Tragedy, and there really isn't any other word for it, has occurred in our family. My beautiful cousin, 33 years old, passed away this easter after a two-year battle with cancer.
Like I said, tragedy. No other word will do.
I've been debating with myself whether or not to write about it. My gut feeling hasn't been clear, still isn't. And yet, I feel this is a loss too immense and colossal to bypass here, even though I know any attempt at putting this, all of it, into words, will be futile.
A few weeks before she passed away, she wrote me that she was starting to feel that she wasn't going to win this battle. I understood exactly what she meant, sadly. Yet, I feel - I think we all feel - that she won that battle a thousand times over. Through every single step of it, she fought so hard, insisted that no one waste time feeling sad, and consistently chose life over and over again.
To me, my cousin was always the outdoorsy type. A do'er. When I channel her now, I see her stepping into the kitchen of her childhood home, tall, proud and unapologetic, dressed head to toe in her riding gear after a full day out. And that's what everyone living close to her recounts. Throughout her illness, she's been riding horses, going cycling, skiing, vacationing with her kids, husband, family and friends, staying busy being, what I'll always remember her for being, a homemaker - meant not in the traditional sense of the word, because my cousin was anything but a stay-at-home wife, but rather in the most awe-inspiring sense. I think home, with all the people, places and love that constitute it, was her life's project. And she was home to so many.
The last time I hugged her was at my sister's wedding in March, which she traveled to from Sweden despite her great pain - another testament to her unconquerable zest for life. I regret not hugging her more, or very specifically, I regret not holding her hand at one point when I sat next to her during breakfast. That's the moment I play over and over in my mind, wondering in hindsight why I deemed it best to oppress those little signs of love and affection lest I remind her of what we were all fearing. That she suddenly not be there.
In the aftermath of her passing, I can't help but think that the loss and pain that is felt when a young person is bereft of life is somehow the accumulated hurt of all the bereaved. My cousin was somebody's mother, somebody's wife. A daughter, a sister, a sister-in-law. A granddaughter. A best friend. She was family. She was so much, to so many, and that just makes this feel unbearable.
She has requested we all wear something light green and rosy for her service. No black. I think that's such a generous gesture, so symptomatic of her mindset. I love that my cousin - a determined lady - is leading the way for how we should remember her, and for how to let her live on among us even though she's not physically here.
There are really few things as beautiful in life as being someone's home. She laid out the groundwork, nurtured it, and maintained it. Now we have to honor her by cherishing it.