Saturday, March 27, 2010

Love You, Cuz

For my cousin's funeral (which I was unable to attend because of traveling for work), I wrote the following. My sister read it to the congregation, which may not seem like a big thing, but it is. Bigger than you can imagine. Huge.

There are losses we can incorporate into our lives as time passes and those that simply never settle themselves. Those that we just can't manage. My cousin's death is that kind for me. He would not be happy with me about this and would give me multiple philosophical quotes to try to persuade me otherwise, but in the end we'd laugh, he'd call me stubborn and end the conversation with his usual, "Love you, cuz."

Here are my words, I hear them now in my sister's voice:

To understand the relationship between the Thurston and Cash cousins you have to first understand that we easily could have spent our lives not only not knowing each other, but not knowing either family existed. Our mothers were sisters who were separated by adoption and in the 1920s it would have been easy for the records to be sealed and the sisters to live their lives unaware of the family they had. Instead, we were blessed with magical time spent together in childhood and we brought those memories and a love for each other into adulthood.

For my sister, Penny, and I, time spent in Rockland with Rick, Jeff and Marcia truly was magical. Having no brothers, Jeff and Rick easily filled that void and we adored them for it. As we have mourned together this past week we once again were blessed to relive our memories of Jeff and found ourselves laughing and crying at the same time as we pictured him with his crooked smile, so much like Uncle Jay's, as he rolled the eyes of a lobster across the kitchen table, mixed mustard into his mashed potatoes or encouraged a friend of his, a clown in the Lobster Festival parade to march up to us and plant a make-up laden kiss on our cheeks.

While it is the simple things we cherish about Jeff, it is at the same time more than that. Whether the boy he was or the man he grew to be, we loved him. Jeff was a man of good humor (often off color and raucous, but good humor nonetheless), a man of integrity, a man of courage and a man with a deep love of family and God. He was a boy who gladly added his girl cousins to whatever game he played and then a man who encouraged, supported and loved us and our families.

To say we loved our cousin Jeff doesn't quite cover it for us. Those words feel inadequate to truly capture the special place we have in our hearts for him, but they are the only words we have. We spent the past week very much like we spent a long night on Frederic Street in Rockland as we waited for his return from the Viet Nam war, holding our breath, waiting and living with our memories.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Farewell Dear Cousin

When you are prepared for a death it is difficult (you're never really just think you are), when death is unexpected it is physical, it lodges beneath your breastbone, rests there and pulsates. If this instant grief would simply rest there it would be one thing, but it doesn't, it prefers instead to lash out, particularly when it is fresh, new, raw.

When the news that someone you love, someone you have loved dearly through your life, is gone and those moments of disbelief fade and you know that the voice on the phone spoke the truth, simple tasks become burdens, normal thought becomes erratic and walking from room to room seems like a logical solution.

I did those things tonight. I answered the phone, I didn't believe, I roamed the house. I lost my cousin tonight. I loved him. I grew up with him. I prayed for him during VietNam and with him when he came home. I grieved with him when we lost our parents. I named my son after him.

Tomorrow when I tell people my cousin died they will say they are sorry. They may ask how old he was (59) or was he sick (just diagnosed with lung cancer) or did he live around here (yes), but they won't know, can't possibly know how much I loved him (tons) , how much I will miss him (more than I care to imagine at the moment), what a great guy he was (the best).

I guess what's important is that I know those things about him. I know who he was, what he meant to me. In the end that's all that matters anyway.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Controlled Grief

I now have periods of time, relatively long periods of hours or even days, when my grief is controlled. Controlled, or perhaps hidden is a better term, to the degree where I function in what would be classified as a normal way, an acceptable way. I go to work, I interact with people, I perform my job and, for the most part, simply live my life. It would appear that I am making progress, I am 'moving on' as they say. I'm not sure how I feel about those times.

My husband and I just returned from a vacation. Not just a simple vacation, this was a no-holes barred, all out real vacation. A few days on the beach in Florida followed by a week on a luxury cruise ship sailing the Caribbean and then another day in Florida. Days of leisure, exploration and entertainment accompanied by warm breezes, sunshine and the 'no problemo' feeling that seems to come so easily as you roam the islands of the Caribbean.

With thoughts of my mother nowhere in sight one evening we were joined at dinner by another couple. An older couple from the midwest, really older couple, like 80's older couple. It took no longer than a few seconds for me to realize my husband and brother-in-law were sorely disappointed in the hostess' choice of dining companions and it was their disappointment that opened the well where my grief was hidden.

He was an engineer, long retired. She never said what she had done or if she ever worked outside of their home, their home of 50 years. He designed nuclear power plants. Imagine, this man, now thin and stooped with a face I somehow knew was longer than it used to be, the lines in his cheeks accentuating the distance from his forehead to his chin, attended to the details of creating energy. He was a pioneer.

Our conversation over dinner was the benign conversation of strangers, strangers who happen to find themselves in a shared experience. My husband's annoyance more evident to me with each course served. Our "good-nights" and "so nice to have met yous" were falsely rushed under the pretense of wanting to get to the show before all the good seats were gone and that's when it happened. That moment when my grief erupted from deep within me with a force so physical I was disoriented and searched for a door that would lead me away from it, allow me to escape it. My husband and sister-in-law so shocked at my sudden loss of my way that he simply stood and stared while she came to me and hugged me, held me, anchored me.

I miss my parents. Dearly and truly miss them. My father lives in my memory at my husband's age now, having not lived to see his 60s, 70s or 80s. I miss my parents' friends, those people who populated my life, who lived their lives mingled with ours. Those people who shared our joys and our sorrows. I miss that generation that was before us. The ones who led the way, not as we lead with cynicism and an ever present insidious doubt and suspicion, but with wonder and pride. I miss their ability to believe that they make a difference, that their life and their work mattered, that there was a greater good and they owed it to themselves, their family and their country to pursue it, to dedicate themselves to it. I miss that.

Through the rest of our vacation my grief behaved and once again secured itself, rested itself in the recesses of me where it has made its home. It hid itself, allowed me to smile and laugh and dance and eat and walk the beach and sit by the pool. It let those with me relax and read and sleep and enjoy. But as it did this, as it hid inside of me, it didn't hide completely, didn't leave me, didn't let me forget it was there and every so often it would nudge me, move in the way a baby asleep in your arms moves but doesn't wake, moves and you hold your arms so still so you don't disturb their sleep, and when the baby settles you breathe again. And that is what I did. What I still do. I feel that nudge, wait for it to pass, then breathe again.