Today’s journey was not one I would have chosen. This afternoon my cousin Mindy, more my sister and definitely my friend, passed away suddenly. The shock of that news has not quite worn off. I immediately went to be with her son, Harry, at the hospital. I got to say my goodbyes, and caress her face, even as I was wondering how it was possible this funny, sweet, good hearted woman was no longer present in the flesh. I just saw her yesterday. And although I was concerned by her state of health, I didn’t know that it was my final hug when I told her goodbye and left.
I’ve known Mindy all her life, of course. Her mother and my father were sister and brother. She is a few years younger than I am. What I remember from our childhood is an intelligent, bright-eyed, curious girl who loved animals, the outdoors and her family. As we grew up we saw less of each other, even though we never lived very far apart, distance wise. Then about 20 years ago we reconnected. I saw her occasionally in Joplin, her young son Harry in tow. I always enjoyed our visits, but they were more random occurrences rather than planned get togethers. That all changed when our family began to experience loss. First our Granny Grace passed on. Then, sadly, two of our cousins. We realized, when we would gather for another family funeral, that life was short and time precious. Our visits became more intentional.
And our relationship deepened. Mindy walked with me through the illness and loss of my father. We talked about all kinds of things and came to understand that our family shares an intuitive gift that pops up strongly in some of us. Mindy journeyed with me through some of the most challenging years of my life, always offering encouragement and a smile and a hug. I in turn walked with her through her mother’s illness and death, not quite two years ago. We became very close during that time.
Mindy was an amazing mom to her son. I watched Harry grow from an inquisitive toddler to a smart, talented young man. He often joined Mindy and me for lunch or dinner and we all loved watching a good movie together. I have seen all of The Hobbit movies with these two and Mindy’s brother, my other cousin, Jeff. We just watched the final Hobbit movie together two weeks ago. Mindy’s love for Harry was expansive and nurturing without being smothering. She encouraged him to pursue his hobbies and passions. And Harry loved his mom. He cared for her with such gentleness and such compassion during her illnesses.
Mindy and Harry
As Harry neared the completion of his senior year, he knew what he wanted for his graduation present….a trip to Scotland. Mindy had already fought and won two battles with cancer. She was not going to disappoint this young man or postpone the trip. When she asked me to join them, I was thrilled. We made plans and secured our passports and on August 6, 2014, we began the adventure of a lifetime. I couldn’t have had two more amazing traveling companions. Their passion for Scotland equaled mine. They understood how seeing Scotland for the first time felt like a homecoming instead, because they felt that way too. We shared experiences and tours, breathtaking views and cozy hotel rooms. Harry was gracious about the daily quest that Mindy and I had of finding a new spot for afternoon tea. That custom became one of our most treasured memories of our 10 days together. The afternoon that we stood before Thirlestane Castle, in the small village of Lauder, we knew we had journeyed home. Mindy and I allowed Harry to get ahead of us and trot back occasionally to find us while we slowly explored the castle. We sensed so much there….ancestral family, faded grandeur, ancient history. We whispered as we stood in a paneled study, feeling all that was present with us there and knowing that we were surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses”.
I am so thankful for that trip. So grateful that Mindy and Harry asked me to accompany them. I will never forget the experience or the closeness we shared. Shortly after our return, Mindy discovered that the cancer had returned. She was quiet about it, only telling a few people. She didn’t want others to worry about her. She had fought this battle before. She intended to fight it again, and win. Sometimes victory looks differently than what we imagine. Mindy and I discussed a word for her, for 2015, at one of our lunch meetings, after she learned the extent of her illness. She chose the word Hope. I loved that choice. I love it still. There is hope. She did win. I know I will see Mindy again. And, I know she is present in spirit. Even now, as I type, I feel her here with me, making my scalp tingle as she watches over my shoulder while I try to capture what she meant to me in a short blog post. I love you, girl. Thank you for enriching my life. Your son, is my son now. Your brother, my brother. I will watch over them. I know you are watching over them too.
I am reminded of this quote from Gandalf the White, when Pippen the Hobbit thought the end was near. Says Gandalf, “End? No, the Journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” That sounds a lot like Scotland. Enjoy that far green country, my dear Mindy. I will meet you there someday.