I’ve never been good at this. For a long time, as a child, I called my first cousins aunt and uncle. Heck, I still call them my aunt and uncle. I never realized they weren’t my aunt and uncle. They’re my first cousins which makes the people I grew up considering my first cousins not my first cousins at all. I think that makes them my second cousins. But as I said, I have never been good at this family structure thing. Family is just family to me, no need to categorize.
So when news came in that my mom’s first cousin died this weekend I didn’t know what that made her to me other than family. I met her, maybe twice at most. I vaguely remember seeing her a few years ago when I made a trip to Alabama.
To add to that family heartache my aunt, who I am very much familiar with and close to, had a heart attack. We received the call for that Saturday. And yesterday we found out she has to go in today for a pacemaker. She’s scared, crying, and nobody is going to tell her that somebody she loves died. They all agreed telling her before she goes in for surgery would be a bad idea.
I think about family, how we lose the people we love. It always seems like there’s a tomorrow. It always seems like there will be time because sometimes even though we know death is an inevitable fact of life we believe that it will come later, after life has been fully lived, after we’ve had a chance to say everything we need and want to say. Tomorrow, we sometimes say. Tomorrow I’ll find a way to go home and see some of my family. Tomorrow I’ll make that phone call to see how everybody is doing. Tomorrow I’ll tell them I love them. The reality is that we never know if tomorrow will come.
When my cousin died not that long ago I wasn’t expecting it. Nobody was. Her house caught on fire and there is where she died. I hadn’t seen her in years. We hadn’t spoken in probably just as much time because there was always tomorrow. Because she was busy and we were busy and tomorrow we could all catch up. We’re all scattered across the country so “tomorrow” becomes a staple in our vocabulary. There’s always tomorrow right? Wrong.
When I think about all that my family is going through right now it makes me think of me. I know it’s selfish right? But I can’t help but think that my business failing and not being able to find a job, while important isn’t so important at the same time. I work every day, far too long hours, and I think since I don’t have kids that’s fine. I can work now and tomorrow I can hang out with my mom, watch a movie, spend a day out, or something. Of course tomorrow comes and I’m back up at work at insane hours of the morning and working until insane hours of the night–and for what?–To salvage something I’m not even sure I want?
So yesterday I let my computer shut itself down while I talked with my mom. I knew she needed to talk, and I knew then that today, not tomorrow, I needed to listen. We talked about her childhood. I heard more of the funny stories about her and school. We talked about her brothers and the time they all spent living with their grandparents after her mother died. My mom was 17 months old when her mother died so she never had a chance to get to know her.
As I listened to my mom I laughed with her and I held on to those memories as if they were my own. If there is one thing in this world that is true it is that tomorrow isn’t promised to anybody. If you love somebody, if you really care about them, then you have to show them today, this second, this minute, this hour. Life is too short and death comes too swiftly to leave the important things unsaid.
The hardest part for me right now is that both of my parents seem to be trying to prepare me to say goodbye to them. My mother wants me to get married. This from the woman who told me most of my life if I know like she knows I’d stay single. She says she wants me to have somebody before she is gone. I know death is inevitable, but the selfish side of me kind of wished I would go before both of them. I wanted them to live into their hundred plus years while I lived a long life, but I wanted to die first because I don’t think my heart can take saying goodbye to them. Selfish; I know, but I have had said goodbye to so many people in my life that my heart doesn’t want to say it anymore.