Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goodbye, Cousin

The last blog post that I wrote here back in early March talked about learning that one of my cousins -- the first of our generation -- was going to be a grandmother when her oldest daughter gives birth in August.  In that post, I wrote:

I hadn't see my cousin in several years. When I did a couple of months ago at my uncle's service, all I could say was, "Wow!" She looks terrific!" She's a couple of years older than I am which puts her in her upper 50s. She's as attractive and sexy as she was when we were younger. I could tell by the look in his eyes, that her gentleman friend thinks so too.

I ended the post saying:
I'm happy for that not-yet-born child who's guaranteed to have one kick-ass grandma when he or she arrives in the world.

In a shocking, sudden, and heart-breaking twist of fate, that baby is never going to meet his or her maternal grandmother.  On April 21st, my cousin Jean was critically injured in a motorcycle accident that put her in a coma from which she would not wake up.  Yesterday, a week later, she left this world.

I'm heartsick at the loss of this beautiful, vibrant, woman.  As deep a sorrow as I feel, it can't compare to what my aunt, cousins, and Jean's children are experiencing. 

Jean was always a spirited, feisty woman.  Even when we were kids.  Although my family lived in New Jersey, and these cousins and my aunt and uncle lived in Connecticut, we saw each other throughout the year enough for us to be friends as well as relatives.  We all looked forward to the times when our family would travel up to their house, or when their folks would bring them down to ours.  Countless memories of sleepovers at our grandparents' home -- the four of us girls sharing an upstairs bedroom.  When I was 14, Jean and her older sister Joan spent much of the summer with my family in New Jersey.  They included me in their activities and never made me feel like a tag along pest.  We cleaned out a room over the garage and made it into a sort of club house.  We dubbed one of Dad's duck decoys Percival, made him our mascot and called the room Percival's Place. 

Sure, there were a few things we did that we probably shouldn't have, but we were teenagers.  We could have been worse.

Jeanie used to get up before the rest of us so she could get into the bathroom and do her hair and makeup.  I was in awe of her skills.  One visit, she insisted that my eyebrows needed to be tamed and shaped.  (She was right.)  I swear it took an hour of her plucking and I yelped the entire time.  I'm lucky she didn't get fed up and stop, but she stuck it out with great results.

No surprise that she became a professional hair stylist. 

When I was 18 or 19, she and Joan again spent a couple of weeks with us in the summer.  That was one of the years that our family hosted a couple of handsome tennis players when they played a tournament in town for a week.  (It was a big house.  We had room.)   We all needed hair cuts so Jean set up a makeshift station in our driveway one summer evening and went to work.  Rock music, Rolling Rock beer and lots of laughter filled the summer air that evening while we got our new looks.

I was working at a radio station and a Jersey bar band that I was crazy over was traveling the state to promote their record.  They were due to visit our station and I was thrilled.  Jeanie got up early with me that morning to do my hair and makeup.  I felt incredibly glamorous all day long.

Over the years of adulthood, we didn't see each other often.  Her older sister Joan and I kept in touch on a more regular basis.  A year before I moved to Florida, I went up to Connecticut and we were all at a Mother's Day barbecue at my aunt and uncle's home.  It was good to spend time with them. 

In recent years, my aunt and Joan kept me in the loop on everyone's activities.  So I knew about the divorce, Jeanie moving to New Hampshire and switching careers.  When we saw each other last December, she said something special that resonated and let met know that we felt the same way about each other, despite the miles and time that separated us.  "I know we don't see each other much, but we're cousins and I love you, Mary."  Right back at you, Jeanie.

We "friended" each other on Facebook and had more frequent contact than we'd enjoyed in years.

 It's so unreal that she's gone and in such a devastating way.  When I saw her last,  she was as beautiful as she was when we were kids, teens and much younger women. Apart from the sadness over the death of her father, I could tell that she was living a happy life and enjoying herself. 
Her boyfriend seemed like a really nice guy and he visibly adored and loved her.

 I have to believe that she was loving life and enjoying herself, hugging Jay around the waist as she rode with him on the back of his Harley. I want to think of her laughing and happy and not knowing what was about to happen.

I will remember her spirit and hold onto the belief that she's at peace in Heaven with her father, our grandparents and hers, and my mother.  God bless you, cousin.  I love you.

April 20, 1956 - April 28, 2012