written August 2, 2013
Yesterday my cousin died. She and her husband were in Paris with their best couple friends, enjoying an adults-only vacation. There were a flurry of Facebook posts as they set out: delivering the big kid to summer camp and the little one to his grandparents; passing the time at Pearson waiting for their flight; and then finally from Paris itself, of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, and many beautiful buildings that appealed to her enough for her to capture for posterity.
Since their second day in the City of Lights there had been radio silence. I assumed at first they were having a whale of a time and too busy to post updates. In reality, she had had a massive heart attack. She passed away two days after that.
I'm deeply, profoundly sad.
She is young, only three years older than Daryn. She has a loving husband with whom she just celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary (and 25th anniversary together). She has two beautiful boys, not much younger than my own kids. She's an incredibly gifted intellectual; incredibly successful. I don't understand how it is that she's gone.
Her mother and my grandmother are sisters. Technically we are first cousins once removed; she and my mum are cousins. But she and my mum are 13 years apart; she and I only six.
We're weren't close growing up. Our age gap when I was little was too wide to bridge; we had nothing in common besides bloodlines. We were never in the same stage at the same time. I don't think I was ever on her radar in those younger years except as a "little cousin". I thought she could be nice, and was successful, and was very, very smart. I liked her boyfriend, when she brought him home. I was happy for her when they got married but also mad when she didn't allow me a +one. I was 17 and had a steady boyfriend myself, and didn't understand about wedding planning and how much they cost.
The family used to be tight-knit, back when all six siblings were alive (my grandmother was the second eldest; her mother the youngest). We were fabric woven by my great-grandmother and hemmed together by the siblings: five sisters and one brother. But mostly by the sisters. As time and sisters passed our fabric frayed, as it sometimes does in large families, I think. We're loosely tied together now, more like loops of unravelled yarn. Some of us have fallen off more than others like dropped stitches off the needle. I don't notice the distance until times like now, when I'm looking at the big picture -- the whole blanket -- and can see the holes. Then it makes me sad.
We've lived in the same town for years. We're still not close, but we're friends, on Facebook and otherwise. Daryn and I run into her at Loblaw's nearly every week and one of us will accuse the other of stalking. We catch up on family goings-on in the produce aisle; she fills in the dropped stitches for me. Our kids are similar ages, and we talk about them a lot. We have similarities: just a few weeks ago Daryn was shaking his head at us crowing away, two brunette, brown-eyed, short(ish) cousins extolling the virtues of social-butterfly husbands who know mostly everyone in our neighborhoods and who stoically shoulder the burden of wives who don't really care much for most people and have quite enough friends that we don't feel a burning need to make more, thank you very much. So... he had said.... you say you're related? Which made us laugh. She has a really great laugh.
The worst of this is who is left behind. She is OK; she's past it now. But her men.... the thought of her poor men is making me cry and cry and cry.
Her boys don’t know yet. They are waiting for her husband to return with her from Paris to tell them. And the idea of them not knowing, of going about their days at camp and at their grandparents completely unaware that this horrible, awful, catastrophic thing has happened to them, makes me sick to my stomach. They don’t know yet that Friday was the end for them; whatever was done or said when she dropped them off was the last they’ll ever have of her. Their lives have been ripped apart and shredded and they don’t even know it yet.
It fills me with fear so big and so raw that I’m bursting with it. I swell like a balloon with it. I’m hysterical with it. She’s only three years older than Daryn – their ages start with the same number. It could so easily be him, or me, and everything we’ve fought for and built and created together could be destroyed in a second.
I live in constant fear that my family will be taken away from me. It's like a toothache: dull, nagging, persistent. In my experience, people leave (sometimes of their own accord, sometimes because of circumstance). Daryn is my person, my one and only. He’s my book-match, my soul mate. All my life, all I ever wanted - my only goal - was to find that person who loved for me for me, and who was willing to fight for me and stick it out with me, and who wouldn’t leave. I wished for him so hard and for so long without really believing he existed, and we fought so hard and so long to become what we are. Being with him is better than I ever imagined my life could be. I'm terrorised by the thought of losing him, and of losing who I am with him.
It's too easy for me to imagine what her husband must be going through: how he must be crippled with anger, unable to think clearly. How unfair it must feel to have to manage all the details: to deal with travel insurance and payment, to arrange to leave Paris and get her home, all when his life has been completely devastated. The dread that must be settled in his stomach like a stone at the prospect of collecting their boys, their beautiful boys, and telling them the horrific news; of devastating them as well. How he must have collapsed from exhaustion last night in hopes that he’d wake up and it would be just a nightmare that felt real, but wasn't.
Or else how he stayed awake for as long as he could so it would remain the last day she was alive, and he wouldn’t have to start the next day of his new life without her. This day she is here, this next day she is not. I would try to hold on to that day forever.