Saturday, August 28, 2010


A few days ago I received word that my first cousin, who lived in California, had passed away.

While I did not know this cousin well, she was only a year older than I. Her death has disturbed me more than I care to acknowledge.

She apparently died of a heart attack (or possibly a stroke; I have heard both). She lived alone and was dead for a week before a friend found her.

This is my worst nightmare, to be alone like that and to die unacknowledged. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about it.

My cousin lived a hard life. I last saw her in 1976 when she was 13. By then she was a wild child of San Jose, roaming the streets late at night, smoking pot, drinking and doing who knows what else. Over the years I heard tales of her - she'd had a child out of wedlock, she was in jail, she was living back with her parents, she was in drug rehab.  It was a life I could not envision and it was certainly one quite foreign to me, a country girl who had grown up on a farm and who had married young and stayed on the land.

Her life sounded tough and exotic at the same time, like something from a movie. Sometimes I envied her freedom and her ability to take risks, but mostly I pitied her because what I heard of her sounded lost and sad.

In 2002 while I was researching genealogy I came across an inquiry from this cousin. I sent an email asking if it was indeed she, and finding it so, we corresponded for a time. We began sending Christmas cards and an occasional letter.

But communication was sparse; her email would change and she would disappear. Some years I would hear nothing and then a card would arrive in the mail. Her letters sometimes made little sense and I never really had a sense of the person my cousin had become.

I have always regretted that I, my cousin, and her sister, who is a little younger than I, never knew one another. I have wondered if we might have been fast friends in another life. I have daydreamed that somehow I helped her stay away from the things that haunted her, maybe gave her an outlet from her demons that she did not have. It was, of course, only a dream. I do not have that kind of power.

Families are strange microcosms of society. Family members are the people you are likely most like, the ones with similar genes and behaviors. And yet they can be so different, so at odds with one another sometimes, it is like they are completely unrelated. It is an enigma.

Loss comes in many forms. It is hard for me to miss someone I never really knew, but I think I will be grieving what might have been for some time to come.


  1. Anita, I am very sorry to hear about your cousin. It certainly sounds like she had quite a wild life. I am only 25, but I have all kinds of cousins that I barely know. Fallings out between my parents and siblings led to us not speaking much with these other lines of the family. I have started to feel strange about the whole thing recently and have begun trying to slowly build a relationship with these cousins. Your post has reinforced in my mind the need for these connections.

    P.S. - I am new to your blog, but enjoying it very much so far.

  2. This post moved me. I often think of life and lives and their varied paths...and how the world is shaped by them and how my life's path compares with others'. Thanks for sharing this...

  3. I understand. I lost a cousin a couple of years ago who I hadn't seen since we were kids. Her "branch of the family" as I call it, was the bad one. She didn't have a chance. She died of a heart attack in police custody high on too many prescription drugs. I feel very sad about it. Her name was Kathy Kelly. I want to always remember her as a child, like she really was.

  4. Very sad and makes me think about all the family members in most of our families who live these kinds of sad lives.


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