My Cousin Joe was Delivered to My Doorstep

my-cousin-joe-was-delivered-to-my-doorstep-4

 

He wasn’t drunk.

He was dead.

In a box.

In ashes.

 

It was 11:30 am. I was working. It was a little early for my mail carrier Patty’s arrival. But from my upstairs window next to my desk I saw her pull up. She got out of her car and walked towards the door with a box. I galloped downstairs thinking my Amazon purchase arrived. I opened the door and she was already gone, but the box was beside my doormat. I picked it up and walked back into the house happily, expectantly.

As I carried the box toward the kitchen counter, I thought to myself, “man this is some heavy box for facial cleanser!” The delivery text from Amazon just came that morning. “Didn’t I order 16 ounces?” I thought to myself.

I looked more closely at the box and the label said Joe Davis, in care of Mrs. Groovy.  “Oh sh*t,” I exclaim to myself, “I didn’t expect him so soon.”

I called my brother. He answered while he ran errands on Third Avenue in Manhattan. I heard sirens in the background. “How are you?” he asked.  “Weirded out,” I said. “Cousin Joe just arrived in a box. I thought my Amazon delivery came but it was Joe.”  “Oh, yeah,” my brother said, “I emailed you tracking information yesterday.” I wasn’t on email for a few days. My brother laughed. I laughed too.

This is not my sick attempt at being flippant, uncaring or cruel. But if I don’t laugh and poke fun at the situation, I will continue to cry.

The story began three weeks earlier. It was a Friday night and our home phone rang at 9:45 pm. I knew immediately it wasn’t good news. Not that 9:45 is late, but anyone familiar with Mr. Groovy and me knows we don’t start yapping at that hour. The call came from a restricted number. It stopped ringing—no message. This happened three more times until, finally, I heard these words on our answering machine, “This is detective Michaels from the 67th precinct in Brooklyn. I’m trying to locate someone who knows Joe Davis. Please call me at…” “Hello”—I pick up.

I thought maybe Joe was in jail—perhaps because of drugs, or vagrancy. But no, he was dead. He had a heart attack at age 53.

Joe lived alone in a studio apartment in a lousy section of Brooklyn. He didn’t do much—he slept late, spent time with a friend and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. That afternoon someone placed a 911 call from a Brooklyn park where Joe collapsed. When the ambulance arrived Joe refused treatment. He said he was fine. He was overheated (it was very hot in New York that Friday). Early that evening he died at his friend’s apartment.

If you get the idea that Joe was lazy and depressed, you’re not far off. He also had mental/emotional issues. My aunt and uncle adopted him when he was five days old. They loved Joe but they spoiled him. He was a difficult child. He often got in trouble in school. He probably had ADD and many other ailments that were not part of the vernacular in the 1960s and 70s. He had a very high IQ but didn’t apply himself. He smoked a lot of pot and was caught stealing and setting fires.

Joe joined the military when he was eighteen—my uncle somehow arranged it. But Joe lasted less than a year. His father pulled a few strings for a general discharge—neither honorable nor dishonorable. Before long, Joe got back together with a high school sweetheart, got a job, and got married.

Joe kept out of trouble for a while. My aunt and uncle lived in Florida, but he barely saw them. Their relationship was strained. When he visited his focus was to borrow their car, play golf, and eat out. Years passed and my uncle developed Alzheimer’s and went into a VA hospital. Joe didn’t see him. He couldn’t cope with the situation. He was in denial about his parents growing old. My mother called Joe a “Good Time Charlie.” He always looked for fun and showed no interest in his parents’ welfare. Still, in his own way he was very sweet. He just never fully grew up and he had emotional problems. I have very fond memories of him and the rest of my cousins, when we played together as kids over Easter or Thanksgiving.

My mother and Joe’s mom/my aunt are identical twins—well, they were identical twins. They lived in condominium apartments next door to each other in Florida. My mother died three years ago. A few months later my aunt fell, went into the hospital, and then rehab. My brother, Mr. Groovy and I moved her to Assisted Living in Charlotte upon her release from rehab. My brother and I hold power-of-attorney over her. She’s now in a nursing home 15 minutes from Mr. Groovy and me.

In his late 20s, Joe suffered what was called back then a “nervous breakdown.” He worked at a copy shop in Manhattan where he ran off large projects overnight. He enjoyed working nights and sleeping late. He was employed at the copy shop for a number of years but was laid off when the printing business began dwindling. Joe attempted to look for work a few times but he didn’t know how to do anything else. And he refused to learn how to do anything else.

A third cousin’s father-in-law offered Joe a job—but Joe refused to take it. He said he wasn’t “commuting to New Jersey.” His wife worked in marketing at an advertising agency in Manhattan. They lived in Queens and she commuted by subway. Most days she returned home from a full day of work only to find Joe on the sofa in front of the TV. Eventually Joe’s wife left him.

