This week-end I did something spontaneous. I came across the email address of a distant cousin, who has been compiling our family genealogy. I wrote him and offered to help in the few areas that I could. Memories of my childhood and young adult years were complicated, to say the least, and tragic in the worst of times. I was irrelevant, you might say. My grandmother forgot me, and my mother often spoke about her three children. I was her fourth child, and I remember wondering what she was talking about, because there I was, standing next to her. So, who was I?
My cousin sent me a copy of the entire line of ancestors, something I have wanted my whole life. Who was married to whom? What was the real name of the woman that I heard only called "Muddah?" Within this genealogy I learned the new names of married girl cousins, and who they married. What I wasn't expecting was the deaths. Here I am 61 years old. I've been at death's door more than once, yet I am alive. There they were, favorite cousins that I so seldom saw, but who are brilliant memories, brief encounters of my childhood. Joey, the adorable two year old, fourteen years my junior, passed away. James, my hilarious twelve year old cousin, eight years my junior, gone. Ronnie, who died her hair red, so that we could be twins. Drew, who owned all the comic books in the world, gone. What did they die of? Did they suffer? Was I as alive in their memories, as they are to me? Probably not. But, then, maybe that is why I'm the writer, one who celebrates memories; someone who remembers in minute detail.
My heart broke over the shock of discovering that those who were so much alive in my heart, are now gone, and have been so for years. All the while I laughed till I cried, and repeated the events again and again, to my children, and to anyone who would stand still, they were no longer with us.
One advantage I have over those who have always belonged, who lost a spouse, a mother, a husband, a friend. To me, they will always be young and laughing. My uncle Andy will always be kind and crazy. All of you. You will remain alive and young forever in my heart.