My cousin Andy, a generous and passionate soul, died last week at the age of 35 after a yearlong battle to Stage IV Lung Cancer. I have seen Andy so many times in the past few weeks – except when I’ve got closer, it’s never been Andy at all. I have dreamed about him a lot too, but when I’ve woken up, the dream has always slipped away.
This past weekend, we had a funeral and memorial service for him, just a few days after he passed away with his wife and mother watching. He was diagnosed last year, just days before my own daughter was born, a marvelous blessing amongst a heart-retching diagnosis. And today, I see my girl weeks from her first birthday, but my heart aches from this horrible tragedy. Nothing seems real. It’s too raw. Too impossible to convey just exactly how I feel.
All weekend we talked of our favorite Andy memories, and during the service we were asked to speak of our how he blessed our life. I desperately wanted to say something, but my body was frozen, my breath quavering, Daisy sleeping in my arms. I knew I would be unable to keep back the sobs. So, instead I wrote a letter, this is not the first letter I’ve written to Andy this year, but I’m making myself write another one so that I don’t forget. I’d hate it if we forgot.
This weekend at your parent’s house, I kept looking at the pictures and the faces of happier times. The picture of you and Jen and Nicholas on the beach, with your arms wrapped around each other, your little family dressed for Halloween one year, you and Jen with million-dollar-smiles on your wedding day, and I just kept waiting for you to walk through the door. We miss you terribly around here.
As your cousin, I’m lucky enough to have some lovely memories of you, and I’m grateful for that. The memories keep playing on repeat in my head, usually with a U2 song accompanying them: riding on the back of your Harley through the Hollywood Hills, swimming in Lake George, riding Sea-Doos at Lake Mead, playing cards on the narrowboat, napping on the grass in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, eating boxes of Belgium chocolate while contemplating our futures, reading your screenplays, the late night talks on hostel beds, the day you called me to tell of your proposal to Jen, you behind the grill or whirling up margaritas, walks on the beach.
I often think of the last night of our whirlwind tour of Europe. U2 was playing in St. Steven’s Green, and while we couldn’t get ticket for inside the park, we smashed ourselves with other fans on Grafton Street, listening to the music playing over the loudspeakers. You loved U2; in fact before I left for Ireland, you burned me a CD of your favorite U2 songs, and I am forever indebted to you for introducing this Irish band to me. I often wonder if I love them for their humanitarian work, the lyrical accent, or just because they remind me of you; perhaps it’s a combination of all three. But, anyway, throughout the entire concert, we stood in silence, Bono’s rock ballads echoing over the loud speakers, Guinness pints in hand.
My favorite memory of you, though, is a more recent one: the first day I saw you as a father, and all I can remember is your smile. You know this already, but I came to visit your new blessing in the hospital: to meet your son. I can still see it; so clear, as you handed him to me, your smile so wide, your eyes focused on him alone. He was so little, and so perfect, snuggly wrapped in a receiving blanket. I asked you how fatherhood was, and your smile spoke more than words ever could. It was like your heart was bursting with pride and love. In fact, this is how I most remember you. One of your best friends, actually said it perfectly, you didn’t just live life to the fullest, you lived it with this happy exuberance that poured out of you infecting all those around you.
We miss you Andy, and we probably won’t ever stop missing you, but I know you’re at peace now. I hope you’re hanging out with Tabby and Grandpa, Opa and Oma, all your old pets, and maybe even Heath Ledger and Paul Newman, because they seem like they’d be a laugh, especially together. Though I’m sad that I won’t get to make more memories with you, see you with Nicholas, or watch you grow old with Jen, I’m happy to have called you my cousin and friend.
I love you,