Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cousins...




We have certain days in our lives that take on significance. They stand out from the others in either great joy, or like today, great sadness. The memories of them take on a certain hue, be it a brilliant lightness when we fall in love, or see the smiles and hear the laughter of our children. Or the dull grey and black stillness after a storm has passed with more dark clouds on the way. My cousin died today, and though the sun shines brightly outside and the skies are a flawless blue, all I see, all I feel is the grey. A shadow that has its hand upon my shoulder touching me with unrelenting grief and guilt at my distance from the unfolding of these events.

I had an older brother whom passed away over 20 years ago now, when I first arrived here in New Zealand. I never felt for him what I am feeling now inside for my cousin. The reality is I was far closer to Roger, far more of a brother to him than I ever was to my own brother and so the shadows of grief are far more consuming and mist filled in direct proportion to the love I felt for him. And although our paths physically only crossed a few times in the years since I moved here, he was always in my heart. We never missed a beat. We never judged, we never lectured, we never shook our heads at our flaws and our mistakes. We just loved each other and took the moments when we could. I think we both carried the same sort of melancholic sadness and searching that truly made us kindred souls. We understood each other completely and without need to explain. Today has left a deep hole in many hearts....

We were born six weeks apart. Those two little babies on the laps of our mothers would grow into very large men. How I wish I could sit in that lap and be comforted just one more time...

The most special times of anticipation for me growing up was when we travelled to Chicago, or when our people there were coming up to Green Bay. Waiting for those cars with Illinois license plates to pull in the drive and watch those people emerge...my grandparents, my great aunt and uncle, my aunt and uncle, and most of all my cousins! Be it Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or a Packer - Bear game, it didn't matter, the fun was about to begin.


    
My dad, me, my grandfather and Roger, my Uncle Roger and older brother Steve. The men of my youth. I am the only one left from this moment, those men in their prime and we boys. A high water mark.


      
Families eh...Roger adored my older brother Steve. Steve was a pretty awesome guitar player and Roger was highly interested in that. He was probably closer to Steve than I ever was. He seemed to understand him and Steve had far more time and patience for Roger than he ever did for me. My sister Trish and I would be entertained for hours by Roger. He had that gift of just being able to look at you and make you laugh. We spent a lot of time teasing, or being teased by our older sisters as well.

Through the years we developed different interests and activities. Roger acquired a beautiful '57' Chevy and a biker jacket. I wore my letterman jacket. Yet it did not matter if we were on his turf or mine. Amongst his friends and their world I was included and accepted, just as he was in mine. I like to think of that as a quality in ourselves and the friends we chose. We had some interesting times as teens, and in our 20's. I will leave it at that.


  When I was in my mid 20's I graduated from college and moved to Minneapolis. Roger stayed in the Chicago area. We saw each other a bit less frequently. I got a call from my mom one afternoon, which surprised me a bit as I knew she and my dad were traveling out east. My dad had had a heart attack and was dead. My mom was in South Carolina and needed me to come and get her. I arranged a flight schedule that took me on 3 different flights to get to Charleston. I arrived there 12 hours later and found my mom in a hotel. It was the first time I ever saw age on her. We made whatever arrangements we needed about my dad and immediately began driving home to Wisconsin, I would stop and call my sisters to inform them of our progress and try to comfort them. We drove straight through. The next few days were a blur of activity and people coming and going and over that 72 hours I would have been lucky to have slept 5. I had not cried, I had not really thought much at all, I was numbed to everything. The funeral wake came and I recall my friends hugging me and people paying their respects as if in a dream. Then in walked my Chicago family. When I saw Roger everything cleared and the enormity of it all hit me like a sledgehammer. I collapsed into his massive frame and powerful arms and I wept and wailed. I felt like he and I were entirely alone, and that he was the only one whom could bear my weight, my grief, my sadness. He just held me. He understood. Until today I have always known those arms were still there for me and now they are gone. If I close my eyes and release myself I can still feel that hug.

The last time I saw Roger was in Chicago a few years ago on my last visit home. I was so pleased that he finally got to meet my youngest son Charlie. It was stifling hot and most of the last evening there at my Aunt Jean's house he and I sat outside on the porch. Me drinking whiskey, Roger smoking cigarette after cigarette. He no longer drank. We talked long into the night about our lives, about our families. Roger had finally found a real passion with photography but we didn't much get into the future. We never did much of that in our 50 plus years of each others company. We were always just in the moment. A blessing and a curse. I think we both always knew that as well. When I hugged him goodbye in the early hours of that hot summer morning I did as if at may be the last hug ever. You learn to do that with people when you live on the far side of the world away. As it turns out it was our last hug. But not my last tears. Those tears for that goodbye, for all the embraces, hugs, laughter, honest tears, sadness, Old Style beer, Elvis Presley, basketball camps, 57 Chevy's, Packers and Bears, up all night talking in smoky hotel rooms, getting me out of fights, for him loving my brother, for being tender when my friend Kevin killed himself, for picking me up at airports, and most of all, for that long beautiful hug when my father died....I love you cuz. I love you my brother. Keep the fire warm...


9 comments:

Paterika Hengreaves said...

I visited your blog “Musings from Aotearoa” because I needed to be back in NZ and came across the sad news on the passing of your cousin who was like a brother to you as revealed in your documentary of his life you shared with him growing up from childhood to adults before leaving the country of your birth for New Zealand after graduating from college in the USA. I feel the pain you are going through at this time on account of the passing of your cuz, Roger and as you stated in your tribute to the life of Roger “we were born six weeks apart” as shown in the beautiful picture shared. What a glowing elegy you have shared over the death or cousin Roger in words and pictures in your blog. The memory of Roger will forever live on in our hearts and this will help the grieving process to become a celebration of life well lived so apply recorded and shared for the world to read. My condolences reach out to you and your family at his the passing.

kylie said...

I'm really sorry, Robb.

KB said...

Sorry to hear about your cousin. Take care.

Mary Duquette said...

Such a beautiful tribute, Robb. It's hard to be among the last, the ones who remember and live our days thinking about and loving those who are no longer here with us. I hope you find peace in the quiet moments, and wish you more happy times taking whatever pieces of him you have and patching them inside you, taking him with you during your life and keeping him with you always. Sending you much love and many hugs - wish I could really give them! xx

Ruahines said...

Kia ora koutou...
Thoughts and hugs received...Kia ora..
Arohanui,
Robb

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks for sharing a bit of yourself, Robb. THough our lives are all very different, I think everyone can relate to your grief.
Roger's loss will leave a hole in you. It will never go away or even get filled, but you will grow around it.

greentangle said...

Sorry for your loss, Robb.

vegetablej said...

So sad to hear of your loss of this wonderful-sounding man, Robb. I know you know the treasure you have in the memories of you both together. What a wonderful journey you shared.

I was in Japan when my dad died and I couldn't get home for a few months. I know how it feels to be so far away, helplessly so.

Love to you and your family.

VegetableJ

Ruahines said...

Kia ora guys...Jeffrey, GT, Vegetable J thank you. Glad to be heading to the states soon and hug a few peeps.
Cheers and Aroha..
Robb