Well, This Sucks


I was going to write about something completely different for my monthly participation in Julie Valerie’s Hump Day Blog Hop—I had no idea what, but it definitely wasn’t going to be this—and then, well, my cousin died yesterday.

It wasn’t unexpected. She was suffering with ALS for a long time—she survived longer than anyone expected—but even when you know it’s coming, it still…sucks mightily. She wasn’t very old, either, which makes it worse. She should have been able to stick around a lot longer, to watch her six grandchildren grow up.

Anything I say at this point wouldn’t be original. After all, wonderful people die every day, some from really heinous diseases like the one my cousin had. So I’ll just share a memory of Charleen that seems to summarize her spirit.

My first cousins are all 20 to 25 years older than I am, because I came along late (*go ahead, insert joke about always wanting to make an entrance here*), so I was the same age as Charleen’s oldest daughter. Lori and I were the poster children for those t-shirts and Facebook memes that go on about your cousin being your first best friend. We pretty much grew up together.

Even though Charleen was many years older than I was, she was way younger than my parents, and the fact that she was young, pretty (I always thought she looked a little like Goldie Hawn) and, most notable, young acting, was fascinating to me, because my parents were so much older and carried the pall of the conservative ’40s and ’50s with them.

So there was this one time, when Lori and I were tweens, Charleen was driving us somewhere. Can’t remember where, and it doesn’t matter. The top 40 station was on—unbearably exciting and exotic to me, as my Sinatra- and Dean Martin-loving parents never allowed “that noise” in the car—and The Knack’s “My Sharona” started up. Charleen was “dancing” in the driver’s seat, jerking the wheel back and forth a little, and tapping the brake to the beat—you know, da da DA DA da DA da DA

Yes, Lori and I were flying all over the car. I was shocked. And loving every minute of it.

And…that’s it. For some reason, that’s my most vivid memory of my cousin Charleen. Oh, I remember tons of other stuff about her—she was a great person, and I have a lot of fond memories of her—but I know I’ll never, ever forget those few moments in the car.

Why? I think it’s because it was probably the first time (one of the only times?) I saw an adult acting silly just for the sake of being silly. Although I didn’t realize it at the time of course, it was one of those life lessons you get when you don’t expect it—thirty seconds, if that, that lodged deeply in my consciousness just as I was starting to form my identity, starting to decide what type of adult I wanted to be. I realized, in that brief moment, that I wanted to be able to carry silliness, and joy, and music, through my entire life, no matter how old I get, no matter what kind of garbage life throws at me.

Thanks for that, Charleen.

And now, in my cousin’s memory, I will go fire up “My Sharona”. Safe passage, cousin. You fought the good fight. Get some well-earned rest now.

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20 responses »

  1. Oh, my gosh. I’m so incredibly moved by this story.

    First of all, I’m so very sorry for your loss, Jayne. But what a wonderful, absolutely wonderful way to remember Charleen. Maybe our relationships are like constellations. Each one punctuated with precise moments in time, like the stars we see in the sky that shape. Your “My Sharona” moment was one such star in the constellation that makes up your relationship with Charleen. The brightest star, yes, and one that will obviously guide you on your journey.

    What a beautiful way to honor the memory of your dear Charleen. I am so touched and so moved by this post and I thank you so much for sharing this.

    P.S. I’m adding you and Charleen to my prayer candle. I keep a list of people on a piece of paper tucked next to the candle. Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Aw, thanks, Julie. What a lovely way to put it–relationships like constellations, each one punctuated with precise moments in time”–you must be a writer. 😉 And thank you for adding us to your prayer candle–I appreciate it so much. ❤

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jayne. What a lovely memory! One of life’s precious moments. And “My Sharona” is one of those songs that you just can’t help but move to. Have you ever seen the movie “Reality Bites”? Every time I hear “My Sharona”, I think of the scene in the convenience store where they all break out dancing. I would imagine your Aunt Charlene would have gotten a smile out of it. 🙂 Hope you won’t mind if I try to share the link here in an effort to give you a smile, too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y

  3. I am so sorry for your loss, Jayne. Even when deaths are not unexpected, they are still incredibly painful. That was such a beautiful story to pay tribute to your cousin. It made me smile through my tears. And once someone is gone, the best way to hold on to the person is through cherished memories like this. 🙂

  4. I’m also very sorry to hear that you lost your wonderful cousin Charleen. Your story was so moving and I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes for so many reasons. You’ve received many beautiful responses already from people in our lovely community. Just one more thought comes to mind. Your story about Charleen was a reminder to be ourselves and let loose without apology, giving others permission to do the same (especially young people who may be insecure). I’m always struck by this line from a song, “When you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” So Charleen clearly was the type of person to always enjoy the chance to dance, even while driving, and it seems she influenced you to be as well! That’s something to treasure, even as you mourn her loss. Thanks for sharing this touching memory.

  5. Oh Jayne, I’m so sorry for your loss. This was a moving and beautiful tribute to your cousin (I’m sitting here leaking from my eyes as I type this). It is, so often, the moments you least expect, the snippets of time, the moments you’d miss if you blinked – that carry us through the hardest times. Prayers and hugs to you and your family. xoxo

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