by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 7/2014
A fair warning friends, this one isn’t summer fluff.
Every now and then, I look up a name from the past – sometimes it’s to see how someone is doing – perhaps connect with them on Facebook – or just see who’s working where, who’s living there, who got married, or find out “the rest of the story” of people from my past.
This week, I was very saddened to learn that my cousin Kevin Holland from Maryland passed away back in 2008. He was FORTY.
Through my entire life, I probably spent a total of 15 days with him – and I have not thought about him in many years, nor seen him in over twenty, but his death saddened me.
I met Kevin back in 1981 when his grandmother (Florence) visited my Nana (Anne) in Dorchester. The next year it was our turn, and my family and Nana had a wonderful week with the extended Maryland family in Ocean City.
Years later, in 1989-1991, every May, Nana and I flew down to New Carrolton so she could visit with her sister. I really enjoyed those trips with Nana, and my southern cousins always made me feel so welcome.
Each visit, I had wonderful talks with all my Maryland family – the older adults had grown up with my dad, so we shared many tall tales – and all their kids were my age so we hung together.
I’d had a very obvious crush on cousin Nancie when I first met her, and she liked to tease me about it as we got older. And for friends, you couldn’t ask for better than Kevin – we were about the same age, and each time I visited, he made sure to include me for a night out with his friends to a club or party – he was a genuinely “great” guy and I wish we had not lost touch.
Such very, very brief visits but good memories — Kevin talking about sneaking his girlfriend into the house at night. Listening to the tunes while we washed his car in the driveway. Playing quarters with his friends. Playing horseshoes. Cookouts. Incredible clubs and parties. Going to the arcade in Ocean City. Chatting with his friends and family.
We packed a lot into those all too brief vacations, but by 1991 Nana knew it would be her last trip; she was getting on in years, and both she and Florence passed away in 1993.
Now, grandmothers get older and pass away. People grow older, people get sick and die. The longer we live; it seems we go to more and more funerals. But a 40 year old cousin – who’d already lost a sister in her twenties to diabetes– it just ripped me apart.
And I think of a man my sister dated, a married dad with a family – dead from cancer, not yet 45.
I think of my beautiful friend Niki, who lost her brother Michael after years of illness – he was 25.
I read about a young girl in Sharon, about 20, killed when she was hit by a car.
I think about Sam Berns, another rock star of a human being, who made an astounding difference in 17 short years – gone.
The list goes on, and on. Every one of us knows someone who died far too young. Someone who died with SO much potential left. So much promise.
We have the funerals and the memorials and then life MUST go on, because we cannot survive if we live in perpetual mourning. I understand that.
But the more I hear about young people dying – and there are so many, it just hurts. A lot.
Yes, we celebrate their lives, we honor their memory, and we try to live life a little more fully — At least for a little while, until we get busy with work, school, bills, the house, the kids… and soon we have forgotten – again– the lesson of how very precious life is.
That is, until the next young person passes away.
Today, I think of Kevin – a friend from the past, and Mike, and Sam, and so many other young lives, people who have left us long before their time.
And I realize how selfish we can all be sometimes. We get so involved with the day to day “stuff” we deal with that so much of life passes by in a blink. And suddenly we’re saying, I wish I had returned that phone call/email. I wish I’d spent more time with them. I wish I cherished them. I wish, I wish, I wish…
Because life can change in an instant, and we keep forgetting that.
Recently, someone I care about was in a car accident – it could have been FAR worse. Life could have changed, or ended in a heartbeat – but it didn’t. They’re alive and well.
There are no words to convey my gratitude for that miracle, but that – and my learning of Kevin’s passing, got me melancholy and thinking a lot….
We need to LIVE more.
Yeah, yeah, you’re all sick of reading it on Facebook and little motivational posters but the reason you see it so often is because it is TRUE.
Live for today.
We need to see the miracle that is the people who love us, the special people around us, and the good friends. The community. The things that make us happy.
In one of the Star Trek movies, Captain Picard said, “What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived.”
I think that’s good advice. Live well my friends. Cherish what you have. Cherish the people around you, the ones who mean the most to you. Enjoy what and who you have NOW.
It’s a lesson so many – myself included – need to embrace more.
It can all be gone in a heartbeat. So cherish the NOW.
End of speech. Thanks for listening.
I’ll be funnier next time.