My cousin Sheldon died the weekend before I had to leave for Nancy's and I had the tough decision. On whether to postpone coming to the workshop three days late as the funeral was on Tuesday. I opted to go support my mom and pay my respects to Sheldon's brother and sister, my cousins Billy and Rae. I know I helped my mom and my cousins by being there throughout the weekend, but missing the funeral has weighed heavy on my mind. So it is fitting that I pay my respects here.

I idolized my older cousin when I was young. In staged weddings at my grandparents house he was always the groom, and I was always the bride. The rest of the youngsters were attendants. I was taken with his older friends, and I thought Shelly was the funniest guy I knew. It was probably not until my teens that I started to realize that Sheldon was not exactly like most teens I knew. He had trouble getting through school, and his sense of humor that I found so funny when I was five didn't seem as funny as I grew older. I must have been 15 or 16 when I finally understood that he had some serious developmental challenges. To this day, I have no label to associate with him. I just know he was different.

As we grew older the differences were more pronounced. He never married, had few girlfriends, didn't socialize too much, and was usually awkward at our family gatherings. But there are a few things about Sheldon that really stood out.
He was fiercely independent. He was able to live alone and worked his whole life- sometimes as a part time clerk at the IRS and as a pizza delivery man. He made things to sell, and he was supremely frugal saving up his money and eventually buying 3 properties that he rented out.  He disdained people who took handouts, he valued hard work, and he was very very proud that he was able to live with out much support from his family. And that was quite an accomplishment.

More than anyone, Sheldon valued family. He was always the one to visit the graves of my grandparents and his parents. He called on holidays, and never missed a holiday dinner. He would inevitably come 2 or 3 hours early, despite my mother's pleas to come on time, and he would usually abruptly take off right after dessert, carting left overs for a week. He loved to tease people, and no one was immune. Shel always called me by my middle name, since he knew I hated it so much, but it was done out of love. He would sometimes call my mom 2 or 3 times a day and if she was not there he would call me, and then my sister. Some of his phone messages could go on and on, and sometimes we had the patience to listen and call back. And sometimes we didn't. I now regret that I was not more patient.

The love of his life was his cat, and every phone call or conversation was filled with twenty minutes of descriptions of the felines antics. But the cat was his family, and no cat was ever loved more than that cat. And I believe that Shelly felt true love from the cat. The cat stepped in and filled the void for someone who lived alone most of his life, whose social skills often put a barrier up between him and others. The cat could never tell that he was different. He was just Sheldon.

My husband and I were shocked to hear that Sheldon was being released 4 days after a quadruple bypass heart surgery. He was also found to be diabetic. Yet, even though the hospital knew he was living alone, they released him to an empty home. He was found dead a few days later when a home care nurse found him in bed. I have not been able to get over his death. It seems unnecessary and I hope that should I ever be that sick that I am not released to care for myself alone.

Sheldon's biggest goal was to retire and love off of social security. He always used to joke about it, and how he was gaming the system. He missed that goal by 1/2 year and I know he would have been really pissed.  Sheldon was a success by many measures. He was financially independent, he kept himself busy, he was devoted to his grandparents and parents, and he tried to make connections the best way he knew how. And after 56 years I can still remember the thrill of walking down the aisle with my favorite older cousin.