My cousin died today. It wasn't unexpected. He had been suffering from cancer for the last few years. We've all been through that cancer watch. You get the news, the beginning of it, and then the watch begins. Doctor visits. Chemo. Disbelief. Hope. Resignation. Late night scares and unexpected trips to the hospital. Is this it? But this time it isn't, and the vigil begins anew.
I got a text from my brother. We lost our cousin today, it said. This may sound silly, but I didn't want to cry. I didn't feel like I deserved to because I wasn't there for him. Vince’s brother Scott and the rest of our cousins went through this battle with him from the beginning. Distance and obligations made it impossible for me to be in the trenches with them. So I wasn't a part of all that.
When I was 13, we moved to Canon City, Colorado. Vince was living there at the time. He was a few years my senior–the older brother I never had. We rode our bikes to school together. We spent afternoons playing Gin with his Uncle Phil. One day Vince and my brother and I were moving a couch into the house. The couch fell on my foot and for some reason I blamed Vincent. I chased him around the sofa trying to get him to fight with me. He wouldn't, not because he was afraid. He just thought fighting was silly. We did a few laps before I gave up and sat heavily on the back porch steps, gasping for breath.
“Are you tired yet?” Vince had asked me, laughing.
“Yes,” I said, grinning back. It was impossible to stay angry at Vince.
My cousins live 5 hours away these days. We don’t see each other much. In fact, I had only seen Vincent a few times in the last 30 years. That’s horrible, isn’t it? We were children together, my cousins and I. I remember rainy Saturday afternoons where Susie, the oldest cousin, would put on American Bandstand and move the furniture out of the way, and make us dance. I remember hanging like monkeys out of the gnarled tree that stood in the middle of their backyard. You would think we would keep in touch.
I saw him once more, last summer. He was the same Vince. Except now he was dying. I was emotional. I wanted to talk about it.
“How are things going?” I asked him.
“I’m alive,” he said.
We talked about old times. We talked about the future—maybe we could hook up in Reno sometime, or Vegas. We would drink beer and play Blackjack and stay up late. We laughed. There was no talk of this disease, or of death.
Death would get his due. He always does. But until proven irrevocably otherwise, as far as Vince was concerned the future was as rosy and full of possibility as always. He wasted no time crying about what might be. Here and now, was life. And it would be lived.
My cousin died today. I wasn't there for him, but I cried anyway.