"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cousins

Today I downloaded several hundred pictures from an old camera to my new laptop.  It's been a while since I'd looked at what was on that camera, so I took some time to reminisce and look at pictures from the last four years.  It was a fun trip down memory lane.  I've always loved looking at pictures, remembering happy times, special occasions, and just plain everyday moments from my life.

I scrolled through the last four years, organizing and editing as I went.  Yes, there were twinges of sadness as I looked at the many pictures of me with my sisters, but I refused to let myself linger on any one picture or memory too long.  Then I came to this picture and the floodgates opened.  Even though I've seen it before, tonight it struck a new chord with me that made me cry.  It was taken the morning after my sister's funeral.  The spray of flowers on the coffee table had been on her casket.  The children are my nieces and nephews, playing a game of Risk.  What the picture captures for me is how they're simply there together, being children, yet unknowingly, wordlessly, supporting each other during a sad, confusing time.  

I adore all of my cousins.  Maybe because to me they're like siblings, but better.  There's all the silliness of shared fun and games, whispered plans for coups against parental authority, and shared confidences, but without the kind of rivalry and fighting that happens between brothers and sisters. 

During most of my childhood, all of my cousins from my dad's side of the family lived near me in Utah.  We saw each other often.  There were Sunday evening outings together to get ice cream, gatherings at our grandparent's house, birthday celebrations, Christmas Eve parties, Thanksgiving dinners, camping trips, and frequent sleepovers between my two sisters and I, and our three female cousins closest in age to us.  A one night sleepover during the summer would often turn into several nights in a row of sleeping over.  

My mom was from Colorado, so my cousins on my mom's side lived in Colorado, but we also saw each other very regularly.  My cousin Michelle is closest in age to me, older by just ten months.  During our younger years when I'd first show up in Colorado for a visit, I always felt a little shy around Michelle. It would usually take us a few hours to warm up to each other. She was always anxious and ready to play the instant I showed up! Her energy, confidence and silliness was more than a little intimidating to me back then.  I don't remember exactly when that changed. I just know that I began to adore her at a very young age, and I've never stopped.  

Even as a child, Michelle had a quick wit, and loved to tease and have fun, while I was always more reserved and quiet. She was always the leader, and I was her willing follower.  It didn't take much to make us both break into fits of giggles.  We were probably very obnoxious to everyone around us for years!  When something was funny to us it could take on a life of its own. We had silly names for each other and everyone around us. We had so many inside jokes I'm sure much of what we said didn't make sense to anyone.  
Michelle & I wearing our mom's old dance formals.

Manitou photo booth silliness.

Pie on our faces.

Goofing off for the camera.
When we were older, the two of us, along with my older brother and our cousins Mike and Tony would sometimes stay together at our Grandma and Grandpa French's house. We would tease and torment each other without mercy.  Our days were spent plotting tricks and pranks to play on the boys, and they did the same in return. We all used to sneak down to the river and play in the water for hours, even though our grandma had forbidden us to go near there.  

As teenagers, Michelle and I had a special knack for irritating and embarrassing my older brother. Walking around the block with towels draped over our heads pretending to be nuns completely cracked us up, but for some reason mortified him.  The more he demanded we stop, the more we would do it. We also liked to put on our mother's old formals and traipse around the neighborhood, acting as if it was completely normal. One summer, we battled my brother almost daily for a week with water fights. Actually, it was more of an all out war.  We stopped at nothing, including spraying the hose full force into the house through open windows and doors. Amazingly, when my mom came home from work to find the carpets soggy, I don't think she even yelled at us.  

Through the years of laughter, double dating, pranks, teasing our younger sisters and brothers, teenage rebellion and more, our bond grew. As young adults, our lives took very different directions and we saw each other less.  When we did see each other though, we always picked up as if we'd never been apart. My love for her isn't something I've ever spent much time consciously thinking about. I just know that she's there for me, through thick and thin, without judgement, no matter what, as I am for her.  
Me with Michelle - 2010

Another inside joke.  Trust me, this picture is hilarious to the two of us.

The day Julie died, Michelle was one of the first people that called me. Even though she was hundreds of miles away I cried inconsolably with her, talking for at least an hour trying to make sense of my shock and confusion. The day of Julie's funeral, I was surprised and grateful when nearly all of my cousins showed up in Colorado, coming from California, Utah and Massachusetts. Even my cousin Mike, serving in the military overseas was there via Skype. That evening, with family and friends gathered together to relax and reminisce, Michelle knew exactly when it was time to stop crying with me and start me laughing again.  Laughing with her, and all my cousins that evening, after an emotionally exhausting day was exactly what I needed. Being surrounded by them brought me indescribable peace  and comfort.  
Me with Michelle after the funeral.
Comfort from my cousins on one of the hardest days of my life. 
I think that's why seeing the picture of my nieces and nephews tonight made me cry.  I wasn't crying out of sadness as much as I was out of gratitude--gratitude for the kind of comfort, love, support and understanding that I think is unique among cousins. Someday, I can only hope that my daughter and her cousins discover the same kind of special kind of bond and love that I have with my cousins.
Cousins together during a week of mourning. 



6 comments:

  1. I am struck by things in the background of these photos. Did you notice Julie on the very edge of the photo of you and Michelle goofing off for the camera? I am struck by her look of awe, and happiness, as she watches the two of you.

    I'm so thankful you have your cousins in your life. Each one is so special. I especially love the bond you and Michelle share.

    As you grow older, I hope you continue to treasure and build these bonds. They will become more priceless as you all begin to get older. They are your link to the past, to childhood, to your grandparents, your aunts and uncles. They know the family stories, and histories. They help carry the memory of those who have gone before. They also wept at the graves of those you all have loved. They have the family sense of humor. They share a deep faith that they saw in your grandmother and grandfather. They share your story. They are family.

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  2. I came here from Sally's blog. I believe in and hold onto the strength of the bond between cousins. May you continue to draw strength from all of your family and friends. Hugs and warmest smiles to you...
    Jackie

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  3. This post is so touching and beautifully written, and I can quite understand why your mum is so proud of you. I can't possibly imagine what your whole family are going through, but my heart goes out to you as you try to make sense of it all. I think your sharing of your feelings will undoubtedly help others.

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  4. Cousins are truly wonderful, Keicha, and wear well with time and aging. I really treasure my own seven cousins. You write so beautifully, conveying so well the bittersweet qualities of life - the joys of connection and the anguish of loss -- that can so touch the heart of another. My warmest wishes to you!

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  5. These pictures are priceless of a very hard time in your life. If you are like me, they will always make you cry, even decades down the road. I've found that loving someone who is gone plants a seed inside my heart that grows into acceptance, but it contains a kernel of what might have been. Hugs to you and hugs to your mom Sally. Thanks for writing this.

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  6. It's so wonderful that you and your family have such strong family ties. It can keep you grounded steer you forward. Beautiful post.

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