This is a serious blog. You know those statistics that say that people are “x” times more likely to die if they are morbidly obese – they’re true. I have witnessed this phenomenon not once, but twice. The first time was in 2005. I was on one of my jaunts to NYC to see the Diane Arbus retrospective at the Met and decided to visit my uncle Enzo’s restaurant in the Village. I knew my cousin Larry worked with my uncle. Long story short – I had no relationship with my cousin growing up, not due to any animosity or conscious avoidance, but due to lack of closeness between my mother and his mother (sisters). The last time I had seen my cousin was in 1975 when he was an infant.
As I approached the restaurant I saw a very large young man standing out front. I knew it was Larry, because I had been told about his weight problem. He was puffing away on a cigarette. I went up to him and said “Are you Larry?” and he said “Yes.” I said “I’m your cousin from Philly” and he said “Thelma” and I said “No, I’m Ellen, Thelma’s daughter.” He was not very friendly but I pressed on and asked him where his dad was. He told me he was in the basement of the restaurant and I said “Could you go get him for me?” and while visibly annoyed, he obliged and went and got his father. Needless to say, I could see that he was suffering from deep psychological pain. For me it was a chicken and egg question: Was he fat because he was angry or was he angry because he was fat? Now mind you, he wasn’t just pleasantly plump – he weighed about 400 lbs. and was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
I had a nice visit with my uncle and then left. I was sad that my cousin wasn’t more receptive to meeting me, but I was still glad that I got to meet him. In June 2005 Larry died. He woke up with chest pains and difficulty breathing, was taken to his doctor and then rushed to a nearby hospital, but they were unable to save him. Dead at 30. 400 lbs., 2 pack-a-day smoker. Tragic, senseless loss. I won’t get into the details, but suffice it to say that my aunt and uncle tried desperately to help him, to no avail.
The second loss was my husband’s cousin Mark. He was perhaps in his early 50s at the most. He was severely overweight, although he did not smoke. He lived with his mother. One day she woke up and noticed he hadn’t come downstairs, so she went up to see him and he was dead. No autopsy was performed, but clearly it was some kind of heart attack or stroke, probably induced by his morbid obesity. A sweet, reticent man who looked after his mother and was a gentle soul. He, too, swallowed his problems.
All of this is quite painful to recount, especially losing a cousin I barely knew. I will always wonder if it was fate that I finally got to meet him just two months prior to his death. I’m glad I did. The “what ifs” are always there. The promise, the potential, the person – they are gone, but will live on in my heart.