In the 1920s and ‘30s when my mom, Marcia, was growing up, extended families typically lived near one another. That was fortunate for my mom, an only child, because her cousins were like the siblings she never had.
When my mom told tales of adventures she had growing up on the farm, near Larimore, N.D., they often included Mary, Don and Joan, the children of her mom’s sister, Alice. Alice and her husband Joe lived only a few miles from my mom and her parents, Anna and Jay. The children played together on their farms, and, with their families, celebrated holidays and took trips together..
After Mary and Joan graduated from high school, they moved away but returned every summer with their children from their homes in Montana and Wisconsin to visit their parents, spending a couple of weeks on the farm.
I always thought of the sisters and Don as my aunts and uncle, and they treated me and my siblings as their nieces and nephews. Every summer, my mom and dad hosted a big family picnic for the Montana and Wisconsin crews during their visits, and the younger cousins played games, rode horseback and bugged our older siblings while the adults visited. Meanwhile, Don, who farmed near Larimore with his wife, Marijo, also came to our house for Thanksgiving and we would go to theirs for Easter.
It was family time at its best.
In between summers, my mom, Mary and Joan kept in touch through letters and I did the same with Mary’s daughter, Michelle, and Joan’s daughters, Susan and Kris. We cousins grew up further apart in distance than my mom was to Mary and Joan, but similar in closeness of heart.
The bonds between my mom, Mary and Joan outlived the death of their parents and the two sisters continued to visit every year as long as their health allowed. Meanwhile, we younger cousins continued to get together when time and schedules allowed.
When Don, the first of my mom’s cousins to pass away I mourned him like the uncle he was to me. I felt similarly sad when Joan’s passing followed several years later and Marijo’s, a year ago. Now my sadness is once again intense with the loss of Mary two weeks ago.
The passing of the four cousins, together with my dad’s death 22 years ago and my mom’s eight years ago, is the loss of not only six dear family members, but also people who were part of the “greatest generation.” They were my mentors growing up and, even though I’m 60, I don’t feel qualified to step into their shoes.
They were links to a family past that was strong, faithful and loyal to God and country, things that aren’t celebrated much anymore in our modern society, but that I still hold dear. I miss having them here to be my role models. I miss the link they were to my grandparents and to the great-grandparents I never met. Mostly, I just miss them: their wisdom, warmth and kindness.
But I am comforted by my Catholic faith that teaches that death doesn’t destroy the bonds I share with my parents and older cousins. I believe they are praying and watching over me and the younger generation of cousins. And as my cousin, Michelle, told me, our moms, who were best friends in life are together again. I look forward, with hope, to joining them when my journey on earth is completed.