I recently reconnected with cousins I had not seen in many years…probably more than 40 years! It’s a gift to find loved ones, cousins that had been a frequent part of your life in youth, but lost touch with over the years.
My father was a strong proponent of “family”… family above all. As a child, we saw my father’s family often, driving from the suburbs of Philadelphia to see them. My paternal grandmother lived with my Aunt Betty and Uncle Sam and my cousins, Elaine and Anita. My Uncle Henry, Aunt Gladys and their children Linda and Herbie, lived right behind them in a house on the next street. Every month, there was a “family circle” meeting, where all or most of the members of the family, including extended family made up of cousins, uncles, aunts, etc. would gather at someone’s house, for dinner and to discuss family business. I was a young child at the time so I don’t recall what type of “business” they discussed.
Most of the time, my parents were sort of sneaking me into these meetings because they didn’t have or want to pay a babysitter to take care of my brother and I while they were gone. Usually my younger brother and I were the only little children present. I remember it as an occasion that I would see my “almost grownup” cousins and a lot of old people. I remember one great uncle in particular, who was the oldest person I had ever seen in my life, at my young age of 5 or 6 years old. I had never seen anyone with so many wrinkles that was so white and pale. He had a thick Russian accent and wore white cotton gloves most of the time, I imagined he must have horrible looking hands inside the gloves. Why else would the gloves not come off. He would pinch my cheeks really hard and say “vat a shayna punim” Yiddish for beautiful face. I didn’t know, or care, who he was at the time and I didn’t care. I just didn’t like the fact that he’d pinch my cheeks so hard. In fact I’d often try to hide from him for as long as possible to avoid having my cheeks pinched. And then one day we went to one of these meeting and he didn’t show up. I didn’t know at the time it was because he had passed away. Only recently did I discover that he was my paternal grandmother’s brother!
In general, I believe these family meetings and my father’s insistance in staying close to family was the glue that kept our family together. We were closest with his sister and her husband and her children. When he and his sister all passed away, it seemed like my cousins and I lost touch and the years passed…many years, until now.
So, I recently connected with several cousins. They are the children and grandchildren of my cousins Elaine and Anita and her husband Neil. They are all lovely people with lovely families. One day I hope to reunite with them in person. But for now, we’ve had conversations online, by chat and email. Through these conversations, I learned some very interesting things about the deaths of their parents. But first let me preface by saying this; when I was almost 10 years old, my Grandmother Celie, who was the most wonderful warm grandmother I ever knew, called me on the phone to tell me she was coming to see me on my birthday. She told me she had a special present for me for my 10th birthday. A few days later, she passed away. It was 3 days before my birthday. I was stunned! As a child I wondered if this was in fact the surprise she had planned for me. It was very upsetting at the time and difficult for me to understand how she could just die. To a child of 10 years old, death is not something I understood. I was still formulating my ideas about death.
Years later, my cousin Elaine married the love of her life, a very attractive man nicknamed and known by most as “Babe”. He suddenly passed away, as had been relayed to me at the time, just a few days before he and Elaine were about to finally close on a beautiful home they had been building. So now, we have another family member to leave just days before a big event in their lives.
When I reconnected with their son Craig, and we talked about his lovely mother, who had been my favorite cousin, he told me she passed away 3 days before his wedding to his beautiful wife, Susan. Amazing! By the way, the day that Craig and I reconnected, I shared a bunch of old photos of his mother with him and I told him what a wonderful woman she was and mentioned that I too missed her. She and I had stayed in touch for most of her life. Years ago when I worked in Philadelphia, she and I would meet for lunch every few weeks and catch up with family news and life in general. When he mentioned that that very day we were speaking just happened to be her birthday, it gave me goosebumps. He looked at my contact, the photos and beautiful words about his mother and father, as a gift from her, that I was delivering. I don’t know if she used me as a conduit. If she did, I am touched that she found a way to send a birthday message to her son, through me.
The next cousin I connected with was my cousin Michelle. Her parents were my cousins Anita and Neil. I was the flower girl at their wedding when I was around 5 years old. I remember her parents fondly, in particular her father, who sought me out at a family picnic at some point prior to his marriage to my cousin, and we ate together under a tree in the park. I had my first crush on an older man! LOL. I laugh about it today. In reality, he was a very dear person. I enjoyed talking to him as I grew older and often at family events, even as a young adult, I’d seek him out. He became a favorite cousin too. Unfortunately both Anita and Neil have passed on in the last couple of years.
Time passed so quickly, I didn’t realize that I missed really getting to know these cousins as an adult.
Michelle has a daughter Mariah. Mariah is a beautiful young woman with a young daughter in whose eyes I see Anita, her great-grandmother’s eyes. It’s remarkable the resemblance. Mariah told me about her very close relationship with her grandmother, grandfather and her Aunt Elaine. It is apparent that they shared such love and closeness. The one thing that really stood out in my conversation with Mariah is that she said her grandfather died 2 weeks before her birthday. Another passing very close to a special event in the family.
Mariah’s grandparents and aunt visit her in dreams often. They are apparently around her and occasionally comment on something going on in her life. She recounted how she was once smoking a cigarette at her Aunt Elaine’s grave and that night in her dream, her aunt came to her and told her she shouldn’t be smoking.
Her grandfather came to her in a dream one night and told her he didn’t know where he was. She told him he had passed away. I hope that his wife and other family had come to find him and help him transition to his soul’s new life.
I truly believe that our loved ones aren’t far from us when they leave their lives on earth. My father and mother both occasionally give me signs that they are around me. I believe my parents and my cousins are all in a better place compared with their end of life health issues.
I have been thinking about the coincidence with these sudden deaths just a matter of days before a special event in our family’s lives. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know if it’s just coincidence. The anwers are out there and maybe one day I’ll find them.