Tag Archives: cousins

Why We Hug

clouds

Six years ago, a tragic car accident after his high school graduation took the life of my sister’s nephew.   Her own kids were all teens themselves when they lost their cousin, and the aftermath was unlike anything I had ever seen.  Saying the entire family suffered immeasurably doesn’t fully encapsulate the deepness of their grief or their struggle to move forward without Johnny.

I wrote the following piece six years ago. 

Today, my sister’s children, all young adults now, will say goodbye to Johnny’s brother, Jake, 22, who never fully regained his footing following the loss of his brother.

I just can’t bring myself to write again. 

 Losing a child is unimaginable for most of us..

Losing two is unfathomable.

*      *     *     *     *

 

 

 

We weave and bob through tragedy with every headline of every day.

What a shame…

How sad…

That poor family…

Isn’t that awful?

 

But eventually we move on to the circulars.  Or the crosswords.  Or (like me) the fake news, the drivel, the celebrity scoops.  Why not – along with sudoku it’s so much more enjoyable than all that heavy stuff of strangers.

One day, though, unspeakable tragedy pinpricks into our own little life bubble and everything halts.

I’d always believed that if anything ever happened to any of my children all one would need is a dustpan to come and collect me.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Game over.  Yet having just witnessed the most unfathomable display of parental strength imaginable, I realize just how wrong I’ve been in my selfish imaginings.

 

 

My sister’s nephew died in a tragic car accident this past weekend.  He was heading off to college in a few weeks.  One minute he was calling his mom telling her he was heading home after a slice of pizza and a few minutes later he was gone in an instant.  To list his accomplishments would appear trite — there were far too many.  To remark how genuinely beloved he and his family are would seem cliché —  one need only to have witnessed the hundreds of people who gathered for him, standing in line for hours – most snaking around the building in direct sun.  Or the two thousand people who sat at his mass.

 

It wasn’t very logistical for me to attend his services.  Kids everywhere…husband traveling…700 miles of driving…3 or 4 states to travel through…  But I couldn’t not go.

 

I’ve known this young man for longer than I’ve known my own children. He and his 3 brothers were as close to my sister’s 4 kids as any cousins could be.  Like siblings.  All born within months of each other.

 

Here’s what I have become mindful of:

 

…. If you’ve never experienced a mother’s tortured wails as she collapses over her child’s coffin, pray to God you never will.  It is an image you will not soon (perhaps ever) fully erase from your memory.  It will stay with you and rear its gripping visual when you least expect it.  In quiet moments.  While driving.  Scrubbing stains out of the rug.  Glancing at a photo of your own kids with their cousins, a photo you’ve passed by countless times. It is the most wrenching thing I have ever seen or experienced ever.  Ever.

 

….Grandparents having to live through this will ask why they weren’t taken instead. They will repeat this to every person they greet.  They truly, deeply, do not understand why they were not.

 

….Nieces and nephews, usually so full of light and mischievous sarcasm, will not be.  At all. And it will frighten you.  And worry you.  Teen brains are a fragile piece of equipment to begin with.  Shouldering such a dreadful experience can be dangerous to a skewed processing system.  You know they’ll pull through this but you’ll wonder how.  And when.  And what the residual effect will be. And when the light might return to their eyes.

 

….There is always going to be one person who steps up to perform the most horrific and life-altering tasks during the situation.  My brother-in-law was this person.  Identifying the body.  Making funeral arrangements.  Turning away throngs of people because his sister refused to sit down.  This man has been on the receiving end of many (MANY) an eye roll from me, my standard jab for decades being, “Dude, you sooo chose the right sister because I’d whoop yo ass….”  But as his shoulders shook under my hug I could only squeeze tighter.  I worry most about him.

 

And so after grinding to a heinous halt, life – inexplicably — starts to slowly roll along again.

 

My sadness comes in waves.  Sometimes it’s a mere blip.  Other times overwhelming.  Things like this simply bring a focus into our own lives.  We try to picture ourselves attempting to survive such insurmountable grief and really, it’s unimaginable.

 

My kids plant wordless kisses on my face.  They get it.  Mom’s not quite herself.

 

We try to bring tragedy into our lives as life lessons.

 

“Mom, don’t wait up.  You’re tired, just go to bed, I’ll be home soon and lock up.”

Ummmm…..No.

 

“But it’s a party – can’t I stay out later?”

Sure.  But we’ll pick you up.

 

“Don’t you trust me?”

Yep.  Just not everyone else out there.

 

 

My mother-in-law died on the afternoon my youngest child was born.  The circle of life.  Upon returning back home I’ve gotten word that a local friend is in labor with her fourth child.  She’s already got three boys and everyone’s excited to see if she’ll finally get herself a little pink bundle or another beautiful bottomless pit of a boy who will single-handedly increase her grocery bill by a third.  Either way, the circle of life again.  A good thing.  A great thing.

