no first cousins. Later in life I learned I had a couple dozen second cousins, of whom I have met five or six.

During nine months in 2000-2001, I lost the only three family members who I knew as a child.

Bud Phelps Jane Beasley Raph
Annabeth in 1999

Bud Phelps
May 30, 1951 —
July 27, 2000

My Brother

Jane Beasley Raph
May 31, 1917 —
September 4, 2000

My Aunt

Annabeth Beasley Phelps
July 16, 1926 —
May 19, 2001

My Mother

It was a challenging few months.

First my brother Bud was found comatose on the living room couch by his girlfriend, Cheryl. His hospitalization was the occasion for simultaneously the most normal and the oddest experience in my life-long family relationship: my brother, my mother, my father and I all together, alone, in the same room together, talking. It was the first and last time I ever experienced that. Two months later, Bud was hosptilized again. This time he never regained consciousness. I chose not to visit him in the hospital during this last stay. I wanted to remember him as I knew him. Multiple organ failure due to alcholism. It finally got him.

My mother, who was in Tempe caring for her sister dying of cancer, flew home to say goodbye to Bud. I conducted Bud's service in his home with Cheryl. A dozen and a half friends came. Then Mom flew back. Cheryl quickly sold all of Bud's tools and I managed to buy a couple for myself, to remember my brother by.

A friend gave me a copy of a key to Mom's house, which Mom had made her promise to keep secret. I went inside and was incredulous at the mess my mother's house had become. I could not understand how such a well-kept woman could live in such utter squalor. I resolved that I would do something — legally if required — after Aunt Jane was buried.

I flew back to Arizona a few days later and spent three weeks there helping her care for Aunt Jane. Mom and I talked more than we had since I was a child. Probably more than that too. Out of the blue, she said she'd like to get her house cleaned up and would I help her. I was shocked and immediately said yes, grateful for the turn of events.

The hospice administered Morphine suppositories to ease Aunt Jane's pain. She finally lost consciousness the last week of August. I learned first-hand the sound of a "death-rattle." I conducted Aunt Jane's service in the community room in her assisted living center. Ironically, the funds she had pre-paid for a minister to speak at her service were given to me, the Priesthood holder who led her memorial. Many friends from the Phoenix area came, and others from more distant locations sent their regards.

I returned to California and helped my mother clean her house.

I hired a firm who eventually hauled out three one-ton truckloads of trash, 33 30-gallon bags of used clothing, and 21 3x3x3 foot boxes of used silverplate, copper, and brass — among other things. We moved most of Aunt Jane's possessions to my house in Livermore, and what mom wanted to keep of Jane's went into storage.

On May 13, Mother's Day, I called my mother and tried to arrange a visit. She did not feel well and asked me not to visit. On May 30, a neighbor called, concerned because the mail had not been picked up in several days. While my mother very much kept to herself, this was unusual. As I drove down, I pondered whether to call the police and have them break in. I figured my mother was either dead or lying on the bathroom floor with a broken hip. Would 90 minutes make a difference either way? I picked up a neighbor and we went in together. When she did not answer, we went in. We found her curled up in bed, covered against a chill. As I approached her bedside, I could see her skin had turned a mottled purple with decomposition. I turned on my heels, not wanting to see or remember more. The unread newspaper just inside the front door and the stacked up mail showed she'd died on May 17, 14 days earlier.

I conducted Mom's service in the cemetery chapel. None of the many friends she had offended and blacklisted over the years came. A few of mine did.

I was in charge of all the arrangements for all three, executor of both my aunt's and mother's estate. Yet I never got upset or cried or rattled or anything. I miss them each in a special way, though I do not grieve because I know that they finished their time here on earth, and I will see them again.