Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Cousins

At the reception the air was heavy and thick with grief, my boys were thankfully distracted by their Ipods and only looked up to sip from their lemonade or take a bite from their brownie. Finally the battery life drained to 0% and they looked around.

"Where is he?" they inquired.
"He's around, go look for him" I pleaded.

They found their cousin and continued the paper airplane making from the night prior, but it didn't seem to hold their attention long enough.

They returned to the ballroom to find their cousin's cousin from the other side of the family, standing with his dad and his girlfriend. It took only a moment and the three of them were wrestling on the floor of the country club ballroom, in their Sunday bests. This continued for another twenty minutes and as it did the other cousins started to gather on a nearby bench. I'd look over every few minutes while staring endlessly at the memoriam on the screen to find all three boys hiding behind the buffet, playing tag while trying desperately not to run, or dodging one of the ever so patient banquet employees.

I glanced over again after hearing clapping. Clapping like I'd imagine a Russian jig would sound, I saw him taking a break on the floor with all the other cousins while my boys danced for them; not just swaying back in forth dancing, but pelvic grinds, hands in the air, little hips wiggling back and forth dancing. Every time a new dance would start the rhythmic clapping would accompany the routine. But the best thing I heard, was laughter.

With the reception nearly over, mostly family members remained. My boys kept dancing and the cousins kept laughing. Sweaty and dizzy, they didn't stop. Even the sisters were laughing at the site of their strange little redheaded cousins entertaining the other side of their family.

The after party continued at the house, most of the young adults had changed into t-shirts and shorts and were ready to play. All of the seven cousins and their companions were engaging and friendly, my boys were included and most likely organized the activities for the rest of the evening. I was happy not to have to keep track of them, as I was managing my grief by making a batch of cookies while the party went on around me.

It all culminated, long after the five minute bedtime warning was issued. They sat together, close, hip to hip, engulfing the coffee table in the family room as if it was a magnetic force holding them all together. Not just the "cousins" as the aunts and uncles called them, but my boys too. They were included, they almost seemed necessary. A distraction so they wouldn't notice HE wasn't there anymore.

A game of Apples to Apples was getting very competitive when we announced it was bedtime. My boys protested and a deal was made to play one more hand. He lifted Ryan up onto his lap and gave him a hug and I cried. I cried for so many reasons. That's what HIS cousin would have done, HIS cousin should be here, what a blessing it is that the sisters have such a great network of love and how great that this other young man could help fill the void for my boys, if only for last night.

I composed myself out on the front porch and returned in to say goodbye to all of these amazing young adults they call "the cousins". Thank you for being there for each other and thank you for including my boys in your circle, they'll cherish their night being part of "the cousins".

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I awoke in a strange bed walked out to the room out from the guest room to find everyone preparing for breakfast. In the corner of the room stood a tired old desk holding an ancient desktop computer, sitting at the desk was a five year old boy.

Eyes as bright and blue as the summer sky, and voice scratching and new. The scratchy voice spoke to me after prompting from his mother. Explaining the game he was working on, I could only nod and give a kind smile. Not being a mother myself yet, I studied this boy with amazement. Curious, calm and cute as a button, that scratchy voice and the boy that it accompanied and I began to become acquainted. He sat next to me at meals that weekend and I tried to figure out how to talk to this little human.

The following summer I was even more a part of the family, but not officially. The scratchy voice was still with him, but he was growing. At least two inches taller and mildly more coordinated, my soon- to-be husband and I secretly giggled while we watched his oversized head steer his body around the makeshift kickball field in the backyard at Grandma’s house. So determined for his team to win, he’d run as fast as his little legs would take him. It seemed to me that the rest of the family members were taking it easy on him when it was his turn, all except his sisters. There was plenty of squabbling between all of them while they huddled in the corner of grandma’s living room where she kept the hand me down toys. Legos were his thing, always building, concentrating.

Every summer we saw him and every other Christmas or Thanksgiving. I looked forward to seeing him and his sisters; they brought energy and life to the otherwise quiet family gatherings.

At six years old he started to call me Aunt Sue. He was the obvious choice for the ring bearer in our wedding and took his job very seriously. He walked down the aisle as slowly as we had asked him to do the previous night at the rehearsal and enjoyed wearing the tiny tuxedo. His gentle nature came through even then.

A few summers after I became a mother for the first time we ventured out west again. The shack where we had stayed previously had been replaced by a grand beach house where we brought our two boys, they were one and three. My oldest and he shared the same birthday, separated by eight years. My three year old had been enamored by him from the start. He played with my oldest non- stop and was curious about my youngest. I was reeling from the news that my one year old would be disabled and have special needs as he matured and I was very protective. I remember waking one morning after everyone else to find my nephew holding my one year old. I was alarmed until I saw the gleam in my nephew’s eyes. Proud to hold his new cousin, he was able to feed him a bottle as he held him.

That week also showed me his patience and kindness; at eleven years old he came to town to be our tour guide. He showed us the sites and the amusement park. My three year old begged to go on this toy train ride but was too frightened to go alone. My nephew volunteered to ride it with him. He gathered his already long legs in the small train car and faced my son while they did three laps around the flat sunny parking lot. I remember being impressed that he didn’t once complain and we rewarded him with a half hours’ worth of videos games at the arcade. He was grateful.

As he grew older his scratchy voice disappeared, but his interest in my boys never feigned. Always enthusiastic, patient and entertaining, he picked up where they had left off from the last time they saw each other. Of course, when my third son came to be, he was right there ready to play and be his instant favorite.

My third son looked forward to Thanksgiving almost as much as Christmas because it he could finally play with his favorite cousin again whom he hadn’t seen in months!

As an observer I admired the young man he was becoming. While we were visiting their home two summers ago, we had returned from a family outing to the aquarium, he came from another car and carried my wheelchair bound son with ease into the house. I didn’t ask him to, he just did it. I was moved by his thoughtfulness. He took a few more breaks from playtime than he had in years prior, but I understood. It’s hard to be in demand and popular with the little guys. He started relating more to his older cousins, seemed as though he wanted to be grown up. He was on his way.

Each time we’d see him I’d love to marvel at how tall he was getting. First as tall as his mom, then almost as tall as his dad, finally surpassing both parents and then some! His voice was deep and matured; thankfully, his eyes were still that of the boy I remember holding my one year old years ago.

The last time I saw him was Thanksgiving 2012. He was a handsome young man. He ran the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning and ran faster than his mother, which is a big deal. I couldn’t get over how fast he’d grown up. I suppose when you only see someone every six months they seem to grow faster.

I have a video of him and the rest of the cousins playing Pit after the Thanksgiving feast. I’ve watched that video over and over in the last few days. Read countless articles about the legacy his amazing father left behind. Wished I hadn’t read all the details of their tragic deaths. Because it isn’t real yet, he’s not dead yet. I’m still expecting to see him at Thanksgiving.

He lives on in my memories and the family photos I searched thru before I started writing this.

The horrific ending to his life overshadows the beauty of who he was. Kind, gentle, smart as a whip, funny, strong and innocent. I will always keep his memory alive with my boys. I will remind them of who he was, talk with them about all the cool things he was able to do in his abbreviated life. I hope that my boys inherit his strength of character and his sense of self.

We will miss you sweet nephew. I pray you are watching from above with your beautiful blue eyes.