My cousin died this past weekend. He was 46. It was cancer. They gave him three months. He lasted about 12 days.
His name is Phillip.
When Phillip was 16 years old, he was riding a motorcycle on a road in another place, much like Milton.
His headlight went out on the motorcycle and a car pulled into his path, not seeing him until it was too late. They hit head-on. After that, Phillip lived in a wheelchair.
We grew up together years before the accident, our dads being brothers and all. We visited each other’s houses and we had bonfires outside. He was among my childhood cousins who played in the snow and chased lightning bugs in Indiana.
We have a lot of the same memories, Phillip and I.
We went to the same Granny’s house for holiday dinners. We shared Christmas celebrations and Easter. He was an annoying boy, like the rest of my male cousins.
We have a large family. My father is number seven of sixteen children. Phillip’s father, my dad’s brother, died last year. Two of my mom’s sisters died last year. The list goes on and on. There have been accidents—there has been cancer.
We have a big family. People are born and people die.
My family in west central Florida kept in touch over the past couple of weeks, more frequently in the past couple of days, telling me stories of Phillip. They were with him at the hospice. My dad spent the night sitting with him just a couple of nights before Phillip passed on.
My entire family was there when he was baptized two weeks ago.
My sister told me stories of Phillip’s spirit and his recognition of our family members right up to the end.
I wanted to be there, but I have responsibilities here. I could not go. I asked his brother to kiss him on the forehead for me.
Tears welled up the day they told me he had cancer and was given three months.
Tears rolled down my face when they told me he only had a day or two.
I cried when I listened to my family talk about his last days.
But when I received word he died early Sunday morning, I found myself smiling. I thought, finally, he’s free of that chair and the constraints this world placed on him.
He and I were not close during the past 30 years. But my family maintains a connection – an acceptance that is always there – for all of us. It could be 100 years between visits and it always feels like one day.
I hate regrets. I try very hard not to have them. But I do regret that maybe Phillip didn’t know the impact his accident had on me. Five years after his crash, another close cousin of ours, Joey, was killed.
These two accidents happened when I was very young. I believe both made me a better mother, a better person.
Made me appreciate my life and the lives of my children.