I love my cousin, Brian. He's the closest to me in age, just six months apart (he's older). We used to play together as kids. As a young adolescent girl, I had a crush on him. I wonder if he remembers this. When we were 9 or 10, we would disappear from family parties and walk around with our arms around each other. Oh we knew the whole, "you can't marry your first cousin" thing. We were just playing. It was safe and innocent. My most salient memory of doing this with Brian was at Aunt Ada & Uncle Jim's house. They lived on the lagoon in Toms River then and there were some wetlands down the block. I think it was the occasion of Grampy's 100th birthday and we took a walk to the wetlands and stood in the cattails holding hands and talking. I had no idea what Brian's reality was at that moment, nor did I know what it would become later.
My cousin Brian has not had an easy life. In fact, some of it has been downright heartrending. He and I were close as kids and though as adults we had contact only at family parties, weddings & funerals, we always sought each other out to catch up and talk. He has always been special to me, although I am not sure he knows that or how much.
In high school, he fell in love; head over heals and over the moon in love with Janine. They adored each other and truly lived for each other and even a "blind man running for his life" could see it plain as day. Their sweet young love had to grow up rapidly when Janine became pregnant. They had no money and no plan, but they had a beautiful daughter, Amanda. Their life as a family was a struggle of which I know very little, but what I do know is that the love held them together and gave them what they needed to keep going.
Soon there was another daughter, Jessica, equally beautiful to her big sister. A few years later, their son Brian was born. Each addition made things harder, I'm sure. But every time I saw them they were smiling and enveloped in a palpable love. It was amazing.... and enviable.
Somewhere along the way, Brian started drinking and ultimately became an alcoholic, like his father. This caused a whole new set of challenges for the young family. Alcoholism is insidious and its tendriles reach deep into the lives of those it touches. No one remains unaffected.
Brian's trade as an electrician was greatly effected by his alcoholism. He couldn't keep jobs, and soon he found it harder and harder to get jobs. Eventually, it became such that he was at the mercy of IBEW assignments, and even those became sparse. All of this meant that Janine had to work that much harder.
There were other life circumstances which affected the family too and it got harder and harder and harder. The truth is I don't know even a miniscule amount of what they lived through. But still, no matter what their lives were like, when you saw Brian and his family it was all about loving each other.
A little less than two years ago, this family was struck with an enormous tragedy. Brian, the youngest, was killed in an accident on his quad ATV. He was 21. The wake and funeral for this young man was one of the utterly sad occasions I had experienced to that day. It is an understatement to say that his parents and sisters were devastated. There are no words to describe the enormity of despair with which they were faced. There was much weeping, crying and sobbing to be sure. The extended family came from far and near to support them however they could. Whatever we did, was feeble in the face of such a tragedy. Miraclulously, in the midst of it all, that deep, abiding, steadfast love was still tangibly there and somehow bigger than ever.
I wish everyone who reads this could see a love like Brian Janine and his family share, or better yet, experience it. I know I have not had it. I came close once, but didn't recognize it until it was gone. I will always regret squandering what may have been my only chance at it. It's the only regret I have in my life.
OK. So why am I writing this? I am writing this because right now, my dear cousin Brian is in a hospital with liver failure and toxic blood. He is clinging to life, and he has said, apparently more than once to more than one person that he doesn't want to live anymore. I have to tell you ... I don't know what to think about that... or what to feel. I am 800 miles away and helpless. Realistically, if I were right next to him, I would still be helpless. I know this. But being there is comfort in some strange, sick, inexplicable way.
I want him to know that the goodness in him which is the love he has for his wife and children does not go unnoticed. I want him to know that the innocent little sparks of adult feelings that I had for him when I was a child are precious to me. I want him to know that HE is precious to me. Regardless of time or miles, he is precious to me. I want him to know that all of us who love him want him to choose life. I want him to choose life. I want him to choose WHOLE life. I don't want him to just recover physically only to maintain his alcoholism until it claims him later. I want him to choose to live fully, to feel all of the pain that he has been trying to keep at bay with booze. I want him to know he will survive the pain. I want him to know that he will survive memories of his childhood. I want him to know that the love will help him... support him... sustain him. I want him to know what I think he doesn't know, which is that HE is loveable, and valuable, and good, and wanted, and deserving. Mostly I want him to know that no matter the demons of his past, his soul remains perfect and innocent, the way it was created and that he can reclaim it all. It will hurt, it will suck, it will be really difficult, but he is capable! I want him to know that it was harder to drown his shit in alcohol for decades than it will be to work through the truth.
Choose life, my dear cousin. Choose LIFE! I love you.