When I was growing up in California, most of my extended family lived in Michigan. We spent many summers and 1 Christmas (my only white Christmas) in Michigan with my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. We didn't see them often but I loved those trips to Michigan so much. There was the pack of us cousins, all around the same age,and I loved spending time with them. Running around in the warm summer rain with my cousin Stephanie is one of my fondest memories. We don't have warm rainy days in California. I also remember the stifling heat and humidity, another thing we don't have in California, and Stephanie and me staying closed up in Grandma's bedroom because there was an air conditioner in the window in Grandma's bedroom. I remember the big house my Grandparents lived in before the moved to a retirement community and Grandpa giving us money to walk down to the "candy store" on the corner. Thinking back, it may have been a liquor store but they had candy and that's all we were after. I have so many great memories of those trips to Michigan. I really had no idea how lucky I was. I didn't realize the expense of those trips. That expense is the reason I have only been back to Michigan three times in my adult life, two of those were for funerals and once just to get us all together. And if I'm being honest, my parents paid for all 3 of those trips too.
My cousin Mike is the oldest of the 15 of the grandchildren. He is 3 years and 1 day older than me. Three years is a big gap when you're 7 and 10. But I always loved Mike. I think when I was really little I just loved that his birthday was the day after mine. I'm sure there were times when I was the annoying little cousin but I really thought he was so awesome. I wanted to spend time with him. Mike was smart and funny and I admired him so much. As we got older I think we were both kind of the odd man out in our own immediate families. I think we both grew up with very strong emotions that didn't quite fit in the emotional norms of our parents and siblings. I was close to my parents as was Mike to his, we both love our families and are loved by them. But there was this "thing", I can't describe it. We both just kind of drove our parents crazy and there was a lot of emotion behind that for both of us, I think. I don't think either of us wanted that. Some kids seem to enjoy making their parents crazy. But, I think Mike and I just wanted to be understood. I'm guessing at his feelings here, it isn't something we have discussed. We just felt connected in a way that never expressed until now.
We're both in our 40's now and have adult children of our own. I haven't seen Mike since 1991 and we grew apart as people do when they start families of their own 2500 miles apart. We've both been through divorce and raising kids and have had many life experiences since those days of running to the candy store. But last week something happened. Mike's daughter Caitie, who was only 21 years old, died suddenly and unexpectedly. The absolute worst possible thing I can think of happened to him. I didn't know Caitie. I had heard stories of her and seen pictures and my Grandma, who passed away in 2013, always kept me informed of family life in Michigan. But when my Mom called to tell me Caitie had died, I cried. I didn't cry for my own pain, I cried for Mike and his wife. I cried because the pain of losing a child is most certainly the worst pain imaginable. I ached for him and for my Aunt Linda and Uncle David who had lost their grandchild. We aren't meant to lose children. It isn't the natural order of things. Tonight, for the first time in 24 years I talked to Mike. We talked for 3 hours on the phone. We covered as much of the last 24 years as two people can cover in 3 hours. He told me the story of the events that unfolded day his daughter died. And then he told me about the years his daughter lived. He told me about who she was and about how many people loved her and all of the people who were loved by her. She was a giver. A giver of love and time. She was active in her church and she loved Christ and she was willing to share that love with anyone who wanted to hear about it. What a beautiful soul I missed knowing in this life. What a beautiful gift God gave to the world and her family when He created Caitie. Caitie gave me the gift of that 3 hour conversation with my much loved cousin, her father. The gift of seeing Mike's belief in a God that will carry us when we can't go on alone. I have prayed every day for His grace for my hurting family. I have prayed for a peace that passes understanding and I know that Mike has found beautiful moments of that peace. Of course he is sad and angry and hurting and he misses his daughter beyond measure but he knows that God has not left his side, that God has a plan for all of us and Caitie's work here was done. We know that Caitie is in heaven with Our Heavenly Father. I can't wait to meet her when I get there.
Mike's wife posted the attached picture on Facebook this morning. It is how Caitie lived. Thank you, Caitie for the gift you have given me.
Call to me and I will answer you. I will show you marvelous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.