Monday, April 11, 2016

Heartbroken

Last night my younger cousin passed away.  Her name is Kristi, and this is on my mom's side of the family.  She was only 28, and the cause is still unknown.  She'd had some mystery health issues a couple months ago, but those seemed to be managed.  It's not known if they contributed to what happened yesterday, but I think at this point it has to be a strong consideration.  Still, it was sudden and shocking and completely heartbreaking.

My aunt posted on Facebook yesterday evening that Kristi was in the hospital and she was in rough shape.  By that point they were making plans to fly from their home near Milwaukee out to San Diego, where she has lived with her fiance for a year or two.  The next post an hour later said that they didn't think she was going to make it, and by the time I called my mom to see if she had heard anything, she had already passed.  It was that fast.  It started with her passing out yesterday morning.  She was left in a coma and her heart stopped.  They simply couldn't stabilize her.  Something clearly caused her body to shut down, and hopefully the experts can determine what it was to give the family some closure.

But in the meantime, everyone is heartbroken.  She was a beautiful girl, creative and full of life.  She was engaged.  The distance was hard for my aunt when Kristi moved to California, but even just a glance at her Facebook page makes it apparent that Kristi was never far from her mind.  It's full of passages about loving her daughter, and many other shared links were of things she thought Kristi would like to see.  There were many mother-daughter photos, many from their trips to their favorite spot, Mexico.  Their bond was unmistakable.

I have no idea how my aunt, among so many others, will get through this.  A huge piece of her heart has been ripped away, and I can't even fathom how one recovers from something like that.  As a mother it is one of my biggest fears, if not the biggest, and I've only had 3-7 years to bond with my boys.  I can't imagine what it's like to have so many years behind, and yet so many exciting ones still ahead, and for it all to disappear in a moment.  My heart is absolutely broken for my aunt, more than anyone.

She also leaves behind an adoring father, a brother, and a fiance, all of whom are also clearly devastated.  Her brother has had his own set of very difficult circumstances.  He had some personal and legal issues about a decade ago that put an incredible amount of stress on the family, and I'm sure they thought that was as bad as it could get.  He has since gotten himself back on track and built a very respectable life for himself.  I imagine this tragedy will test every last bit of his strength to maintain the life he has built, but I hope for his sake that he remains strong for himself, his fiancee and her daughter, and in honor of his sister's memory.

As for me, I am just profoundly sad today.  Much of it is knowing the pain my family is in, and part of it is the loss of someone so young with so much life ahead.  But another part of it is for what never was.  While I wish I could give you dozens of examples of how amazing she was, I honestly can't because I didn't actually know her that well.  See, this part of the family moved to the Midwest about 30 years ago, before Kristi was born and when her brother was quite young.  He was actually the first younger cousin I remember as a baby.  My aunt babysat me, I believe one morning a week during the summer when my mom golfed, and I clearly remember his nursery and getting my first glimpse of baby life--diapers, baby toys, etc.  My uncle was transferred a couple years later and after that we usually saw them once a year when they came in for our family reunion.  They stayed across the street at my grandma's, so we got to see them quite a bit during that visit.  My family made one trip out there just after Christmas probably a year or two after they moved, and I went there once without my parents when I was 12.  My older cousin Kathy and I rode with them to their house in their (awesome) van as they ended their week in town, and then the two of us came back home with my Uncle Ron (her dad) and her brother Ron, who made the drive in a separate car.  What a week that was--pool time, Six Flags Great America, shopping, cousin time, and my first taste of parent-free "freedom"!

But as everyone got older, I think the trips became fewer or maybe I just wasn't always around for them.  By that time I felt like we didn't have as much in common anyway (trust me--just different worlds), so the conversations were fewer.  But things were better when they were in town for our grandma's funeral more than 4-1/2 years ago, and then I got to sit with Kristi and her fiance at my cousin Kathy's wedding a year later and we had a great time. 
Kristi trying on some glow stick glasses, with her fiancé Ben looking on...

But even from just that fun evening, I can tell you she was a beautiful, sweet, fun girl. And I know from reading others' posts that she was all of that and so much more.  She was a good friend.  She had so much life to live.  And for some reason none of us understand, that life has ended far too early.

As I said to my cousin Kathy via Facebook last night, cousin love runs deep.  Even if you're not physically or emotionally close, there is a connection there that is undeniable.  And I feel like as I've gotten older, those connections have more meaning.  It's amazing to have time together with my cousins on my dad's side, as we all grew up together and those connections have so much history.  Despite different paths into adulthood, we all have this common bond that is hard to describe but is very real.  My mom's side of the family is a bit different because we all grew up in different areas with a wide range of ages and experiences.  But the love is there regardless and I'm so incredibly sad that I won't have the chance to enjoy more adult cousinhood with Kristi at weddings or reunions or, heck, even funerals.  That opportunity is simply no longer there.  At the very least I hope this serves as a reminder to strengthen the relationships that remain, but it's an awfully large price to pay for that realization.

So, for now, we wait.  We pray, we wait for answers, and we pray some more.  I'd like to make the trip for whatever remembrance is planned, but obviously with kids, work, Craig's schedule, and expenses, there's a lot to consider and coordinate.  It's a very long drive and a surprisingly expensive flight, but if I can make it work, I want to.  Never is family more important than at times like these.  All we can do from afar is be supportive and pray for peace, but the opportunity to be an actual shoulder to cry on is priceless.  I really hope it works out.  But for now the sadness is hard to shake.  This tragedy leaves an unfillable hole in the family.  I pray everyone can find a way to move forward while keeping the good memories close to their hearts. 

Rest in peace, Kristi.  You will be missed.

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