 

We hug our kids tighter.

And wish and hope and pray that their time with us is not temporary.

 

 

 

Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements.  (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore).   A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram. 

 

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A Broken Family Tree Finds Leaves

tree

 

“Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were.”

When a contentious family fight erupted during my adolescence, my large extended family imploded and became estranged.  Poof.  Seemingly in an instant, my holidays bustling with cousins and aunts and uncles vanished.  Naturally — for a teenager especially — it was difficult, but the adage of children being resilient became evident, and my siblings and I muddled through.  Since that confusing and erratic time I found, like countess adults before me, that wounds heal, scars fade, and unfortunate experiences shape who we ultimately become.  Likely as a result of our past, my sister and I have remained steadfast in our determination not to have history repeat itself.  Throughout our years of heated arguments (because hello, sisters:  they were numerous) we’ve worked hard to get through them.  Over time we’ve been bonded by a shared simple goal:  that our own children will never, ever know such heartache.

But time is a fickle friend — who clearly pals around with his buddy, the internet.  While my mother lie unresponsive in hospice care, I wiled away hours with my laptop.  I Googled everything.  And everybody.  And eventually stumbled across a cousin.

When my mom passed I sent my cousin a message, in the event she might want to relay the news to her mother, my mom’s sister.  I don’t know why I did it.   She was a toddler when our family fractured and I had no idea what she knew or what she remembered or what she’d been told.   It really didn’t matter to me.   I just couldn’t imagine going through life not knowing if or when my own sister had died.  It was unimaginable to me.

I never heard back from her.  Five years passed without any acknowledgement that the news was received and I eventually forgot all about it.

This week, out of the blue, I got a response.  I stared down at my phone in disbelief and felt my gut tighten.  It took several minutes before I read it through.  Unbeknownst to us both, my message went into a holding file deep within the bowels of Facebook.  A safeguard to keep weirdos at bay, it’s a measure that detects non-friends and keeps their correspondence buried until one chooses to view it.  My cousin, obviously now a grown woman, was aghast at the length of time she had unknowingly ignored me.

We exchanged a few polite pleasantries and I sent over my last memories of her, expertly captured with my favorite Christmas gift of 1980 – a Polaroid camera — the last time we were together.  She immediately friend-requested me and we are now connected.  I can see though her photos the story of the life she has lived without me and I’m sure she’s done the same of me.

We are complete and total strangers through no fault of our own and while I’m certain we both know that nothing in the past had anything to do with us, it is still on shaky ground we stand.  I have countless memories of her.  With a decade between our ages, she (likely) has none of me.

My teenage recollections of summers spent at her house are vivid.   I remember all the records I listened to continuously on her parents’ stereo.  I knew her paternal relatives and her neighbors (gaaaaawd, I even went on a date with the boy next door to – holy 80s — a laser show at the planetarium).   I can recall every inch of her house and I know I taught myself how to swim in her t-shaped pool.  I remember my fascination with the endless packets of McDonalds strawberry jam in her fridge (perks of her grandfather, an executive for the company when they started serving breakfast).  I remember the sad circumstances of his death:  found motionless when the family returned from my grandmother’s wake.  He was babysitting her and her brother because they were too small to attend.

Memories.

It’s crazy, really.

And yet it’s comforting, too, no question.  But this newfound connection is melancholy also, as the many years of hurt and offense have flooded me of late.  I know why my own mother chose to stay away from her family but fervid curiosity consumes me about the other side of the story.  You know, their version, which — I am old enough to realize — may not be entirely accurate (as may not be mine).  There’s a part of me that wants to beg for clarity and information.  There’s a bigger part of me that asks, does it even matter anymore?  I spent so much of my life thinking my aunt, her mother, was such a terrible, dreadful person that it’s difficult to feel boundless joy in finding my cousin after all these years.  I think about the betrayal my mother might feel if she knew and that saddens me a little.

 

So many emotions, so few answers, but now we’ve got nothing but time.

 

I guess for now, living thousands of miles apart, we’ll see where the internet takes us.

 

 

Tina Drakakis blogs at Eyerollingmom and was featured in the 2014 Boston production of “Listen to Your Mother: Giving Motherhood a Microphone.” Her work has been featured in NPR’s “This I Believe” radio series yet she places “Most Popular 1984” on top of her list of achievements.  (Next would be the home improvement reality TV show of 2003 but her kids won’t let her talk about that anymore).   A witty mother of four, she takes on cyberspace as @Eyerollingmom on Twitter and Eyerollingmom on Facebook. and@Eyerollingmom on Instagram.