As I write this, I sit on a picnic bench in our local quaint harbor hosting a sailboat race, graciously feeding lunch to a hungry little 1 year old that loves to eat anywhere but her highchair. A group of stationary elders from the nursing home enjoy a Wednesday July 13 outdoor meal too, complete with classical orchestral covers filling the air from the small boom box accompanying them. Boston Pops I presume. Trays full of pizza accidentally falling to the ground. There are many trips to the public restroom guided by titanium walkers adorned with fluorescent green tennis balls. Of course this is the day I forgot the DSLR and had to resort to the phone camera.
I’m physically scooping the ground up minestrone into baby bird’s mouth, but mentally attending to the image of my young cousin’s last minutes on earth as her cancer battle with Ewing’s sarcoma is drawing to an end. The final round is here. Cancer was not victorious as Kate was always the clear winner, but she is retiring to a place where tumors cannot compete.
I personally don’t know what it’s like to fight cancer, but I can relate to becoming a statistic when the nervous doctor with a shaky voice gives you a diagnosis in that stale hospital room. Foreign to me is the news that comes with an unfavorable prognosis. But from that day forward we become a percentage. A percentage filled with doctors appointments and a brave face that gets you through it all, even though somewhere deep sown inside you’re scared out of your mind. Like Kate, you tuck away the fear to become a warrior, a fighter. Never giving up.
I sit in our park in a torturous state, trying to fathom what it feels like your last moments with your loved ones by your bedside. My mind going to a dark place it does not want to go. We all want just one more day. Then it strikes me like a chord -- Strawberry Fields Forever. I hear the familiar melody float over to our neighboring table and can’t help but think it’s a message from above. See when my Papa was on the lifeline fence in 2003 after a sudden aneurism, he briefly came back to tell us a tale of what he saw. That when he temporarily flat lined, he was brought to an endless stretch of strawberry fields where his parents were wading in the tall sugary grass. The smell of tart sweetness was overwhelming, and he knew they would be patiently waiting for him to soon return. Now whenever The Beatles sing their sweet song, I know it’s my grandfather saying hello with his berry-stained lips and feet.
Well here I am engulfed with the emotion of my cousin’s lonely state, and my Papa sends a message from his place of peace. Letting me know that Kate won’t be alone. Letting me know that any of us won’t be alone when it’s our time to join him. And to really make sure I was listening, I Want To Hold Your Hand follows from the boom box. Blew me away. One of those moments. It’s funny how songs speak to us in times of sorrow. Like the lyrics were made for your moment of tears delicately dripping down to your lap.
I hear you Papa. You make me comfortable in our fate.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band comes on next. I know our conversation is over as there is clearly no connection to a bunch of Brits running around in primary-colored silk military getups while sporting fake mustaches on drugs and my angelic moment from the heavens.
We all take turns going. Passing on. Lifting up. One day I will die, one day you will die. It’s inevitable for all of us, but for some it’s too early. For many, not on their own terms.
Seeing all of these seniors who had so many years under their belt made me so sad for your early departure at a ripe 24 years of age Kate. Sad that you never got to wear a momentous white dress and walk down the aisle, your proud Dad squeezing your hand by your side, your mom & sister tearfully watching as you walk their way. But I know you’ve always had your Prince Charming named Jeremiah. An endless love that stuck by you through thick and thin. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience the rewarding birth of your own newborn children, tears of sweat that yield tears of joy. But I know you had that love with your nephew Trent. Plenty of tears of joy were shared with your special little guy as you watched him grow up step by step. As I think of the life you got to lead on this Earth, I realize not to focus on the “never got to’s”, but instead on the fulfilling thrills that you got to call your own. Plenty of moments full of love and laughter from family and friends that simply adore you.
To me Kate, you’ll always be my shy little 4-year old cousin who could turn a frown upside down if a bag of Chips Ahoy and a tall glass of milk were around. I know wherever you land there will be hills of crumbly cookies and cloudy rivers of milk, alongside sweet patches of strawberry fields. Lyla will always know the lessons cousin Kate taught us – to never give up. To be a warrior. And do it all with a smile on our face.
We love you Kate. Forever missed, never forgotten.