For a while Joe stayed with friends and moved around from spare room to spare room or sofa to sofa—until the well ran dry. One day he realized he had absolutely nowhere to go and asked our uncle (the brother of the twins) for help. My uncle was a social worker who ran a center in Westchester, NY. He had many connections and got Joe help from the Department of Social Services. Joe got on full disability and moved into a group home in Brooklyn under the auspices of a nonprofit social service agency. Later the program moved him to a studio apartment where he lived alone. He told me he had mixed feelings about that. He liked the quiet and didn’t miss other people annoying him, but he was lonely.

The social service agency didn’t heavily supervise Joe. The agency paid his rent and gave him a little pocket change. I only spoke with Joe once or twice a year. The last time we talked he thanked me (and my brother and Mr. Groovy) for taking care of his mother. He recognized he was in no position to do that. He told me he never expected his life to “turn out this way.”

After I received the news that Friday night I was numb for a few days. I knew Joe was a heavy cigarette smoker and was overweight. But I expected him to live at least into his 70s. My brother and I tried to connect with Joe’s social service agency about his arrangements. As far as we knew they were responsible for him. My brother and I weren’t named as any kind of guardian or healthcare surrogate. The only reason the detective called me was because she found my North Carolina number in Joe’s cell phone, and his friend thought Joe’s mom lived in North Carolina.

My brother called Joe’s social service agency several times. Whoever answered the phone only took messages or connected my brother to voicemail. They wouldn’t give out contact information for Joe’s case worker and no one returned calls. My brother phoned detective Michaels and learned Joe was at the morgue. My brother spoke with the coroner’s office and they also tried to reach the social service agency. Nothing.

My brother began researching funeral homes and cremation services. He called the cemetery in Florida where my aunt has a plot. They offered a niche if we chose cremation. Even a niche costs thousands of dollars. And they’re pretty awful. Our parents are in niches and my brother and I refer to them as mailboxes. We don’t visit the mailboxes.

My brother located a cremation service in Staten Island that wasn’t too concerned about the legalities surrounding the paperwork. My brother called the Florida cemetery back and asked if we could bury Joe’s ashes with his mother, when the time comes. Although we joked about it, thinking perhaps she’d rather rest in peace. The cemetery official explained that ashes cannot be buried with a body in a Jewish cemetery—BUT, she said, what people do unofficially is their own business.

My aunt is 88 now. She has dementia and she’s wheel-chair bound. Her heart, lungs and appetite are good and she’s somewhat cheerful (although she was not cheerful prior to getting dementia). She doesn’t ask about Joe and we have no intention of telling her he died. We’re just thankful the detective called me, otherwise Joe might be buried in the potter’s field known as Hart Island in New York.

My mom and aunt’s mother—my grandmother, lived to be 97. So I think Joe’s box will sit on our bookshelf for a few years—next to Groovy Cat 1 and Groovy Cat 2. When we say goodbye to my aunt we’ll buy her a new handbag for the occasion. She loves the brand LeSportsac. We’ll honor her and Joe with a spiffy, colorful LeSportsac for placing Joe’s remains along side her.


Postscript

No one has a contract with life—tomorrow might be game-over. Our debts, jobs, saving/investing goals and educations are important. But family, friends, love and good health bring true value to our lives. Find some quality moments each day—tell someone you love him or her, call a friend, take a walk in the park or look at the stars. Say “I appreciate you” to someone who may not know it. The time we have on earth is precious.  

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43 Comments

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Mrs. G.
    Even if you haven’t been close recently, it’s still a sad shock. Thank you for being there for your aunt and supporting Joe as much as he’d allow.
    We don’t know how much time we’ll get, and why some people get so much more than others–thanks for the reminder to be conscious of how we spend that time.
    Hugs.

  2. I’m very sorry for your loss Mrs. & Mr. Groovy. Thank you for telling us about Joe and using his life & death as a reminder to all of us about just how fragile it really is. I kinda got a lump in my throat reading your postscript.

    On a lighter note….an answering machine???? Does it take regular cassette tapes, or the more modern micro tapes. 😛

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I was wondering who would pick up on the answering machine. No tapes, ha-ha-ha. We like screening calls and unless I’m more electronically challenged than I think, there is no way to listen to an incoming message being left on voicemail.

      I’m glad you were moved by the postscript. It’s a reminder to myself too. Thanks for your comment, Ty.

  3. Thanks for sharing this story, Mrs. Groovy. What a painful experience. Your postscript is right on — and there’s never a bad time to be reminded of it.

