I grew up surrounded by family – in a two level flat with my Aunt Marie and Uncle Joe and three cousins upstairs, my brother and I downstairs with our parents, my grandmother and unmarried aunts and uncle across the street, another aunt and uncle around the block, and the rest a few blocks away. As a kid I did not appreciate my luck in growing up surrounded by this loving community. All I knew was that I could not get away with anything because some relative would spot me. I never forgot in high school after coming home from a date whom I kissed on our front porch in the dark, hearing from my aunt across the street (and down the block six houses, no less) that I had been kissing him way too long the night before. It infuriated me that she had spied on me. She had to have used binoculars to see us. I was so irritated and immediately said to my cousin Denise – we have no privacy – they make me crazy. On the other hand, we loved the attention, and because my cousins and I grew up in the same house, often had meals together and did a lot together, they are my siblings and not just my cousins. Of my cousins, my uncle used to say I was the instigator – the one who would urge on the others to take risks, jump from the front porch onto the driveway (where they proceeded to scrape themselves badly), climb the higher trees, pierce our ears ourselves at my urging. Actually, I pierced Denise’s ears but then she became too frightened to do mine, forcing me to do my own one night – my aunt and uncle were NOT pleased. As kids, the whole family group, and it was big, regularly to the park in Grosse Pointe, where I grew up and where most of my cousins still love, to hang out, have picnics and barbecue, pulling wagons of stuff, finding the best tables, and having a blast during the day.
After I went to law school, my cousin Mary, with whom I have always been extra close, went as well. My cousin Anthony not only has my back, but Alan’s as well. Denise and her husband Bill were introduced by Alan and I and its has been so good to see them so happily married for so long. Denise and I went through some hard times together when she divorced her first jerk of a husband and I separated quickly from mine. She will never forgive me for filling her up with junk food the day she ended up giving birth to her daughter….not a good idea. My brother has been gone first in Colorado and then in California for many years, and rarely visits, so my cousins are my immediate family.
My Uncle Sam, who never married and has been a caregiver, first to his mother, then to his two unmarried sisters, then to two neighbors, and now helps with my mother, has always been our favorite uncle, and more like a father to us. Over the last years especially, as my mother’s health has become worse and worse, after my father died, he and I have become even closer. Uncle Sam taught all of us to ride bikes (he ran holding the back and let go when we did not know it, so we were riding on our own.) He used to walk us to Sanders as kids to have sundaes and ice cream. He has always enjoyed kids, and would have been a terrific father if he had his own kids. Instead, he has been a terrific father to his nieces and nephews, including in California where they love him as much as us. He has continued that tradition with my own kids, who love him dearly as well. We call him the energizer bunny – he is 93 years old, lives on his own, still drives, and seems to have almost endless energy. He and my Aunt Marie have offered to drive all the way to Bloomfield and take me to the doctor. They mean it. I would not ask it of them. Aside from the stress on them, driving with my Uncle, who drives slow and steady but very slow, is not in the cards.
Shortly before my diagnosis my Uncle Joe died at home and we gathered around my Aunt Marie to comfort her. The funeral was about a week before I heard the news. My aunt was still in the midst of grieving his loss when I learned I had cancer, told my cousins, and then they told her and my Uncle Sam. I felt so badly that she had to have this burden so soon after my uncle’s death. I wanted to wait to tell her, but my cousins thought she should know. My poor aunt then turned to worrying about me, praying constantly for me, and has said that she has to worry about me now so that I live. My Uncle Sam cannot stop crying when I talk with him. He has been devastated by this news. Even when I see him and assure him I am feeling fine, I will beat this, he cries and worries incessantly. I have not told my mother. There is no point. She is sick, not doing well, and this would kill her. Hopefully she will not catch on.
My cousins have gathered round. We have our string text and communicate regularly. They have helped with my mom. They gathered a few weeks ago at Denise’s for lunch for me. Tomorrow I am going to Mary’s and they will be there again. They constantly reach out and ask what they can do. Mary and I and my Aunt Marie had a lovely tea at the Townsend in Birmingham a few weeks ago and are now planning a breakfast there with Denise. Clarice, my cousin Tony’s wife, reaches out regularly to me to ask what she can do and say she is “on call” for me. Tony arranged for house seats for “Kinky Boots” when Alan and I were in New York on our first visit to Sloan at just a few days notice. But it is the love and support they are giving that is most important to me. They are not just family, they are friends. This diagnosis has led us to remember how important we are to each other, to not let the day-to-day living get in the way of keeping in touch regularly, and to remind ourselves how much we love each other. We do not let much time go by without talking, texting, and arranging to see each other. So now I am thankful for all those days I felt I had no privacy as a child – that family surrounded me and watched over me whatever I did and wherever I went. Making me crazy was good. It was crazy with love…..