THE BLOG

Role Change

Jan 09, 2014 | Updated Mar 11, 2014

The year 2013 bumped my regard for actors who shed one role and take on a new, completely different one way up.

The first role that fell my way was as the youngest in my family, younger by eight and 10 years than my two siblings. That was a part I mastered -- I could say exploited -- over decades. My brother and sister, who volunteered to care for the little one, mastered their roles too, seasoning them with occasional off-script torture.

I survived, though, and those early years went by and I became an adult who was dutiful, but happy to relinquish to others many of the tasks that adults shoulder. I moved away from Texas for college up North, later settling in New York, returning to the nest only for visits. It was mostly my mother who cared for my father as he aged and died; I contributed sympathetic help, but it was long-distance. It was Uncle Morris, Mother's baby brother, who shepherded her later into a retirement home in Dallas, oversaw her care, and eventually became executor of her will. He asked no help from me.

With both of my parents gone, then, Uncle Morris became head of the family 25 years ago.

Like me, Morris was the youngest child in his family, the unenviable only son with four sisters. But as a loving brother and uncle to a flock of younger folk, Morris played those parts well and even broke family records by living past the century mark. He died in Texas in November, 2012, at age 103. A widower with no children, he had appointed me executor of his will.

Though I knew beforehand that the job would fall to me, I got somehow taken aback once it arrived. With no training ground, the year 2013 found me for the first time gatekeeper to a relative's final wishes. The new role made me anxious, as if finding peril in straying from being the youngest.

Still, with the help of attorneys and friends in Texas, I settled Morris's estate quickly, and less than six months after his death, wrote checks to the seven beneficiaries of his will, myself included. I enjoyed thinking he chose me well for the job.

It's been a year since my uncle's death, and I see now that a strong fabric has been torn and my parents' generation is truly gone. My relationship with Morris went back to when I was a nervous teenager and he, a returning World War II veteran, moved in as a roommate in my bedroom. Decades of accommodation followed, a good number bumpy, until we reached a plateau of prevailing peace and with no need for discussion, his seeming acceptance of my homosexuality.

My last meeting with Morris was two months before he died, in a skilled nursing facility in Dallas. Our visit was timely and as friendly as we'd ever had, and when I left to return to New York, he said several times how helpful I had been. That puzzled me, since over three or four days I hadn't done any more than push his wheelchair to the dining room and keep him company at lunch.

But Morris was clever even at 103, and I think he knew that would be our last time together, even if I didn't. Maybe in judging me helpful he found a way of saying goodbye, even of thanking me in advance for the work that lay ahead.

Maybe he was conferring on me his blessing as new head of the line.

I've written about Uncle Morris in my new book, "Life Up Close, a Memoir," due out soon from Dog Ear Publishing and available from Amazon.

More:

Caregiving