  4. So sorry for your loss Mrs. and Mr. Groovy. Thank you for sharing about Joe’s life.

    Life is too short and precious. We need to be thankful and savor every moment and take nothing for granted.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks for your condolences Michael. I’m attempting not to take anything for granted these days and to be thankful for all I have.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thank you ATL. It was weird to write too but I felt I had to tell the story. Mr Groovy is the ranter and I’m the Debbie Downer. Now go call your friend.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Awww, thanks. We’ve had good role models between you and my groovy father-in-law, and my parents. It’s difficult sometimes but that’s what family is all about.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Don’t sweat the small stuff, right? If only. Thanks for your good thoughts Fritz – and let’s schedule another call soon.

  5. That’s too bad to hear, I’m sorry for your loss. Life is precious, every day we need to be thankful for not only ourselves but our friends and family. Thanks for the thoughtful post and reminder.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks for your condolences, Gary. My aunt certainly would be in a precarious position without the three of us. Both she and my mother didn’t prepare for losing their mental capabilities. That’s one reason I got off the cholesterol med I wrote previously about. I’ll have you know I went back for lab work and my cholesterol shot up. But my HDL is very high, triglycerides are low, and all the ratios are good. I was pleasantly surprised that my doctor said she does not recommend going back on the statin.

  6. A sad story about someone who sounds like they rarely had any true direction in life. I’m sure we’ve all felt like that at some stages in our lives. I know I have, but to spend 53 years ‘wandering’ is tragic. Thanks for sharing this story Mrs Groovy.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks, Martin. I’ve certainly felt lost at times but managed to find my way. Although Joe really was very happy-go-lucky when he was young, he never learned good coping skills. In some ways the deck was stacked against him.

  7. We are so sorry for your loss. I had an aunt who sounded a lot like Joe. I have some memories of her from when I was little, but she had a really difficult life due to mental illness and depression. As Ty said above, the postscript has such power too – a reminder to be purposeful and thankful for the days we have.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I have a few photos that help bring back the good memories. I’m sorry to hear about your aunt. Mental illness is tough. Thanks for your kind words.

  8. I am very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Groovy.

    We had a similar story in our family a few years ago and, I know for us, even though we weren’t very close to that family member, it saddened us deeply.

    Thanks so much for the reminder in the postscript. It’s so important to be grateful each and every day.

  9. Sorry for your loss, Mrs. G.

    It’s never easy to lose family. Somehow, when you aren’t close to them, it can make it even harder than when you lose someone you had more contact with. Maybe it’s the lost potential of the relationship. I don’t know.

    Thanks for sharing Joe’s story with us.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      I was just thinking about lost potential right after replying to Amanda – and here’s your comment. I think that’s it, plus even more – the lost potential of what he could have been. Thanks, Emily.

  10. I’m sorry for your loss.

    It sounds like Joe all the potential in the world and unfortunately didn’t fulfill the promise that he had.

    In some ways it’s harder reading those stories than those that have accomplished so much because you know that they had maximized all their talents.

  11. So sorry to hear about the sudden loss. Life can be so fragile. I’m always moved by stories of adoption. As a mom to adopted kids, I always wonder how to help them thrive and what life might hold for them as adults. It’s hard to hear when some folks struggle to thrive in their relationships and communities. But it’s wonderful that you are taking such good care of your aunt! She is lucky to have you guys to fill the gap.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks, Julie. Rearing children has got to be the hardest thing. You do the best you can but I’m sure there’s a bit of finger-crossing.

      Now that my aunt is in a good nursing home things are much better. After dealing with the Assisted Living model with both my mom and my aunt, I’m not a big fan.

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Joe’s life was complicated, and I’m glad he will be near his mother eventually and not at Hart. So much love to your family and to people who loved Joe.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks, ZJ. I kept thinking about the way Joe was as a kid, when he showed promise. And the idea of sending that Joe off to Hart Island was too grim.

  13. Sweet tribute for a lost soul.

    Losing a family member out of the blue is never easy regardless of your current relationship. You hate to have to put a period on someone’s life, especially when the memories from your childhood were so precious.

    I hope your cousin is in a better place now and, until he can be buried, at least he isn’t lonely being next to Groovy Cats 1 and 2. 🙂

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks Miss M. Joe never had a pet. I wish I knew if he liked cats or dogs but the subject never came up. But I like your idea of the Groovy Cats keeping him from being lonely.

      At one point we could have easily looked the other way and rationalized it by thinking we’ve had enough responsibilities with Joe’s mother. We really thought the agency that took care of him all these decades would be responsible for handling his death. When it became apparent they refused to even be reachable, then we knew taking care of Joe was the right thing to do.

      By the way, I’m waiting to see if anything comes of it but I was so pissed off by this agency of Joe’s that I contacted a reporter from the NY Times via a generic email address on their website. Within 10 minutes she emailed me and asked me to call her. The next day we spoke for 45 minutes. She was going to call the agency and rattle their cage a little. She also asked for permission for another reporter to contact me about my aunt due to topics that came up in our conversation. I told her about complications we’ve dealt with involving Medicare and moving someone from one state to another – and dealing with all this when the person has dementia.

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