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My cousin died.
I wish I didn’t have to write that sentence.
In my heart, I knew it was coming. I sometimes thought about how I would react when I got the phone call. In my head, though, I didn’t think it would be so soon. She had had such a fantastic winter! She was feeling great, had good quality of life, was able to go up to Vermont to their ski lodge and ski with her family multiple times. She drove around town in the mini cooper her husband surprised her with for Christmas. Then a few weeks ago, she started getting terrible headaches. She had a brain scan and it showed that the cancer had spread to her brain. Intensive radiation was prescribed, but she didn’t tolerate it very well. Her brain swelled and she was rushed to the ER the day of the Boston marathon, to one of the hospitals where the bombing victims had been taken. She had a shunt installed to relieve the pressure on her brain.
It all went rapidly downhill from there. She died at home on May 1.
We drove up to Boston on Friday. The service was on Saturday. We drove home on Sunday. It was so hard, so sad, but so good that we were there. My aunt and uncle needed family around them, and I’m grateful we were able to support them.
I reacted to the phone call from my dad by moaning and then sobbing for an hour. I cried through the funeral, and in the days since then I still find myself tearing up. I’ve tried eating, drinking, and sleeping through my feelings. None of that has worked, so now I’m going to try writing about them.
I’m sad. I don’t normally have strong feelings. I joke that I am a robot, incapable of feeling human emotion. I cried when my son was born but I think that was mostly because I was so exhausted and strung out that I was grateful it was over finally. I didn’t cry when my Grandma died: she was 97 and died in her sleep. Not exactly a tragedy. I was mostly judgy and annoyed at my grandmother-in-law’s funeral when her children and grandchildren made a spectacle of themselves with the loud weeping. A woman in her 80s dying of congestive heart failure, surrounded by her children and grandchildren is not a tragedy. The competitive mourning seemed obnoxious, to me. That probably makes me a jerk.
I never really cried when my dad was sick 8 years ago. It was scary but not surprising. He hadn’t exactly taken care of himself, and a series of strokes and a very early stage cancer diagnosis seemed like the logical result of that. And either way, he came through it all and is fine now.
But this. A young, healthy, vibrant, kind, loving, intelligent woman dying in her early 40s after 18 months of illness, leaving a husband, parents, and young daughter behind, it just isn’t fair. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. I can think of a whole long list of people who deserve far more to die than she did, and they are all still alive and kicking.
So I’m pretty sad about it. If I let my mind wander to her husband, her daughter, her parents, her brother, I will start crying again. When she was first diagnosed, someone on twitter asked me why I cared so much, she’s just a cousin. (I am no longer following that gem of a person for a variety of reasons, that being one of them.) Perhaps she is just a cousin. Sure, there’s a list of people I care about a lot more than her. She’s probably not even in my top 10 most important people in my life, and I would be substantially more devastated if anything happened to them. But she’s still my FAMILY, and my family is awfully small. She’s still someone I have looked up to, admired, and emulated since I was small. Even if we didn’t see each other more than once a year, being in her company was a pleasure. And more importantly, her family is my family, and I love them too. I am hurting over her loss, but they are badly, deeply hurting, shaken to their very cores. The devastation this has wrought for her parents and brother is so much worse than what I’m feeling, and that makes me hurt even more for them. Because they are my family, and I love them. I hurt because they hurt.
Just a cousin? No. It’s a lot more than that. You don’t get to tell someone else how to feel.
I’m also angry at God. I have spent the last 18 months praying for a cure. Every day, multiple times per day, in spare moments, I asked for a cure for her. I begged to have this taken from her. I feel like my prayers have been ignored, but I was raised in the church believing that God answers all prayers. I held out hope for a miracle.
It didn’t come. She’s dead. So where do I go from here? If you don’t believe in God, you are likely smirking and saying, “That’s because there is no God. See? I told you so.” If that’s what you believe, kindly keep it to yourself.
I know that God answered my prayers, even if he didn’t give me the outcome I so desperately prayed for. But I’m angry, furious, devastated that this one thing that I have wanted more than anything, in my entire existence, was not granted.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know. I don’t know how to begin wrestling with this.
And for my final Feeling: I’m petrified. Until now, I have lived in a sheltered world where bad things happened to Other People, not me. Not my family. We were lucky, somehow immune to misfortune and tragedy. For a long time, I’ve quietly harbored a fear that it was possible to be Too Lucky, that it was only a matter of time before things started evening out.
Diane lived a blessed, charmed, lucky life. She was beautiful and brilliant. Everything she did was successful. She met and married a good man. They worked hard and earned an incredible amount of money, lived in a beautiful, gigantic house in one of the most expensive towns in Massachusetts. They had a beautiful little girl. She literally had everything that anyone could want out of life.
And then, she got cancer and it was too late. And now she’s dead. It seems like a punishment, and leveling of the playing field. She had so much, and then she went through 18 months of hell, and now she’s dead.
Our family has had it too good, we’ve been too lucky, and now we lost her.
I’m certainly not anywhere near as wealthy as she was, but I am very lucky. I have a wonderful husband, a nice home, a beautiful little boy. I am working towards a PhD in a promising field. I have everything I want and more.
How long until my playing field is leveled too? Is her death the first step in this? How much more will I have to lose to pay back everything I’ve been given?
Maybe it’s crazy to think that way. Life is random, we are given blessings and tragedies at random, not as rewards or punishments.
But today, that’s how it feels. I hurt. I am angry. And I’m scared out of my mind.
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