You see, my cousin died a few days after his 27th birthday while I was in graduate school some years ago. Due to a delicate timing (comprehensive examinations), I couldn't fly out there to attend the funeral, with family also encouraging me to stay in school. Was easier for the family and easier for me as well for me not to go.
Since then, I had been wondering. I know that my aunt had been aching badly after her son's death- to have a child die before the parent's time, that has to be the worst moment ever. I know she have increased in keeping in touch with me since then....
I admit, I wept but shortly when I was told the news.
It was only later on when there was a dance performance on campus, when they announced the performers would honor the soldiers afar, their mission, their willingness to fight, and to remember the ones who died- watching the dance, I broke down. I dashed to the bathroom, crying. I wept talking with the professor who followed me. I realized I hadn't processed the death.
To this day,I hadn't yet visited his grave. It has been four years since....
I remember when he was a bald baby. I remember when I held his hand when we walked through the family peach orchard when he was four. I remember encouraging him as we tried to capture tadpoles in the flooded ditches on the family farm when he was eight.
Very chattering, he chased after other cousins, as I read my romances, me being in my twenties, annoyed at their attempts to distract me. He and other cousins in their adolescences laughed as we lit the fireworks.
We did not talk to each other once he hit his late adolescence- but for hugging or nodding at each other which had continued for a bit less than fifteen years. It was not that we didn't like each other- just that he didn't know what to say to me, and neither did I. I knew sign language and he didn't, and I regret, that was an obstacle between us.
I remember when he came back from his first tour from Afghanistan- his laughing eyes no longer, but eyes black full of dark memories.
I remember the last time I saw him, he was very quiet. He had been out of Marines for a long while, and I was relieved that he came out okay- but he wasn't okay, after all.
I remember when he came up to me during the holiday before, and asked if we could hang out- I was surprised, yet not surprised. I knew he was hurting. My guts told me, he needed to be with someone who would not expect him to be strong. What was surprising, was that he asked me. What could I do to help him if we couldn't communicate?
So we went on a car ride. On that road trip, a long drive- he smoked- now he knew I didn't like smoking, but I kept quiet- I knew he just needed company. Just someone who'd be there yet not talking.
Silence deep, heartfelt. The silence; it was fulfilling what he was searching within. We returned back home, and he held me long. I could feel him sobbing in his chest, as I held him.
He needed what was given, to be vulnerable, and to be loved for himself.
When I found out how he died, I was not surprised. I loved him and I forgave him.
So, seeing photos on Facebook, that had not been shared at all until now, by a friend who hung out with the cousin, and now his brother, the older brother; I found myself back on a remembrance flashback.
I found myself smiling seeing the photo of him smiling and flipping the bird in one photo, yet my heart ached when seeing one other photo of him wearing an Marine service uniform, and one other photo, the face recognizable yet unrecognizable to me, of a stranger in his body.
And I realize something. I envy him. He had no children, yet he will be always remembered. He was just like James Dean or River Phoenix; their young lives cut short and abruptly. Sudden, a child that died before the parent, which should not have happened. Parents are supposed to go before the children, yet he died before his parents. His mom is still grieving; so does his family. I find myself hurting too. Looking back to seeing him as a child, then teenager, and then an adult- I cannot imagine losing a child after getting to know him.
We did not talk. I did not get to know what he liked to do (except for fishing- that we had in common). But I learned something on that day on the long road trip going nowhere- He was tired of being strong.
And so was I.
And so am I now.
I'm tired of being strong. I'm tired of "looking fine." Not everything is fine, ladies. By tomorrow, it would have been six months since the surgery, the execution of fertility; curtains down on my dreams for carrying a baby of mine.
Unlike many of you readers, I don't have a partner, spouse or someone to be my cheerleader, my booster, someone to keep my sanity, someone to help keep me going. I don't have someone who'd poke his head in while I was showering, to ask, "you seen my keys?" I don't have someone to remind me that there is other definitions of family, which does not have to include children. I don't have someone to hold me in bed and whisper, "it's okay, I'm here." I'm single, and being alone going through the thunderstorm-
you know what?
It sucks. And. I'm. Drained physically. Tired emotionally. Exhausted spiritually.
This coming weekend and next week, I'm going down a thousand miles to see my family that I had not seen for more than a year.
I will get to visit my cousin; his grave that I had never seen, way overdue for four years.
I loved him. Yet we didn't talk last time, and I don't expect us to talk during this visit. Mark will be there in spirit.
You know, in an odd way, I suspect he would have understood me, of all the family. And that's what I needed to know.
Silence- where I could not be strong, to be one with my vulnerability.
And to be there in the moment, to be mindful; body, mind and spirit.
To be me.