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  • Writer's picture Jana


Updated: Dec 16, 2020

The Bittersweet Tears Shed Over Graves are for Words Left Unsaid and Deeds Left Undone. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Last week, as I was working on that difficult blog post about my mom and grief, I received an email that was so unexpected and upsetting. I couldn't believe that I was working on a post about the grief I was feeling over my mom's passing, when news of another death in my family descended upon me.

We all seem to be bombarded with news of death this year. I feel like it comes at us from every direction. On the news, we are barraged daily with news of deaths in such staggering numbers that it is difficult to comprehend or digest. But for many of us, death has hit us on a more personal level. Maybe it is a friend, or a neighbor, or worse yet in my case, not one, but two family members.

For me, it happened on an average day. I was checking my email in the late morning, as I often do while sitting with Miles as he did his classwork. As I was browsing through the list of incoming messages, I saw an email that had come from my cousin's husband in the wee hours of the morning, 2:42 AM. The subject line was empty. I thought it odd, so I read it immediately. I sat frozen as I read the very short paragraph he had composed. My cousin had died, out of nowhere, from what I could surmise. I was stunned. She had been sick with cancer, he mentioned briefly, but I had not known that. She had wanted to keep that private he told me. He said that even though she had been sick, her death had been very rapid and unexpected. My heart sank. Another death in my family. More grief, more sadness, more loss.

I am ashamed to say that I had lost touch with this side of my family (my dad's side) for some years. When my dad passed away, in 2009, he had structured his estate in such a way that resulted in a lot of strife between many people, sadly. His death was like a minefield. It took years to resolve, settle, and heal from, at least for my immediate family it did.

Ironically, it was this blog that reunited me with my cousins. When I started to write consistently, last spring, both of my only remaining first cousins, who live in Europe, reached out and got in touch with me. I was so surprised and thrilled to hear from them. Both were highly complimentary of my blog, my children, and my writing. Both drew comparisons to my Aunt Ilse, who died in 2006, but had been an award-winning author, published in multiple languages. To say that I was flattered by any comparison they might draw between her and me is an understatement. But mostly, I was just so happy to be back in touch with them. We had so much catching up to do. I had even dreamed of a post-pandemic trip with my kids to Portugal to visit this large branch of our family my children had never met.

When I received the news of Sivia's death. I was filled with that now-too-familiar feeling of regret. It was similar to the shock I felt when I learned of my mom's unexpected death and have continued to feel ever since. The idea that someone has died suddenly and unexpectedly and you have not had the chance to say or do all that you had wanted and hoped to, is one of the most awful feelings I have ever felt. Empty, sorrowful, and regretful are just a few of the feelings that come to mind under the circumstances.

My cousins and I had traded a few emails over these six months since we had been back in touch, but there was so much more to say and to learn about each others' lives. Since we had been out of touch for over ten years and before that not in contact very often, due, I suppose, to the physical distance between us, people's busy lives, and maybe even the language barrier, to some extent, there was much catching up to do. But now, that will never happen and when we do have that reunion in-person I am hoping for, Silvia will not be there.

If I am being honest, I expected my cousins to live forever. I thought we had all the time in the world to catch up. Our fathers, who were brothers, lived into their mid and late nineties, respectively. Silvia's dad, Fritz, was the baby of the three siblings and lived the longest, although their lifespans were all impressive. Ilse, the oldest of three siblings, lived into her nineties as well. So what would make me think that my cousins wouldn't enjoy the same longevity?

I suppose the point is that we never know, do we? I am shocked at how much I take for granted. I don't think I am alone in that feeling. That is until we get a pre-dawn call, as I did with my mom, that the person we love is gone - irretrievably gone. Or, we open our email and learn that one of our few remaining cousins, whom we have just been reunited with, is gone too. It happens in a flash. Then we are left to pick up the pieces, sort out the mystery of why, and somehow reconcile the regret of things we left unsaid and undone. This is now my cross to bear, times two.

Rest in peace, dear Silvia. We'll do that catching up when we meet again. I promise.

Some of my family on my dad's side. Silvia is the middle wearing the burgundy sweater with her beloved husband of 53 years, Pedro, by her side.. Angela, her sister, is second from the left in the light pink sweater with her husband, Octavio. Silvia and Angela are surrounded by their most of their children and grandchildren.. Silvia sent me this photo on Facebook Messenger this past July.

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