My cousin passed away when I was fourteen. I’ve got a huge extended family, and I’m the second of twenty-something grandchildren. My cousins, Becky and Bridgett, were closest in age to me, and we were together a lot. So many of my childhood memories are wrapped up in time spent with the two of them. They taught me to roller skate, and it was on their bike that I crashed into a tree (and never really rode again after that….). We played Barbies and went swimming, stayed up too late and gossiped about our parents together.
Bridget was eleven when she got sick, and twelve when she died. It wasn’t a long time, looking back. I think it was in the fall that we found out she had cancer, and by April, she was gone. It was more than twenty five years ago, and I can remember the song that was playing when I drove up to my uncle’s house, the weekend she died. I still can’t listen to Fire and Rain by James Taylor without crying.
There was a lot that changed in my life, because of Bridgett. And so much that didn’t. Because my life went on. I wasn’t sick. But after that, I always knew that it could happen. I never worried about getting sick myself, not really. Which is odd, now that I think of it, because I’m a champion worrier. Bridgett’s death changed the way I related to God, the way I thought of the universe and my place in it. It changed my relationship to Becky, I became her sister. It was too lonely otherwise. My kids are her daughter’s first cousins, and I am her daughter’s aunt. She is Auntie Becky to my kids – it would never occur to either of us to remember that she’s actually their second cousin.
When I count my blessings (as I do often, especially when I’m freaking out about the economy and school shopping and dance classes and ohmyGod we really need a new car…), I always start with “My kids are all healthy.” I never forget that. It’s such an incredible gift, to have these three children, so healthy. We’ve never had any serious health scares with one of them. Minor things, like stitches and broken bones (hello, Jessie). But they’re healthy. It’s not ever something that I can gloss over or ignore. Health is such a fragile thing, in the end. And a child can get terribly sick and die in the time it takes the snow to melt in New England.
So today, on a day when I’m especially stressed out and worried, it helps to remember that I really don’t have all that much to worry about at all. I’ve got three happy healthy kids rolling around and screaming in the next room (they aren’t unhappy, it’s just Julie screaming with joy at Sam). They’re all healthy. And in the end, that’s what really matters.