Archive for June, 2013

The Captain Mourns His Cousin

My cousin Christina died on May 29th, 2013 at the age of 28.  It’s been a week now and I’m still having trouble coming to grips with it.  Writing has always been therapeutic for me, so I’ve decided to write about the intense feelings of loss I’m trying to grapple with in her absence.  I’m not quite sure how to sum up the long and loving relationship I had with my cousin, so I figured I should just start at the beginning.

I knew Christina, or Chrissy as I called her, for her entire life.  I was six years old when she was born in 1984, and I still remember meeting her for the first time.  In fact, most of my earliest memories are with her.  My sister and I were always around Chrissy from the very beginning.

 

chrissy 1

 

The mutual love was always there.  For the first five years of her life it was just the three of us kids in a room full of adults.  Cathie and I treated her like a like our younger sister.

 

chrissy 9

I remember us always playing together, and rough-housing with her like an older brother should.

 

chrissy 3

 

Her younger brother Jimmy was born in 1988, and from then on we were our own little a gang.  A gang of cousins.

 

 chrissy 4

 

Chrissy was there through the best years that my mother’s family ever saw.  The years after my grandfather died in 1985 until my grandmother’s second husband died in 1996 were real golden years for the family.  Chrissy was a big part of my life during those years.  From the backyard barbecues…

 

chrissy 6

 

…through all the holidays and birthday parties we were all very close.  The family spent a lot of time together and it all seemed magical.  As we both went through our childhoods Chrissy and I became competitive with each other.  As the first born in each of our homes we both enjoyed vying for the #1 spot in whatever we were doing.  We played rough but it was always done with love.

I left for college in 1996 when Chrissy was 12, and when I came back that next summer I was unready for what I saw.  The kid I remembered had suddenly grown about a foot taller and now looked like a woman.  At 13 she was already taller than my 18 year old sister.  And as the years went by it seemed she got prettier and more womanly.  I remember she came down to my college town with her mother for a visit in 1999 and I had to keep back all of my sister’s friends.  What a fun time.

 

chrissy 8

 

After I moved back to St. Louis I remember hanging out with her and having fun.  I especially remember taking Chrissy out with my sister and her parents on her 21st birthday.  That whole nite was a blast.

 

chrissy 7

 

When I moved to Florida in 2006, I started hearing stories from back home about Chrissy have a problem with drugs.  I heard she had made some bad mistakes and that she was having a tough time.  By the time I moved back to St. Louis in 2008, I discovered that Chrissy was pregnant and had moved past most of that trouble.  I was thrilled for her pregnancy, and I remember her being the happiest I had seen her in years.

 

chrissy 10

 

Her son Johnathan was a real doll and Chrissy just lit up around him.

 

chrissy 5

 

I didn’t see much of her after Johnathan was born, except at holidays.

 

chrissy 12
Over the past few years we’ve kept in touch through the magic of social media.  Everything seemed alright, but then I started to hear stories of Chrissy’s drug problem reemerging.  I slowly started to realize that my cousin was struggling with addiction.  It was difficult for me to process at first, and then I just felt confused and angry.  I was upset that being a mother wasn’t enough for Chrissy to stay clean, and I was unsure of how to help her kick her addiction.  The last time I can remember the smiling girl that I grew up with was at a couple of Cardinals games we went to with Jimmy back in 2011.

 

chrissy 13

 

After that, it seems all of the stories about Chrissy were bad.  Over this past Christmas I heard that she was running around with some new dirtball boyfriend and that things were starting to spiral downwards pretty fast.  I had a hard time believing some of the things I heard, but when I saw her after our grandmother died I could accept that they were true.  The last time I saw Chrissy was the day of my grandmother’s memorial service in January.  She just looked completely checked out to me.  Like the girl I knew wasn’t around anymore.

The addiction really took over after that.  I knew she was spiraling downward, but I just never thought it would end with her death.  I knew she was running out of money and out of goodwill, but I couldn’t see that she was also running out of time.  It seems naïve now, but I just didn’t think a 28 year old was almost out of time.  I figured she would keep making bad decisions and that pretty quickly one of them would land her in jail.  I figured her rock bottom would be in a prison cell.  And after she hit bottom I figured she would start to climb back up towards the light.

But here’s the thing: Heroin doesn’t care about that or anything else.  Heroin is a killer.  Heroin doesn’t care about me or my family.  Heroin doesn’t give a shit, it only takes.  And none of us were able to stop it from taking her.

I knew Chrissy had a drug problem, but instead of offering her help I just stayed quietly angry at her.  I was angry that she was putting drugs above the needs of her son.  But instead of anger I should have offered her help.  Chrissy was an addict that needed help.  And even though she fought the help she needed, I still should have offered it to her every chance I had.  I don’t think it would have made a difference, but now I’ll never know.

When I heard the news of her death last week, I was immediately angry.  How could she be so stupid!  How could she overdose with so much life left in her bones!  How could she leave her beautiful son without a mother!

After a long talk with my sister last weekend, my anger has faded away into a profound sadness.  I’m heartbroken that my wonderful cousin is gone.  I’m sad that I can’t see her now, but I’m deeply saddened that we don’t get to grow old together.  My memories of Chrissy are now just memories, and there will be no new ones after 2013.  I’m sad for the past, but I’m heartbroken for a future without her.

I’ve accepted that Chrissy is gone, but now I’m not sure of how to move forward.  The one thing I do know is that I can help support her son Johnathan.  He’s a bright, curious young man who has his whole life ahead of him.  My family is setting up an education fund on Johnathan’s behalf, and I intend to solicit all the help I can for this fund.  I’ll provide more details when the project is completed if anyone reading this would like to contribute.

But more than that, I want to help my family to raise Johnathan.  That little boy shares some of my blood, and all of my love.  He deserves a good life and I’m going to do my best to help make that happen.

But when it comes to Chrissy, I’m not sure what to do with all of my sadness.  I’m leaving tomorrow for my two week trip, and I will be missing her memorial service next weekend.  I will be staying with my Uncle Paul at his shore house that day and I plan on honoring her on the beach in my own private way.

But beyond that I can start right now with how I choose to remember her.  And I’m choosing to remember her as the happy kid I grew up with.  I’ll remember Chrissy as the toddler that named her Cabbage Patch Kid after my sister, and would scream “Cah-tea” whenever they were apart.  I’ll remember the kid that was always following me around and crowding me with love.

 

chrissy 19

 

I’ll remember the girl that was fiercely loyal to her family, and always seemed to crack everyone up with her impressions of all the adults in the room.

I’ll remember the woman who adored her son.

 

chrissy 16

 

And mostly, I’ll remember her as my other little sister.

 

chrissy 20

 

Chrissy was my family and I will always love her.  May she rest in peace.

 

Ciao,

The Captain

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