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November 25, 2014
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Death takes a holiday


It’s odd sometimes, how we mark the passage of time. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays—even mourning the death of a loved one can remind us of the swift passage of the days, months and years. With almost a year under my belt since my mother passed away, I often question when it’s going to feel normal to not have her around.

Just when I thought it was “safe to go back in the water,” death came knocking on my family door again this week, and it all came back, like a slap in the face. Since all things are relative, one of the “dangers” of loving so many and so much is the inevitable sorrow that goes hand in hand with losing someone near and dear. When my “brother-from-another-mother,” Michael, died unexpectedly a few years ago, my mom was adrift and his mom was understandably lost as well. We had all grown up in each others’ homes and suddenly, the “wonder years” seemed to grind to a halt.

No longer a kid and well aware that death is a natural part of life, I’m beyond grateful to have had so much love growing up, but that doesn’t make it easier to say goodbye to those we hold so close to our hearts. My “surrogate” mom, Pat Cusick, passed away this week and I find myself, once again, pondering the meaning of life. After Michael died, Pat expressed her profound sorrow to me privately and informed me that she expected me to “step up to the plate” a bit, hoping that (since Michael and I were so close in age), my presence in the extended family would somehow fill the void.

Promising to “do my best,” I responded in kind when Mom left this earth and implored Pat to do the same for me, as she had been a “second mom” to me while growing up, alongside my immediate family. Although none of us know how long we have on this plane of existence, I suppose I was hoping that I’d have more years with Pat on the other end of the phone, or puttering around the family cottage at Seneca Lake, the site of countless adventures with the Cusick and Fox families blending and blurring to the point where “the moms” never knew which kids they would find waking up in what household at any given moment. Good times.

The memories that once again flood my reverie are the good ones, not the bad, and it’s tears of sadness mixed with joy that course down my cheek as I prepare myself to bid adieu to Pat while reliving the recent passing of Michael and mom—whose deaths are still so fresh in my mind. I’m reminded of a Buddhist meditation that I’ve practiced in recent years stating that “death is certain; the time of my death is uncertain—therefore it is logical to conclude that I could die today.”

In a perfect example of “point-counterpoint,” the two moms had wildly different reactions when I shared this deep-thought meditation with them respectively. While birth-mother Barbara seemed horrified by what she interpreted as “dark and gruesome,” Pat got it right away. I explained how practicing this meditation was intended to make me think about the choices I make in my day-to-day life, and have found this thought process to be an invaluable tool.

We all make choices, whether consciously or not, throughout our lives and thankfully, I no longer believe in regret, viewing it as a waste of time. Although saddened by this recent passage, I rejoice in having had two incredibly strong (and vastly different) women in my life, neither of whom held back in their assessment of how I comported myself, never failing to weigh in on the decisions I made, always succeeding in lifting me up when I felt lost or alone.

Rather than feeling lost now, I call upon that strength and support in an attempt to share it with my other “siblings” who are currently feeling the waves of loss that seem to be endlessly crashing on the shores of Seneca Lake, where we gathered just two months ago to scatter my mom’s ashes, as we prepare to do the same with Pat’s mortal remains. If it’s true that “misery loves company,” then surely we are in good shape—but still, I prefer to celebrate, rather than mourn, and plan to do just that.

While hardly a holiday, this too will become a cherished memory (of sorts) and hopefully serve as a (somewhat cliched) reminder for all of us, that life is indeed short, and that there is no time like the present, since none of us know what is in store beyond this moment. With any luck, there are still a few adventures waiting in the wings.