I have been thinking about writing for awhile. So many issues, so many topical items swirled in my head. In the end, what compelled me to put fingers to the keyboard was the ultimate equalizer: loss.
This morning, I learned that I lost my only first cousin. He was found in his apartment by his friend, who worried that he hadn’t shown up for a meeting the two had arranged. My cousin, 33 years old, wasn’t a drug addict or ill with a terminal or congenital disease. He was bright, magnanimous and intelligent. When I spoke to his mother, she thought he had a heart attack. To me, it feels like he vanished while I wasn’t looking.
I was talking to someone recently and I said that the people that seem to grieve the most at a funeral are often the ones with the most regrets. Perhaps it was the things they meant to do but thought they had more time. Then again, it could be the words they said, or didn’t say, that play like a song, over and over, in their mind. That’s the struggle with losing people in our lives- suddenly, we must face head on the fact that this life is a precarious thing. All the time we think we have, we don’t. All the tomorrows we are so sure of, may not come. Suddenly, there isn’t a future opportunity to work out that situation that should’ve gone better or say again the words that fall by the wayside in ordinary exchanges. Words like: I love you, having you in my life is a joy, or thank you for being you.
I have a flawed, fractured family pockmarked with undiagnosed mental illness. Depression, anxiety, and possibly even bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, dot the branches of both my maternal and paternal family trees. Because of decisions and behaviors that my sisters and I had no control over, my cousin was lost to us for many years. We reconnected eight years ago, after he graduated from college. We had a few isolated meetings prior to this full reconnecting, but they were scattered over a fourteen year span.
This was our new beginning.
After that, we met up for a few holidays a year. We became Facebook friends and texted one another. We spent a week together 18 months ago while our grandmother slowly faded away from a stroke, telling one another stories and keeping each other sane. One day, we nearly got kicked out of a hospital lounge, for laughing too hard.
It was that week that he discovered our rumored Jewish history. Together, he and I submitted our saliva for a genetic profile, not only discovering things like our Ashkenazi Jewish genomes and shared DNA, but some new family members too. We really enjoyed texting one another on Jewish holidays to acknowledge this newfound piece of our ancestral history.
We just texted one another on Martin Luther King Day. I wish I had called. I wish I had told him how having him back was just…the best. My sisters and I grieved not having him with us for all those years.
I miss him terribly. He was my last connection to a whole other part of my life and history. My grief is more overwhelming than I can accurately capture in words. Perhaps it is all that time away that stings, all the things we didn’t know about each other. I know he was whip smart and funny. He was a terrific friend and always seemed just a little bit lonely. Sarcastic and quick witted, he was an engager of all things political and wrote code for apps. He knew we loved him and we knew he loved us.
And yet, I just can’t seem to stop crying over all the things I should have said.