Just a Niece, a Cousin
I wasn’t sure if I would even post here because I’m just Cindy’s niece, just a cousin to the “kiddos”, as I still refer to them collectively, just an “in-law” to Uncle John, although he may as well be blood, because in our family, once you’re in, you’re in (that is, unless you hurt our own, which will earn you a nice figure of yourself cut out of each picture that you were in in my grandmother’s photo albums), so I didn’t think that there would be much to offer, to share, that could even compare to what Sherry and my cousin’s have been through. But I read something that struck me and gave me the realization that I too had something to share that can also benefit others. For those of us who are cousins, or just really close friends of the family, there is something that we experience that is a little different, but as I have found, can be very painful and traumatic in itself.
The Beginning of the End
When Aunt Cindy went back into the hospital, finally admitted into a room in the early hours of August 1, 2013, her 59th birthday, my Uncle Ray passed away suddenly from a heart attack shortly after my Aunt Sherry (Cindy’s Sister) and Uncle Ray had arrived home from the hospital visiting Cindy and John as they awaited a room. Talk about a blow in a direction that we were not expecting. My world stopped. Time stood still. I’m still trying to process it all, but I’m sure that I will.
When I went to see Aunt Cindy later on that day, I don’t remember what I was expecting, but I knew her situation so I knew that she would be different than the last time we sat together and had a conversation together – Easter 2013.
Our last picture together
The Affect of a Picture
It amazes me still just how much seeing a picture of her affects me. Or when I type an email address and “texancindy” shows up, or when I was still on FB and her name would pop up or I’d see a past picture that she had “liked”, how it was like a little stabbing my heart. I still don’t understand why. The only thing that I can think of is because Uncle Ray’s and then her eventual death were the first deaths for me to actually accept and deal with in the present. But I digress….another time I will expand.
A Child Looks to the Faces of those they Trust for Reassurance
Like a new babe, not more than 3 or 4 years old mentally when it comes to dealing with emotion, I looked around at all the faces when I got to the hospital. These were the same people, but their faces were not the same as they were on that fateful day, March 1, 2012, when we all found out that Cindy did indeed have a brain tumor, and it was the worst kind, “The Beast” as they call it since survival statistics are so grim. This time, they were strong. I was weak. These were faces that have looked into the face of their beloved mother, wife, or sister, and have watched her slowly change, all the while keeping the most infectious smile, that for some reason became more joyful after her chemo and radiation. She exuded joy. She shined. These were faces that had done the research, and while they never lost hope, they knew that unless a miracle happened, we were going to lose her. I however, chose to remain obliviously hopeful. So when I saw their faces, instead of them being devastated with tears, which would cause a real 3 or 4 year old to also be devastated and afraid, they were serious, showing smiles though I could see their sadness. They had accepted that things may not turn out the way we were hoping for. Even my dad, I think it was him that had a huge impact on me and my cousins. We’re all use to him being weepy and emotional, but he wasn’t. He was strong. It makes me cry to even write about it. For years he looked to his sisters for strength after my grandmother passed, but with all that Aunt Sherry had been through and with what Aunt Cindy was going through, he was the strong one, he was realistic. He even talked differently. It was beautiful yet confusing.
My Uncle John was the other one that really affected me. Matter of fact, I think he started to avoid me because for some reason I have the ability to make him cry. But he tried his best to stay strong. Sometimes I wondered if he wished we all didn’t keep come visiting so he could just let go, but I knew that he loved having us all around. And I think he also knew that I liked to come around to try and distract them all.
Since they so graciously allowed me to insert myself into their last and intimate days with the mother and wife, I experienced the most beautiful love story that no movie could ever portray, just in watching Uncle John with her from the first day I saw them in the hospital on February 28, 2012 until Cindy’s Memorial. I have never seen a love like that. And I think that is still one of the greatest pains that I experienced through this all. Cindy and John had a love for one another that few people will ever experience. Knowing them all my life and spending summers with them and just doing life with them for 35 years, has given me the storybook to pray over my children everyday – that they too will have a love like that. Watching Uncle John hurting, as his eyes rarely ever left Cindy’s, I think will always be one of the hardest things that I have ever experienced.
So as to not make this too long, I will continue to share the experience of the unique gift that the Zerwas’ gave me by allowing me to be there, to love them, to distract them, and probably annoy them. It honestly changed my life and everything about me. I will never be the same, nor do I want to be.