I just read August:Osage County by Tracy Letts for my theatre class. I have to say I understand why some compare Letts to Eugene O’Neill. Both play writers deal with family and the dysfunction of families.

What really hit me about this play is the way families act and react to funerals. As a child, I guess I didn’t notice how people are at funerals. However, the older I get, maybe it is the more cynical I get as well.

In the play, the wife walks around in her drug induced haze wondering about the money her husband left behind and who is getting what. One could argue the character feels so out of control, she wants something to control. She maybe feels like this is something she can handle and fix. It has nothing to do with being greedy.

But then I think of my own family.

A few years ago my great uncle died. I had no idea what he had, but I think it was skin cancer and some other stuff. Anyhow, it had been years since I saw him (he stopped talking to my sister and I after my mom passed-it’s a family tradition really- when one of my parents died, members of the family disassociated from us) and I felt bad for it. Here was this man I hardly knew and he was dead.

His sisters were really broken up about their brother’s passing. The whole time his dead body laid in the coffin, they discussed his estate and how much money they would be getting from it and when that money would be coming to them.

I wish I could tell you I was kidding about this, but I am not.

My sister and I were horrified. We couldn’t believe they would talk about his money at his funeral. Couldn’t they at least wait until the after funeral meal? Did they really have to discuss that with his body three feet away from us?

Maybe I am being to harsh on them. They did grow up in the great depression, so money had always been a great concern for them. Maybe seeing their dead brother was too much and they needed to discuss something they could control.

My mother always said when she died, my sister would go to her bank account and empty it and I would go to her jewelry box. Whether we heard that phrase so much or she knew us that well, it didn’t matter because the day she died, my sister went to the bank and I started looking for a piece of jewelry. My sister wasn’t being greedy, she was just trying to keep the monthly bills paid. I was looking for a solid piece of the woman who died. In a way, my mother spent the time after my dad’s death until her death preparing my sister and I for her passing.

Is that what happened to my grandmom and her sister? Did their brother spend his whole illness preparing them for his passing? Was it just a reaction to growing up in the great depression? Or was it simply greed?

I can’t answer those questions. I would like to think it isn’t about greed, but this seems to be a common occurrence. Someone dies and people are looking for the big payout.  What scares me even more is what will happen when I pass? Will everyone look not at my life and what it means to lose me but instead look for their cut of my estate?

What is it about funerals that brings out the greed in people?

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